As if the upcoming Olympics in PyeongChang did not put enough of a spotlight on North Korea, the White House took a different approach last week by shining light on the core of North Korea – the people. After an unprecedented reference to JI Seong Ho, founder of NAUH ( Now, Action, and Unity for Human Rights ), during the State of the Union address, President Trump hosted eight North Korean defectors in the Oval Office, listening to their personal accounts of life in North Korea.
Specifically referring to the defectors as “escapees”, President Trump listened to the harrowing stories of imprisonment, torture, and trafficking that North Korean defectors face, each person trying to capture decades of experiences and emotions into a couple minutes. Similar to his reference to NKSC founder Kang Cheol Hwan ‘s life story during his last address before the South Korean National Assembly, the focus on human stories was a stark contrast to the rhetoric about the North Korean regime.
What is the significance of this meeting? What can we hope will come in the North Korean human rights movement?
The human-centric approach that President Trump showed by extending invitations to North Korean defectors is in line with NKSC’s belief that North Koreans are leading change in North Korea. The stories that these defectors share – survival of prison camps, cross-continental journeys to reach freedom, and the continuing efforts to disseminate information through innovative means – are all examples that the North Korean human rights movement is not a stagnant issue. Even today, millions of innocent people still suffer through the worst forms of brutality; the most harrowing of stories may have yet to be heard.
NKSC echoes those who believe that human rights advocacy can be a strategic asset for the U.S. to strengthen its diplomatic powers. Particularly in the absence of a U.S. Ambassador to South Korea and a Special Envoy on North Korean human rights, NKSC believes in providing a platform for North Korean voices accelerates people-powered change in North Korea.
As a defector-led organization, NKSC has witnessed how this platform shapes a movement. Mr. Kang Cheol Hwan ‘s visit to the Oval Office in 2005, the first private meeting between a North Korean defector and a U.S. President in Office, speared a grassroots movement to raise awareness on this very human rights issue. Now, almost a decade and a half later, with more organizations, biographical accounts, and supporters, NKSC hopes that further action can continue to change North Korea.
In a recent interview with Radio Free Asia, Mr. Kang stated that if the North Korean government tries to heighten the military tension during the PyeongChang Olympic games, it would face more strengthened economic sanctions from the international community.
Instead of following its repetitive military aggressions toward the South as in the past decades, North Korea should come forward towards the international community with a peaceful and open attitude to ease the military tension in the Korean Peninsula in the spirit of peace and cooperation of the Olympics this winter.
In 2018, NKSC will continue its relentless efforts and dedication to promote the people-powered change in North Korea through our dissemination of free information with the precious support and interests of the readers of our Newsletter.