Search Website




About Our Group

Our Japanese Website

Frequently Asked Questions

What We Are Doing

Contact Us


Speech to Joint Session of
NGOs and Lawmakers of 4 Nations

August 1, 2005

Tim Peters, Founder, Helping Hands Korea

I am very honored to address this joint conference that brings together a wide range of NGO's and the Inter-Parliamentarian Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights that includes distinguished representatives of Japan's House of Councilors and House of Representatives, U.S. Congressmen, the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea, representatives of the State Great Hural (Parliament) of Mongolia and the Parliament of New Zealand.

I wish to thank Life Funds for North Korean Refugees and its Secretary-General, Hiroshi Kato, for organizing this conference. I also feel indebted to so many parliamentarians for traveling so far and making time in their valuable schedule to meet with those of us who directly assist North Koreans (NK) in crisis. It so happens that I have just come from Washington DC and the Freedom House conference entitled "Freedom for All Koreans." I am greatly encouraged to see momentum on the North Korean Refugee and Human Rights (NKHR) issue building so dramatically in both the US & Japan. As the Six-Party talks are now underway, I am very pleased to note that Speaker of the US House of Representatives, the Honorable Dennis Hastert, will take this very podium shortly to address the vital issues of North Korean refugees and human rights.

Today, I have been asked to do three things:
a) Briefly outline the aid work of Helping Hands Korea to North Koreans in crisis
b) Summarize current difficulties & challenges in the field
c) Offer some suggestions and possible courses of action in the legislatures represented here.

I. Let me begin by saying that the work of Helping Hands Korea over the course of the past nine years has developed into three main areas of concentration. These focal points will be presented in order of priority, not necessarily in chronological order of development:
  A. Focus # 1 - Refugee Shelters
    1. Project addresses the plight of 300,000 NK refugees in China
    2. NK refugees live in fear 24/7; stripped of any legal ID or rights in China
    3. Repatriation to DPRK can mean detention, torture or execution
  B. Focus #2 - Underground Railroad
    1. Certain NK refugees face greater danger if caught & repatriated to NK.
      a. “Repeat offenders”—border crossers who’ve been caught & sent back
      b. Christians are considered dangerous political enemies of the State
      c. Those who have relatives in prison camps
      d. Weak or seriously ill refugees would probably perish if returned to NK
  C. Focus #3 - Feeding the Vulnerable
    1.  Begun in 1996 as NK’s famine grew gravely serious, our humanitarian food aid program concentrates on non-traditional delivery and monitoring methods.
    2.  Originating with a concentration on raw grain deliveries, esp. corn and rice, the project now focuses on actual food preparation in China, with direct deliveries to schools & orphanages inside NK. Approximately 48,000 buns served monthly.
II. Let me turn now to current hardships, dangers and challenges faced by missionaries and humanitarian aid workers in China. Some of the extreme difficulties I have already touched on in describing shelter work & the so-called underground railroad (URR). However, to summarize briefly:
  A. To repeat, NK refugees in China are entirely vulnerable in China.

This fact was tragically underscored in a recent episode that involved the precarious fate in China of two teenaged daughters of a former military officer in the DPRK army. When the entire family of four was arrested in China and repatriated to North Korea, the father was immediately executed as a traitor without trial. The mother was sent to a labor camp, and the two daughters (ages 14 and 17) were eventually released. The two teens showed remarkable resourcefulness by crossing to China again. We were able to find a shelter for the girls, however the younger of the two daughters wandered away from the safe house and was picked up by Chinese police & repatriated. The older sister is safe for now, but runs the risk of being trapped into human trafficking if not rescued soon. I’d had high hopes that my own government would lend assistance, but those hopes were dashed. Other options are being explored now to move her along the URR to safety.

    2.  Refugees in China carry no recognized ID, remain continuously defenseless to arrest, detention, trafficking, slavery, brutality & ultimately, repatriation. At present, 400 - 500 NK refugees are repatriated every week from China to NK. Furthermore, the Chinese are prepared to detain & repatriate as many as 2,500 per week as the need arises. From 70 %- 95% of all NK women fall into sex trafficking in China.
  B. As the 2008 Beijing Olympics approach, there is every indication that the Beijing leadership has put a priority of ridding its soil of NK refugees. Tragically, however, it is not doing so by making use of the international agreements and treaties it is signatory to with the UN and UNHCR. Instead, it is using what I call a blunt “pest removal” mechanism of blocking entrances & exits and flushing out refugees through bribes to its own citizens to reveal whereabouts of refugees & activists.
  C. To accomplish this “sanitized, refugee-free” environment, China, to our understanding, has shifted the task of refugee “pest control” from its provincial law enforcement agencies to its federal internal security apparatus, much like the FBI in the US. This accounts for a new emphasis on identifying & detaining activists in China prisons, such as, South Korean Christian, Choi Young-hoon, American Phillip Y. Buck, and Ahn Chung Hak, a former North Korean, now a naturalized South Korean citizen.
  D. The number of NK refugees being accepted by the South Korean government in 2005 has significantly been reduced from the level of the previous few years. This means that a vital link in the underground railroad appears do be severely bottlenecked, leaving a great number of North Korean refugees stranded in China and 3rd countries. Even worse news for the refugees in China: due to increasingly dangerous conditions of helping NK refugees in China, some volunteers are beginning to back away from this type of aid work, deeming the risks too high at the very time when NK refugees need help more than ever.
  E. There is disturbing evidence in some areas of NK that the food situation is backsliding to the worst era of famine from 1996-1998. At this time, however, it appears that the sector of greatest risk is shifting from rural to urban dwellers. Rural residents have already developed coping mechanisms for the cutoff of government aid in the past 3-5 years. Urban dwellers have little income & no recourse to planting their own gardens, etc. A worsening food situation is bound to be a key “push factor” to many NK to take the refugee option.
  F. Fundraising to help NK refugees, especially in South Korea, is becoming increasingly difficult, made more so by the current government’s reference to activists as “brokers”. Whether intentional or not, such labels unfairly stigmatize refugee aid work and cause extreme hardships in raising support for refugee rescues.
III. On the one hand I feel quite ill-suited to the task of advising such a distinguished group of lawmakers as we have before us today. On the other hand, the extraordinary urgency of the plight of the NK refugees compels me to step forward with recommendations that I believe can make a significant difference. I owe a debt of gratitude to my colleague, Mr. Kim Sang-hun, for his help in the formulation of these points of a parliamentarian resolution subject to your perusal and adoption:
  A. Whereas tens of thousands of citizens of North Korea, without judiciary process, continue to be both openly and secretly executed, tortured, secretly, imprisoned and forced into a lifetime of unremitting hard labor at concentration camps as punishment for their political views under a Stalinist totalitarian system that consistently deprives its citizens of basic human rights and freedoms,
  B. Whereas it has been proven that North Korea has repeatedly committed the state crime of abducting, by use of its agents, citizens of other countries, including Japan; moreover, failing to provide information on the abductees in response to the demands of the abductees’ countries in efforts to restore citizens to their home countries,
  C. Whereas a great number of North Koreans, including women and children, have defected to China since 1995 in a desperate attempt to escape hunger and oppression and in defiance of the political authorities of North Korea,
  D. Whereas they are arrested in China and forcibly returned to North Korea where they are subject to the cruelest of interrogations at various detention camps for weeks and months at a time, often disappearing without a trace and subject to public/secret execution or imprisonment for many years,
  E. Whereas UNHCR-Beijing has woefully failed to provide international protection for the North Korean refugees in China,
    1. Requests the international community to field an International Human Rights Investigation Mission in North Korea for the purpose of investigating into consistent allegations of crimes against humanity, including the Japanese citizens who have been abducted from Japan for years,
    2. Recognizes that repatriation of North Korean defectors to the brutal hands of persecutors in North Korea and arresting them for “illegal entry” by China violate the 1951 Convention in general and, in particular, Article 34 which prohibits the contracting states from expelling or returning (“refouler”) a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened…” and Article 31, which prohibits the contracting states from imposing “…penalties, on account of their illegal entry or presence, on refugees…”
    3. Recognizes that North Korean defectors hiding in China have a well-founded fear of persecution for their political views for freedom against oppression, which unquestionably qualify them for refugee status under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees,
    4. Confirms its strong belief that the rights of refugees are inalienable, wholly separate, and in no way dependent upon any given set of economic or political conditions.
    5. Strongly demands the government of China to honor its obligations assumed under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and its 1967 Protocol thereto by:
      a. Halting the arrest and repatriation of North Korean defectors in China and aid-workers assisting them on humanitarian grounds,
      b. Immediately releasing all North Korean defectors and aid-workers currently in custody of the PRC Government,
      c. Ensuring access to fair and efficient asylum procedures and providing North Korean refugees with safe asylum,
      d. Cooperating with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in efforts to resettle North Korean refugees residing in China to other countries as necessary;
    6. Requests the international community to condemn China in strongest possible terms for its defiance of international human rights instruments and stop it in lessons learned from the silence and inaction that led to greater tragedy of mankind at the time of the early days of Hitler rising to power in the past century,
    7. Requests the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to initiate a firm and proactive position toward the PRC Government, claiming its full right to the exercise of “…at all times unimpeded access to refugees…” as provided for by the Agreement between the Government of China and UNHCR, 12 Dec. 1995, Article III, 5 and, when necessary, to submit disputes to arbitration, as provided for in Article XVI and close its office in Beijing in strong protest to China if China continues to prevent UNHCR from carrying out its mandate,
    8. Further requests UNHCR to reply to the long outstanding letter by NGO’s dated 11 December, 2002 and its reminder of 13 February, 2003
    9. Requests Governments to reconsider their contributions to UNHCR on condition of its success in fulfilling the UNHCR mandate in China
    10. Requests the formation of an inter-parliamentarian mechanism as a means of follow-up to UNHCR compliance with its mandate in China on a regular basis and to make recommendations as necessary,
    11. Requests the International Olympic Committee to undertake a senior level review of the North Korean refugee situation in China with respect to evaluating the suitability of holding the 2008 Olympic Games in Beijing.
I would like to close with the words of a refugee spoken 2700 years ago. The refugee himself was destined to be a king, but at the time of this writing, was being hunted by a monarch that had lost his mental balance and was consumed with destructive behavior. Some of you may already recognize that I am referring to King David and his desperate flight from King Saul. NK refugees and we activists who, all too often, have been disappointed by the governments of our day, even our own, have discovered, like the Psalmist of old, that our greatest and ultimate comfort and place of refuge can be found in an ever-nourished faith in the Almighty.

Psalm 142:2-6

I pour out my complaint before You, Lord: before You I tell my trouble.
When my spirit grows faint within me, it is You who knows my way. In the path where I walk men have hidden a snare for me. Look to my right and see: no one is concerned for me; I have no refuge; no one cares for my life.

I cry to you, O Lord. I say, “You are my refuge, my portion in the land of the living.”
Listen to my cry, for I am in desperate need; rescue me from those who pursue me.
Set me free from my prison, that I may praise Your name. Then the righteous will gather about me because of Your goodness to me.

Thank you very much for your kind attention.

Tim Peters,
August 1, 2005