North Korea has a serious human rights issue. The primary cause
of this issue is the continuing military dictatorship, and its
tight-fisted control of the people. In maintaining its hold on
the country, the government mercilessly violates the basic right
to life of its citizens.
Meanwhile, we have recently begun seeing another type of human
rights violation, one that preys on desperate North Korean defectors
fleeing from their country's ruthless regime. Criminals introduce
themselves as NGO members who help North Korean refugees. In
some cases, when they approach the defectors, they identify themselves
as Christian missionaries or ministers, then rob the defectors
of the small amounts of money they carry. In addition, some missionaries
appear to be unfairly pressuring desperate defectors to adopt
Christianity as a condition of receiving help.
Today, I will first discuss the problem with such self-proclaimed
NGO members or Christian missionaries and ministers that take
advantage of the vulnerable people who request help after having
fled human rights violations in their fatherland. Then, I will
discuss how we can improve these continuing human rights violations.
It is widely accepted that no improvement in the current human
rights situation can be expected until North Korea's military
dictatorship is replaced by a better, possibly democratic, government.
Improvements in the human rights situation might even conceivably
lead to rejection of the dictatorship and collapse of the regime.
It is particularly important, I believe, to continually remind
the world community of the human rights violations being perpetrated
by the North Korean government and to urge that government to
respect universal human rights by pressuring them to discuss
the issue internationally. Without such efforts, it will be difficult
to gain worldwide support and sympathy in addressing the abduction
issue. Addressing that issue only from the standpoint of infringement
of national sovereignty will only lead to clashes or possible
war between state powers. Even if it does not lead to clashes
or war, the issue will be regarded only as a problem between
two nations, thus adversely affecting any solution.
In North Korea, if anyone chances to question,
criticize or complain about the current regime in casual conversation,
or she can be immediately arrested and imprisoned by a national
security agent, or at least marked for monitoring by an agent.
Once stigmatized as a person to be monitored, they will be taken
away to a remote labor camp, prison or concentration camp, primitive
places without electricity or running water. Allegedly, more
than 2 million people are victims of the security agent networks
in North Korea, and currently more than 200,000 are reportedly
detained in political prisoner concentration camps. There, they
live in terror.
Further, North Korea's regime is based on a system that discriminates
according to class. Those who rule are the so-called “faithful” class,
the middle class are called the “wavering” class,
and all the rest are called the “hostile” class.
The hostile class includes, for example, former land owners,
factory owners, shop owners or people with one or more relatives
who fled to South Korea during the Korean War. The moment you
are born in North Korea, you belong to one of the classes, like
it or not. And no matter how hard you may try, you will never
be allowed to rise out of the hostile class up into the faithful
The approximately two million people in the faithful class enjoy
preferential treatment in their daily lives. They are assured
of food and housing. Those in the wavering and hostile classes
face constant difficulties finding food, a violation of one of
their basic human rights. These people are forced to live with
a constant struggle for food and survival every single day. Thus,
many are forced by circumstances to flee from their fatherland
into China, seeking food and freedom of life. They risk their
lives in crossing this 4000 kilometer-long border.
The most serious violation of North Korean human rights may
be the human trafficking. This refers, more specifically, to
the tragedy of female North Koreans, who can find few other ways
to survive and thus end up yielding themselves to human traffickers.
The youngest victim of human trafficking whom LFNKR has so far
met was an eight-year-old girl. She was sold with her mother,
but the two were kept together for only 10 days at the house
of a human trafficking broker in Helong, Jilin in China. Then
the mother was sold to someone in another area. The girl was
too young to be sold, so she was raised at the broker’s
house until she reached age 14. The girl was then sold for 2000RMB
to a Han Chinese farmer in Baoding City, Hebei Province.
The girl became a mother at the age of 16. Eventually, she could
not stand the marriage, as it was devoid of hope, love, or future.
She fled her Chinese husband, leaving their child, who was 4
years old at that time. But the only option she could find was
the same path her mother took. She turned to a human trafficking
broker, who immediately sold her to another Han Chinese farmer.
What a tragic way to survive. She could not stay with her family,
and yet, had no choice but to knowingly become a victim of human
trafficking, because that was the only way she knew to survive.
Her case is no exception. Even female defectors in their 50s
are often sold to farmers, so what hope is there for younger
Why are such tragedies allowed to continue? Human trafficking
is illegal in China; it is a crime. North Korean female defectors
are forced to become victims of human trafficking in China because
the Chinese government still insists, as their official position,
that all escapees from North Korea are illegal immigrants. This
long-continuing issue is attributable directly to the Chinese
government. That government persists in repatriating defectors
back to North Korea, knowing that when sent back, they face dire
punishment under charges of treason, as specified under Article
47 of North Korean criminal law.
It is obvious that the international convention on the status
of refugees applies to these North Korea defectors. The tragedy
is clearly attributable to China’s ignoring of the convention.
As long as the defectors remain classed as “illegal immigrants,” they
cannot turn to the Chinese police to report the harm they incur
in China. Contacting the Chinese police equals repatriation to
North Korea. The Chinese government has an obligation to observe
the convention on refugees, to which it is signatory nation.
The international community, meanwhile, must step up its efforts
in urging China to observe the convention.
If the Chinese government observes international law and accepts
North Korean defectors as refugees, then the collusive relationship
between human trafficking brokers and Chinese police will disappear.
The North Korean refugees will be entitled to choose destinations
where they can re-settle with freedom and hope.
In addition to these serious issues, there is a further problem
involving the children born between Chinese men and North Korean
women. The marriage of illegal North Korean women to Chinese
men leads to a second-generation tragedy. Marrying a Chinese
man does not protect a North Korean woman from being sent back.
Often, the Chinese fathers are incapable of supporting their
children, so that many of the children become homeless when the
North Korean wives are repatriated.
According to conservative estimates, at least 100,000 North
Korean defectors are hiding in China, 70% of whom are women.
This means that if each of these women gives birth to a child,
then 70,000 children are forbidden by law to be officially registered
and therefore have no nationality. If these children are repatriated
with their mothers, they are rejected as “foreign seed” by
the North Korean government. It is estimated that 50,000 to 70,000
children without nationality have been born in China since 2000,
and that they are living without the most basic human rights.
These children are likely to end up as victims of human traffickers
or organ traffickers. This only strengthens black marketers in
China and will eventually lead to a serious social issue in the
The Chinese government should give legal status to female North
Korean defectors in China rather than repatriating them, especially
if they bear children with legally registered Chinese men. If
China is courageous enough to do that, then international society
will cease stigmatizing China as a nation allowing human trafficking.
This will effectively improve the impression that China has stepped
out of the group of undeveloped countries, in terms of human
To this end, I suggest that we work with lawmakers and parliamentary
members in many countries and with organizations that are on
good terms with China.
Regarding the North Korean women being arrested by Chinese police
and repatriated, many of those women re-escape from North Korea
to rejoin their husbands in China. Unfortunately, however, it
is virtually impossible for them to safely stay in China. The
only practical choice remaining to them is escape from China
into third countries if they are to survive.
Humanitarian aid workers, such as NGO members and Korean Christian
missionaries and ministers, are expected to help those suffering
North Korean women escape into third countries. Many reports
reach us, however, of problems caused by those who should be
Increasing numbers of former North Koreans are now in the business
of helping North Korean defectors reach third countries. The
former North Koreans in this business are people who have escaped
from North Korea, acquired South Korean citizenship, then re-entered
China as paid guides leading North Korean defectors out of China.
They often pass themselves off as NGO members or Korean Christian
missionaries. They ask female North Koreans if they can pay 3
to 10 million won. If the woman says yes, they will do business.
If the woman says no, then they make her sign an IOU against
the money she will receive from the re-settlement fund provided
by the South Korean government once they reach South Korea.
The IOUs are handed over to gangsters in South Korea, who stalk
and harass the North Korean women until the IOU is paid off.
For this reason, some North Korean women who have finally made
it to South Korea cannot make living and surrender to demands
In some cases, South Korean Christian missionaries working in
China pressure the vulnerable defectors, telling them “I
will not take you to South Korea unless you study Christianity
for two months at a church.” In other cases, missionaries
have been known to force them to repeatedly recite every day “I
will contribute one percent of my monthly income to the church,” or
they drill them on questions such as, “How much is one
percent of a million won?” They pressure the defectors
in their care, using a variety of slick tactics, while holding
out promises of higher priority in being taken out to safety.
Sadly, the South Korean missionaries described here are also
infringing the human rights of the North Korean defectors by
taking advantage of their vulnerable situations. It is my hope
that conscientious South Korean Christians will correct the disgraceful
behavior of their brothers, so that the human rights of the weak
will be truly protected.
Dec. 14, 2007