Chairperson, Distinguished Members of the International Community
of Human Rights NGOs and Activists, Japanese Citizens, Members
of the Media, Ladies and Gentlemen:
North Korea is still the most isolated country in the world
today, a Cold War anachronism intent on maintaining its political
at the sacrifice of humanity, justice and the rule of law.
Accordingly, reliable information on the human rights situation
in North Korea
is greatly limited, both inside and outside of the country.
However, in the wake of Communism’s collapse in Eastern
Europe and the former USSR, contact between North Koreans and
the outside world has increased dramatically at all levels since
the mid-1990s. As a result, the truth about the North Korean
human rights situation has begun to slip through the cracks of
the government’s tightly clenched fist.
As a result, convincing and consistent evidence has come to
our attention from a variety of independent and reliable sources
about the shocking existence of secret, illegal prison camps
in North Korea today and the plight of some 200,000 innocent
and ordinary people, including women and children, who are detained
without judicial review or due process legal procedures such
as arrest, prosecution and trial.
North Korea’s prison camps and ordinary prisons are the
most abominable and horrifying examples of this- the crimes committed
in these places are just as evil and pernicious as those of the
Soviet gulag or the Nazi concentration camps, and even worse
in that the North Korean camps have existed for years and years
without broad international censure and action. These crimes
have been perpetuated ruthlessly and systematically for decades
in North Korea.
The existence of these camps and the bleak
conditions and atrocities committed there are undeniable as they
have been confirmed by
many eyewitness accounts, including those of a former prisoner
as well as a former guard who worked at several of the camps
and a former senior official who was involved in actually overseeing
them (these three men are in this room right now). They have
all attested to the shocking crimes against humanity committed
the North Korean regime against its own people.
Out of moral obligation, I wish to introduce to you this morning
Mr. Shin Dong-hyuk, a former North Korean prisoner at one of
the camps in North Korea. In fact, he was born in a camp and
spent the first 24 years of his life there. Thus he had no knowledge
of the world outside the camp and even of North Korea. All he
learned was to read, write, add and subtract, and he was taught
only at the most rudimentary level. He never learned about the
multiplication table, for example. His most important daily lesson
was how to obey the camp’s rules- in other words, to live
the life of a slave.
One day in January 2005, he miraculously defected from the camp
and saw North Korean society for the first time during the 20
days he was on the run. He arrived in China in early 2005. He
spent about a year in there working at a logging site high up
in the mountains and eventually found a South Korean who helped
him go to South Korea sometime last year.
The researchers at the North Korean Human Rights Database Center
in Seoul (NKDB) have collected and analyzed over 2,000 testimonies
taken during interviews with North Koreans. As such, the NKDB
researchers are the most well-informed and incisive experts in
interviewing North Korean witnesses as well as in studying and
verifying the information gathered.
The NKDB experts conducted countless interviews with Shin Dong
Hyuk over a period of several months to investigate and validate
the information in his testimony. Based on these frequent and
exhaustive interviews, we are convinced that Mr. Shin's identity
and story are authentic. A medical report by Dr. Gill Hinshewood
of the London University College Hospital Medical School, a senior
physician for the care of torture victims for 16 years, further
supports his testimony. She examined Mr. Shin in London on 22
June 2007, and this report is available to you should you care
to read it.
You will have an opportunity to hear from Mr. Shin directly
at the meeting tomorrow. He published his autobiography last
month, and hopefully his book will be available very soon in
Japanese as well. Other witnesses here include Mr. Ahn Myeong
Chul, a former guard at political prisonor camps No. 11, 13,
22, and 26 between 1987 and 1994. He defected from duty in September
1994 and arrived in South Korea in October of that year. Mr.
Kwon Hyeok, another witness, was a former special secret agent
in North Korea and was on duty in the Camp No. 22 for a special
task force assignment during 97-98. He defected from North Korea
in July 1999 and arrived in South Korea in April, 2000.
Their accounts in general and Mr. Shin’s in particular
will no doubt elicit shame in those who choose to turn their
eyes away from the reality of the North Korean state’s
crimes against humanity. At the same time, the truth of their
life experiences serves as a stern warning to those who stand
prepared to sacrifice the human rights of the ordinary and innocent
people of North Korea in favor of preventing that country’s
development of nuclear weapons and missiles.
Mr. Shin’s presence here today with his appalling life
story puts to rest an old argument as to whether or not secret
prison camps exist in North Korea. With his presence, before
us we have a confirmed case of the worst and most deplorable
crimes against humanity, a serious challenge to the peace of
Now what? Are we going to sit and do nothing about it simply
because the victims today are in no way personally related to
us? Are we going to commit the sin of silence in the light of
strong prima facie evidence for the crimes against humanity by
the North Korean state?
I am fully convinced that unless we halt the inhumane and criminal
practices perpetrated in North Korea today, such atrocities are
bound to spread and occur elsewhere in the world and in the generations
to come. This is precisely why crimes against humanity are deemed
an international crime and are no longer limited to the sovereignty,
jurisdiction or territory of a single nation. We must learn the
lessons of history given to us by the great disaster of World
War II, which could have been avoided if Hitler was stopped earlier.
I am of the strong conviction that action in regard to North
Korea is urgently needed. It is time for the international community
to respond to and put an end to these ongoing and serious violations,
and to rescue the ordinary people of North Korea from mass killings,
arbitrary imprisonment, torture and related international crimes.
Under the circumstances, I wish to take this opportunity to
urge the international community to intervene in the situation
as a matter of global responsibility, and to marshall its resolve
toward these crimes against humanity. We believe that international
To this end, I wish to take note of the landmark report published
in August of this year by Christian Solidarity Worldwide in London,
entitled, “NORTH KOREA: A CASE TO ANSWER A CALL TO ACT,” and
call for the organization of an international network of legal
experts, human rights NGOs and activists for the purpose of coordinated
action and the exchange of information. Such a network should
also consider, study, collect and examine evidence to determine
the exact nature and scale of violations and to recommend what
further action should be taken in order to bring the case to
the attention of UN Security Council and International Criminal
Let us make it a living reality for innocent North Korean prisoners
to realize that they have not been forgotten by the free people
of the world; indeed, that there are people of uncompromising
principles who have sought and will continue to seek their freedom.
Before closing my speech this morning, please allow me to add
my own views on the role of the South Korean government regarding
the issue of North Korean crimes against humanity.
Korea has remained divided over the five past decades, a most
tragic and deplorable situation that has led to the malignant
growth of the Kim family’s regime in the North and military
regimes in the South, constituting the major hindrance to the
peaceful development of Korea as a nation. Sadly, all the powers
surrounding the Korean Peninsula have remained content with the
status quo, with little regard to the sufferings of the Korean
people on both sides of the 38th Parallel. The ultimate goal
of the Kim regime in the North, not unlike the past military
regimes in the South, has been to keep itself in power. Few realistic
efforts for unification have been undertaken under the mutual
defense pacts concluded between North Korea, Russia and China
on one hand and South Korea and the US on the other, thereby
rendering any military options out of the question. Meanwhile,
Koreans have been committed to the reunification of their nation,
a nation that has remained homogeneous for thousands of years.
Thus, South Koreans are understandably no longer interested
in repeating the decades-old policy of confrontation with North
Korea that never worked, or in relying on outside help regarding
this most crucial national issue for all Koreans. It must be
understood that, under the circumstances, the most obvious and
realistic choice for Koreans is to seek the reduction of tensions
and hostilities as a first step to reconciliation. To this end,
South Koreans are committed to bringing hard-line North Koreans
to the negotiating table and out of their longstanding, stubborn
In this effort to open up a more constructive dialogue with
North Korea, the South Korean government is trying desperately
to maintain if not warm at least cordial relations between the
two countries. Clearly, this is no time to expect the South Korean
government to take up issues forcefully that may jeopardize its
efforts toward peaceful unification. Therefore, it appears unrealistic
at the present juncture to expect the South Korean government
to play any significant role in the direct condemnation of the
North Korean regime pertaining to its crimes against humanity.
Furthermore, if South Korean government raised
this issue publicly with North Korea, it would run the risk of
a return to the dirty
propaganda that characterized the North-South relationship
in past decades, with the North condemning South Korea and the
West for spreading lies and interfering in North Korean internal
affairs. This would do no good for the long-term prospects of
combatting the human rights crisis. Thus, in reality, the value
or efficacy of the South Korean government’s raising the
North Korean human rights issue is highly doubtful at this stage.
That said, I wish to suggest today that a strong and clear message
be given to the South Korean government- though it cannot show
open support, it must not and cannot hinder the international
efforts to help the innocent victims of the North Korean crimes
against humanity. Thank you.