Human Rights Activist Kim Sang Hun

Sang Hun Kim, International Human Rights Volunteer

Mr. Kim’s Speech:

Chairperson, Distinguished Members of the International Community of Human Rights NGOs and Activists, Respected Members of News Media, Ladies and Gentlemen, I wish to thank you for your interest in the human rights disaster that North Korea has created, and for the innocent victims it has created. 

As was reported by Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN Special Rapporteur on the North Korean Human Rights Situation, and a North Korean witness, Shin Dong-hyuk, who testified to the North Korean crimes just before me, there is no doubt whatsoever that the North Korean regime continues to perpetrate the worst crimes against humanity in recent history.

Today, we believe that North Korea has committed almost every known human rights violation. North Korea’s political prison camps and prisons are the most abominable and horrifying examples of this – the crimes committed in these places are worse than those of the Soviet gulags or the Nazi concentration camps. These crimes have been perpetuated in North Korea for decades – they are committed ruthlessly and systematically.

Today, I also wish to draw your attention to a separate humanitarian disaster, related to North Korean refugees, yet equally as grave.

Many North Koreans have defected from North Korea into China for food and freedom over the years. These defectors are unquestionably eligible for refugee status under the 1951 UN Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Their numbers have been estimated to be somewhere between 50,000 to 300,000 at any given time. Please refer to my paper about their status available on the table outside for further elaboration on this issue.

Their presence in China is clearly an issue to be determined by the UN Convention – they should be treated as refugees, and nothing else. Nevertheless, the government of China has been arresting and repatriating them to a horrible persecution back in North Korea. The North Koreans who are sent back face prison camps and a possible death.

Over the years, human rights NGOs, international organizations, and foreign governments have made a number of appeals to the government of China on this issue.

The Chinese government has ignored these appeals, and has not even bothered to respond. They continue to forcibly return North Korean refugees to a most atrocious persecution. China also imprisons humanitarian aid workers for helping North Korean refugees, often times for periods of several years.

This is clearly a case of Chinese arrogance and defiance of international law; it is not simply a difference of opinion. I have deep conviction that China must be strongly condemned for its defiance of international human rights law.

In this context, we wholeheartedly welcome the American legislators who have recently introduced a resolution in the House of Representatives calling for a boycott of the 2008 Olympics in Beijing unless China “stops engaging in serious human rights abuses,” including the denial of refugee status to North Korean refugees.

In the same context, I wish to draw the attention of this conference to the resolution adopted by the International Parliamentarians Coalition for North Korean Refugees Human Rights, consisting of 111 parliamentarians from 36 countries, at its 4th General meeting in Seoul on 29 August 2007, urging the United Nations and governments of Thailand, Vietnam, Laos and Myanmar to provide some measures of legal protection for the civil liberties of North Korean refugees and to make the resettlement process more expedient and efficient, so there is no delay and no waste of resources.

As we know, many North Korean defectors have arrived in South Korea for their freedom. The total number of them reached 11,000 in the middle of this year. In 2006 alone, nearly 1,000 North Koreans arrived in South Korea by going through a number of countries that accept them – including Russia, Mongolia, Myanmar, and Thailand. We understand that some 30% of them arrived via Thailand. But here in Thailand, the only country where they are arrested and detained, these refugees suffer the most.

For example, a number of international NGOs over the past few months have become aware that over 300 female refugees, including babies, children, patients and older women, are crammed into a space sufficient for only 50-100 inmates for many months now.

As a result of the insufficient space, the inmates need to struggle to even go to the bathroom. We have learned that there are only 4 toilets for over 300 inmates, and some of these toilets are out of order most of the time. To further prove this point, we have learned that in April of this year, there was only one toilet available on the day they began the hunger strike to protest degrading conditions.

I wish to take this opportunity to express my sincere condolences to Mr. Kim Sang-hyon, a North Korean refugee who died of a cerebral hemorrhage in the Bangkok Detention Center on 8 August, 2007. He was formerly a senior government official in North Korea, he fled North Korea in March this year and arrived in Thailand a week later. He was in his 5th month of detention and there is little doubt that he could have been saved if proper medical attention was given. Under such inhumane conditions of near inferno, it is no surprise that many contagious diseases would spread among them and there are serious patients without any proper medical attention right now and at this moment no Thai people would approve of if they know about it. Some people believe that it is an act of crime on the part of Thai immigration authorities.

Despite the fact that I am unhappy with the current time of imprisonment and general degrading treatment within the detention facilities and in the resettlement process, many North Koreans who have arrived in South Korea are deeply grateful to the people and Government of Thailand for humanitarian assistance they received while in Thailand.

Today, a former North Korean family is with us for this conference, and expressed their gratitude to the people of Thailand yesterday. He is here today with his two little children who would have never been born without the help of the people of Thailand. His statement of thanks to the people of Thailand is also attached to the papers available on the table at the entrance to this hall.

A Thai lady who attended the Conference yesterday, testified on behalf of many Thai workers to the kindness they received from Korean people during their employment in Korea.

And please also allow me to take this opportunity to express my own sincere gratitude and admiration to the people and government of Thailand for their past assistance of North Koreans arriving in Thailand on their way to South Korea and elsewhere.

But while I am appreciative that Thailand does ultimately help North Korean refugees arriving here, at the same time I am concerned with the hardening attitude of some Thai government authorities towards North Korean refugees.

Some Thai officials have been worried that their numbers are rising, there are profiteering brokers helping them, and that North Korean refugees are a threat to national security.

Regarding this, I wish to make the following points:

  1. North Korean refugees have been arriving in South Korea for freedom via Russia, Mongolia and other countries in South East Asia for many years now – Thailand is only one of the routes they use for freedom. The refugees’ situation is so desperate that they risk their own and their families’ lives to escape persecution, starvation, and oppression. It is no surprise that there would be peoples of criminal nature to take advantage of such desperate situations and exploit the victims in every possible way as always and anywhere in the world. It appears extremely naïve in our views even to suspect that they are arriving here as a result of profiteering brokers behind them. Clearly, North Koreans arriving in Thailand are victims of an international disaster and injustice. The South Korean government is well prepared to accept them just as soon as possible, in an effort to keep the burden on Thailand to an absolute minimum. Other nations, including the United States, have also shown a willingness to accept some of these refugees to further reduce the pressure from the refugee flow.
  2. North Koreans are extremely poor, perhaps some of the most impoverished people in the entire world today. Logically, how could any profiteer view the assistance of such a penniless people as a source of financial gain? The refugees arrive in Thailand after weeks, and often times months, of long, perilous and costly travel. In fact, some of the physically weaker refugees simply perish on the way when faced with the daunting challenge of trudging up and down the steep hill country.Many humanitarian aid workers help the refugees unconditionally with no expectation of even reimbursement, let alone profit! Indeed, some volunteers assist them and get the actual expenses reimbursed a year later, only if the refugees arrive in South Korea safely, a precarious condition that no profiteer would find even remotely attractive.
  3. All North Koreans who have arrived in Thailand, without a single exception, have left Thailand as soon as possible. They are arriving in Thailand only to gain asylum, and move on to third countries.
  4. The North Korean refugees have, in no way, been a threat to the national security of Thailand. None of them has ever acted against the security of Thailand or have ever been involved in any crimes.
  5. While we realize that Thailand has serious situations of illegal immigrants coming from neighboring countries in search of employment, the North Korean refugees do not wish to work or stay here. The situation of North Korean refugees arriving in Thailand is an international humanitarian issue that should come to an end in the foreseeable future.On the basis of the above observations, we most respectfully wish to bring the situation to the attention of this Conference and appeal to the National Human Rights Committee of the Kingdom of Thailand to look into this situation in respect in particular of the following matters of concern:a. Why are North Korean refugees detained at the expenses of the Government of Thailand when the South Korean embassy is willing to accept them immediately and when the language barrier, in particular, appears insurmountable on the part of Thai authorities?b. Why are they detained for such a long and unjust period of time in the extremely degrading detention facilities?c. Why are they singled out and have their visitation rights refused? Their families and friends are denied visitation rights

We are afraid that Thailand’s long and internationally respected history of humanitarianism is in danger of being devalued and undermined. We suspect that the policy errors being made are not being derived consciously, but this is rather a case of ignorance to the situation by a small number of Thai immigration officials.

These officials seem to believe that they can deter the number of arrivals of North Koreans in Thailand by intentionally making them suffer, combined with the incompetence and failure of South Korean diplomats to give the situation proper attention.

We wish to respectfully appeal to the Government of Thailand to assure the freedom of humanitarian aid workers to help refugees in accordance with the practice of customary international laws and the status of Thailand as a member of Executive Committee of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees.

Thank you for your time.

Presented at International Conference on
The North Korean Human Rights Situation

~ September 17-21, 2007 – Bangkok, Thailand