LFNKR’s Kato Speaks on Human Trafficing of NK Women

Kato Hiroshi, of LFNKR, speaks on human trafficking of NK women

Speech by Kato Hiroshi, Executive Director
Life Funds for North Korean Refugees

Ladies and gentlemen, it is an honor for me to be here today and I would like to thank The Committee for the Bangkok International Conference for North Korean Human Rights for giving me the opportunity to say a few words on behalf of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

Some of you may be wondering what kind of NGO Life Funds for North Korean Refugees is. We are a small Japanese non-profit organization, and first of all I’d like to tell you a bit about our organization and activities.

Life Funds was founded in 1998 with the aim of helping as many North Korean refugees as possible. Presently, we have approximately 150 members from Japan, South Korea, China, the U.S., Australia, and Canada.

We estimate that there are approximately 100 000 North Koreans living in hiding in the three northeastern provinces in China.

The work of Life Funds for North Korean Refugees falls into several categories:

The first two are the distribution of food and clothing to those who have fled North Korea due to hunger, and the provision of medicine and medical care to those who require it.

We also provide shelter to North Korean refugees in China who need it.

Fourth, recognizing education as a basic requirement for children, including refugees and orphans, we have created an educational foster parent program. Working under an informal arrangement with a school principal who is an ethnic Korean Chinese, as well as the local Han Chinese community, we are sending North Korean refugee children to school.

In addition to this, we are drawing upon retired ethnic Korean teachers in the community, who visit the shelters and teach the children.

Finally, with our Foster Parents program, we provide protection and education in China to refugee children and children who have lost their parents.

When we consider the current conditions in North Korea from a human rights standpoint, a major problem that cannot be overlooked is the issue of human trafficking. Although it is impossible to know exact figures, LFNKR estimates that there are more than 70, 000 victims of trafficking at least. According to surveys we have taken in ethnic Korean villages where our shelters are located, the woman has been sold into marriage in ten to twenty percent of all the households in those communities.

The youngest victim of trafficking that we know of was sold at eight years of age and brought up in an ethnic Korean Chinese household until the age of fourteen, when she was sold for 1,500 RMB to a Han Chinese man. At 19, she gave birth to a child, but after the baby was born, she was sold again by a broker to another man. At present we do not know where she is. Cases of women being re-sold in this manner by brokers are, unfortunately, not uncommon.

The going price for women being traded is 20,000 to 30,000 RMB for a woman in her twenties, 15,000 to 20,000 RMB for a woman in her thirties, and 5,000 to 6,000 RMB for a woman in her forties. The price is lower by 500 to 1,000 RMB if the woman is accompanied by children.

In the mid 1990s, as the rationing system in North Korea began to break down, the number of people leaving that country to find food in China began to increase. Ethnic Koreans living in China provided their hungry brethren with food and clothing. But the goodwill of these ethnic Koreans was also abused, and as incidents of robbery and murder increased, relations deteriorated and the Chinese security forces began to crack down on North Korean defectors. North Koreans seeking to escape starvation began to enter China in large numbers in 1997.

The trafficking of women in China began to attract notice around 2000. Women suffering unbearable poverty in North Korea began to see escape to China as a road to survival. At the same time, reports began to emerge of the increasing frequency with which female defectors were falling into the hands of brokers in China. Among these reports were those made by the supervisors of our shelters about the North Korean women living in the villages, as well as their children.

The Chinese authorities are in close contact with the North Korean security agency, and are trying to flush out the North Korean wives of ethnic Korean Chinese men. Women who are arrested and repatriated to North Korea leave behind children with no one to look after them. Children orphaned in this way usually seek to survive by helping with farm work, looking after cattle and the like, in exchange for food and a place to sleep.

Children born to North Korean victims of trafficking face a bleak future. These babies choose neither their country of birth nor their parents.

Children of North Korean women living in China illegally are stateless: they possess neither Chinese nor North Korean citizenship. They are unable to exercise any rights, including those to an education, and exist in a state of extreme poverty.

You know, you have to wonder why it is that Chinese government policies show no mercy to families. They callously tear them apart, separating mothers and children with no regard to human feeling.

In Yanji, Longjin, and other cities near the border between China and North Korea, the two countries have intensified their joint crackdown. North Korean authorities provide Chinese security police with information on North Korean defectors, and the Chinese police follow up relentlessly. These police personnel are highly motivated – their government is paying high bounties.  Each North Korean refugee arrested puts 2,000 RMB in someone’s pocket. That bounty payment equals the monthly salary of most university graduates in China.

Over the years, human rights NGOs, international organizations and foreign governments have made numerous appeals. They have asked the government of China about this issue of North Korean defectors in China.

The Chinese government has ignored these appeals. In fact, they have neglected to respond, and continue to forcibly return North Korean refugees to face sure and brutal persecution in North Korea. This is an obvious and blatant defiance of humanitarian principles. The Chinese government clearly has no interest in what the international community thinks. The UNHCR’s appeals to the government of China are always ignored. Beijing has also ignored the appeals of the South Korean government on behalf of aid workers arrested for helping North Korean refugees.

The two lessons to be learned from past incidents are these: First, China responds only to a strong show of force. Second, the last thing that works with the Chinese government is an appeal to humanitarian consideration. China is submissive in the face of strength, but shows no mercy toward the weak. North Korean defectors are in a position of strength when they are in the custody of foreign embassies and weak if they lack the protection of a strong power.

I now publicly issue a call to all South Korean activists and North Korean defectors. From this moment forward, I urge you to direct your efforts to collecting evidence, testimony and information that provides full details for the international community in general and the UN Special Raporateur, in particular.

We should recognize, however, that if the South Korean government were to raise this issue, it could call up unpleasant memories of ignoring of the Human Rights in North Korea under the sunshine policy and the Commitment Policy.

We must accept that if the South Korean government were to raise the issue of North Korean human rights, it could be less than beneficial.

At the same time, I want to add my voice to those urging that a clear, strong message be sent to the South Korean government that it must not and cannot hinder international efforts to help the innocent victims of North Korean crimes against humanity. They may not be in a position to help, but they should never hinder the efforts of others.

In addition, we all should take this occasion to acknowledge, with profound thanks, the Thai Government’s attitude of no repatriation of North Korean refugees the country where they came from.

In closing, and with your permission, I would like to personally call upon the entire international community to intervene decisively in the North Korean situation. It is clearly a matter of international responsibility.

Let us, therefore, create a living reality in which someday all innocent North Korean prisoners and all South Korean and Japanese abductees will know for a fact that they were never for a moment forgotten by the international community.

Thank you.