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Speech by Suzanne Scholte
September 29, 2002

Ms. Suzanne Scholte, President of Defense Forum Foundation in the U.S., presented the keynote speech at our General Meeting this year.

Proposals for Planning Future Policies

Thank you to Kenkichi Nakadaira and all of you for the honor of speaking before the Annual General Meeting of the Life Funds for North Korean Refugees.

My first knowledge of your organization came through my work as the U.S. partner for the Seoul-based Citizens Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. I had the opportunity to hear Shioe Okamura representing your organization at the 3rd International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in February of this year. I was deeply moved by the work that Shioe described on behalf of your Representative, Kenkichi Nakadaira, and all of you. You have at great personal expense and great personal risk reached out to help the suffering refugees of North Korea.

I was deeply impressed by the creative programs that you developed to meet the immediate needs of these refugees through food and clothing donations but also to help with long-term needs like your foster parent program and your self-reliance projects.

Shioe told us that day of people who dismissed your work as too great a task, while others suggested that you only help Koreans who had ties to Japan. I will never forget how Shoie described your organization's response. She said: "It would be heartless to ask people their hometowns before we decided whether to help them or not." Those very words echo the words spoken nearly 2000 years ago by Christ when he described the parable of the Good Samaritan.

So, as one of His followers, I was very moved by your willingness to take on such a huge task to help all who are suffering and in great need. And I am honored to have been invited to be with you today to speak about our shared work and goals.

Kenkichi Nakadaira requested that I address three specific topics for you today: our general strategy for rescuing North Korean refugees; our work with the North Korean refugee camps project; and work that NGOs can do to help with this initiative. I will address these specific topics and also some general ideas for accomplishing the goals that we share, as well as some background on how we became so involved in this issue.

I first became involved in this issue in 1996 when we began an effort to get a North Korean defector to visit the United States. After a year's worth of effort, we succeeded in bringing two defectors from North Korea to the United States, former Army Colonel Joo Hwal Choi and diplomat Young Hwan Ko. When they came to the United States they begged me to become involved in the political prisoner camp issue because they believed it was crucial for people in the free world to know about the atrocities being committed in these political prisoner camps where well over 400,000, perhaps as many as one million people have died. To them, the political prisoner camp system was the key element of how the North Korean regime maintains power. So, in 1998, we brought to the United States for the first time survivors of the North Korean political prisoner camps. Because of our work on this issue, the Citizens Alliance for North Korean human rights and the Tokyo-based Society to Help Returnees to North Korea asked us to become their U.S. partner. Soon, we all become deeply involved with the refugee issue when more and more North Koreans were fleeing North Korea.

During our 1997 Capitol Hill presentation on North Korea, the famine situation and the control of food access by the North Korean regime was dramatically illustrated. Army Colonel Choi stood next to diplomat Young Hwan Ko and said, "Look at us. We are living proof of North Korea's misuse of humanitarian aid." Colonel Choi was stocky and well built, while Ko was very skinny. Choi explained that the North Korean regime was diverting all humanitarian aid from its starving population for the benefit of the miliary and Kim Jong Il's elite party members. Even a diplomat serving the North Korean regime like Ko was underfed, but the military man was well fed.

As you know, this continued diversion of humanitarian aid and the reckless agricultural policy of the Kim Jong il regime, which caused the famine, have forced many North Koreans to flee their own country. Over the past several years as we have had the opportunity to hear the life stories of these North Korean defectors we have had confirmed what we all feared: that life in North Korea is a living hell for most of the population. I believe we only know part of the horror and when this regime collapses, we will be further horrified by the atrocities committed by this regime.

I carry this card with me everywhere I go: the card has two numbers 42 and 391. That is the most conservative estimate of how many people will die today in North Korea: 42 deaths in the political prisoner camps and 391 deaths due to starvation. This number is probably much higher because I based these estimates on what is generally accepted as the least number of deaths. In other words, each day in North Korea Kim Jong il is responsible for the deaths of over 433 innocent men, women, and children.

North Korea is a country experiencing daily the murder of its own citizens by the Kim Jong il regime.

Tragically, this regime has not only caused horrible suffering upon its own citizens, but also citizens of Japan and South Korea. At the conference in which Shoie spoke for your organization, we also had the opportunity to hear from the families of abducted Japanese and South Korean citizens. We heard the tragic stories from people like Shigeru Yokota and others who had lost family members because of this regime. After the conference, when I got on the plane to return to the United States, I was so overcome with the pain and suffering of these citizens of Japan and South Korea that I sobbed uncontrollably for three hours. The stewardess on the plane thought I must have lost a loved one, and in a way I had, because much like the guiding spirit of your organization, I see each of these people as my brother and my sister and their desperate pleas need to be answered.

The human rights situation facing the North Korean people is the worst humanitarian crisis in the world today. And we must respond to this as governments, as NGOs, and as individuals in a number of ways.

I will outline ways to address the immediate concerns and then ways to address the long-term concerns.

First, to meet the immediate needs of the North Korean refugees, it is necessary for all governments, NGOs, and individuals to demand that China stop all repatriations of North Korean refugees. We must continue to demand that China allow the UNHCR access to the North Korea- China border. China is required by international agreements to allow the UNHCR access. Recently, the legislative branch of our government, both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives, unanimously approved resolutions calling on China to comply with the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1951 and the Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees of 1967. These resolutions called for China to stop the repatriations and to permit the UNHCR access to North Korean asylum seekers.

It is grossly inhumane for the government of China to have a policy of repatriating North Korean refugees and to persecute the very groups whose only mission is to feed the starving and shelter the homeless. How can a government that seeks to be recognized as a world leader be allowed to persecute both its suffering neighbors and the individuals and organizations whose only wish is to help the suffering? The governments of Japan, South Korea and the United States must demand that China end this inhumane policy.

We must make it in China's economic interest to comply with this request. We must force China to choose between access to the Free World's markets or continuing its policy of propping up an evil, corrupt, totalitarian regime. If the United States government is not willing to use economic leverage to make China comply with the international treaties it has signed, then all free people in the world should call for an international boycott of every single product made in China.

We know that China will respond to international pressure based on a recent incident.

Sin U Nam of the United States, who is with you today, and I were involved with the Kim Han Mee family's attempted defection to the Japanese consulate office in Shenyang in May. This operation did not go as planned and the family was seized, as you know, by the Chinese police. I am convinced that the outcry by the Japanese government and the Japanese people demanding their return saved their lives. This case was unprecedented because it was the first time in recent years that China had North Korean refugees in its custody but allowed them to go to a third country. In all the other recent examples, the refugees were in the custody of other governments, whether Spain or Germany or South Korea. It was clear that the release of the Kim Han Mee family by China was a direct result of Japan's outcry.

For some possible future actions, we may consider staging a world-wide protest against China's policy by organizing demonstrations at every Chinese embassy around the world. Reverend Dr. Chun Chong You of the Save North Korean Refugees recently held a protest at China's embassy in Washington, D.C. for example, and I had the honor to speak at this protest. We may want to consider such a protest coordinated with all the NGOs around the world interested in helping the North Korean refugees. At this protest, we would announce a world-wide boycott of all Chinese products until the Chinese government stops repatriating North Korean refugees.

Second, to respond to the immediate humanitarian crisis, governments need to provide funding to NGOs to help North Korean refugees. As part of our effort, we have been encouraging the U.S. Congress to provide funding specifically for a refugee camp for North Korean refugees. We need to unite the starving and desperate with those willing to feed and comfort them. We were able to submit letters from eleven organizations based in South Korea, Japan, Europe and the United States including Doctors Without Borders and the U.S. Committee for Refugees expressing a willingness to support such an effort for a refugee camp. I am pleased that Life Funds for North Korean Refugees was one of the first groups to respond to this request and your letter of support was submitted to the Senate and the Congress.

At this point, additional funding for refugees of $80 million has been included in the U.S. appropriations bill, but the final budget won't be voted on until next month, so we will continue to defend this level of funding. The Senate included language asking the U.S. State Department to use this additional funding "to safeguard the human rights and dignity of North Korean refugees and asylum seekers, whether through the establishment of camps, contributions to other organizations, or other means."

Dr. Jae Nam of the United States, who is also with you today, has been instrumental in laying the groundwork for a refugee camp and has participated in meetings with Members of the House Appropriations Committee in encouraging their support for the North Korean refugees.

Third, we must stop all humanitarian aid to North Korea unless we can see the aid consumed and used by the people we are trying to help. I fully support humanitarian aid, but the aid going to North Korea is keeping Kim Jong Il in power because it is being misused. I know fully well that there are groups in North Korea that are successfully delivering aid -- they are on-site seeing it consumed by those in need. But most, if not all, international aid is being diverted.

Can you imagine how Japanese, South Koreans, and U.S. taxpayers would feel to know that aid they believe is helping some starving child is instead feeding a dictator who is directly causing that child to starve?

We hear again and again from defectors that they never saw any humanitarian aid. When Colonel Choi testified in the US in 1997, he said that 100% of the aid was being diverted. He said while the NGOs are present, the aid is distributed to the families, but as soon as the NGO trucks drive out of town, the army goes back in and takes all the food back. Furthermore, when I was in Tokyo in 1999 at the International Forum on North Korean Returnees hosted by Professor Haruhisa Ogawa, I stated that all humanitarian aid should be stopped. It was controversial at the time and not many people would join me in this demand. But after my remarks, two Japanese women secretly approached me. They had recently been to North Korea to see their families. They confirmed exactly what Colonel Choi said. Their families were forced to sign papers stating they had received a certain quantity of rice, but the army took the rice as soon as the NGOs left the area. But the paper signed by the family was shown to the NGOs to convince them the aid had been received by the family.

This deliberate deception has led many groups to leave North Korea in protest including Doctors Without Borders and Action Against Hunger.

And yet today, we still provide aid. In November 2001, UN officials complained of the difficulty of obtaining visas for World Food Program workers especially if those workers were from Japan, South Korea or the U.S. Furthermore, North Korea rejected any workers who could speak Korean. What country in the world would block someone who spoke their language from being involved in this kind of humanitarian work? It is precisely because North Korea intends to divert this aid that it does not allow Korean language speakers to assist in its distribution.

Fourth, the governments of Japan, South Korea, and United States must honor all requests for North Korean asylum seekers. We know of high profile cases where defectors tried to seek refugee in the South Korean embassy but were turned away. Soon Ok Lee tried to defect in 1995 and Chul Hwan Kang tried to defect in 1992 via the South Korean Embassy but both were turned away. Fortunately, the recent media focus on these attempted defections has helped the cause of asylum seekers.

Two initiatives are underway in the United States regarding this issue. Senator Sam Brownback is pushing for Lautenberg Amendment status for North Korean refugees which would make it easier for them to come to the United States. This amendment was used to help Jews trying to escape the Soviet Union.

Congressman Chris Cox is pushing for our government and yours and our other allies to adopt a policy of temporary first asylum for North Korean refugees. This policy would guarantee safe arrival and temporary shelter wherever they arrive; and assure the countries that take in the refugees that the costs of transporting them to safe, permanent refuge would be provided. This policy was developed in the late 1970's to help the Vietnamese boat people who were fleeing communism.

I am pleased that Japan is already moving forward to make its refugee policy more friendly to North Korean refugees and has taken the lead in planning to provide shelter for refugees in Japan.

Furthermore, Japanese Diet Member Masaharu Nakagawa and six other members of the Diet have established the International Parliamentary Congress Members' Forum on the North Korea Refugees and Humanitarian Issues. Working with South Korean Assembly members they are now reaching out to colleagues in the U.S. Congress as well. This international group is pressing for China to stop its repatriations, for the UNHCR to be allowed unhindered and safe access to these asylum seekers, and to set up refugee camps for North Korean refugees.

Fifth, we should prepare for the collapse of the Kim Jong-il Regime. Some in our various governments are afraid of a regime collapse and a change in the status quo. But does Japan want a neighbor like South Korea or North Korea? Does Japan want a neighbor where your greatest hostility is on the soccer field or a neighbor like Kim Jong il who fires missiles over your island claiming they are birthday greetings and has a history of abducting your citizens? When human rights come to North Korea, do any of us in government or in the private sector want to be associated with maintaining the status quo when the atrocities of this regime are further revealed to the free world?

Instead of fearing the collapse of the Kim Jong-il regime, we should welcome it and we should prepare for it. His regime cannot stand on its own unless it gets help from the outside.

It is likely that the Kim Jong-il regime would have collapsed by now had we not all rushed in with aid in the 1990's to prop up his faltering system.

To prepare for this collapse, we should support and expand Radio Free Asia and any programs that can broadcast into North Korea. Through these programs, we should call for free elections in North Korea. Obviously, some North Koreans may not know what "free" or "elections" mean, but we should utilize the defectors now in the Free World to offer commentaries about how people really live in South Korean, Japan and the United States. We should let these people know that we care about them and want to help them. We should let them know truth.

Tragically, North Koreans are raised to hate us and everything that we stand for. While Asian and American school children learn to count using fruit and other objects, North Korean students learn math by adding up how many American GIS they can kill. But we know when a little truth comes into a dark world, that a great light begins to spring forth. One example is the case of Chul Hwan Kang. He overheard a radio broadcast from Seoul that reported South Korean workers were on strike seeking higher wages. After hearing that one simple radio broadcast, this North Korean knew that everything he had been taught about the so- called "evil" South Korea was a lie: in South Korea, people had jobs, people got paid, people could protest if they did not feel they were getting paid fairly -- the total reverse of everything he had been taught about South Korea. Just that little bit of information made him question all the propaganda he had been fed by the Kim Jong-il regime.

We know from defectors that at least half of them were able to get news and information from the outside world by secretly listening to radio broadcasts. We should get as many radios into North Korea as possible, so that more North Koreans can hear the truth.

We should utilize the knowledge and understanding of North Korean defectors to help plan for the regime collapse because these people want to be and will be the future leaders of a free North Korea.

Sixth, we should continue to raise the human rights issue every time we talk about North Korea or talk to North Koreans. Defectors have told us repeatedly that even the regime of Kim Jong-ill is not immune from the outcries of the international community about the repression of his own people. They have testified that the outcry from humanitarian groups has helped close political prison camps and improved prison conditions.

Congressman Cox has also recommended that the U.S. sponsor a resolution at the United Nations condemning the religious and human rights violations by North Korea's government.

A critical need that we are hoping to address is the creation of a database on all North Korean asylum seekers and repatriations, so that we can track minute by minute where they are. Lawmakers, NGOs like yours, reporters, human rights activists would be able to find out the status of individual cases so that we can continue to press for their release if they are being held and ask for their status when they are returned. For example, what happened to the 7 North Korean refugees that received refugee status from the UNHCR but were returned to North Korea in January, 2000? In an outrageous act of inhumanity, Russia and China sent them back to North Korea despite the fact that they were granted refugee status. Are they alive? We should be asking about them all the time. Because to us they are human beings, and we should never forget them. Let us apply the example of devotion Shigeru and Sakie Yokota have demonstrated regarding their daughter Megumi to our brothers and sisters in North Korea.

We may also consider through our NGOs launching a campaign of adoption for each North Korean refugee. In other words, we could take pledge commitments. I for example could offer to sponsor a family of four to come to the United States and perhaps through my church pledge to feed, cloth and shelter them for a year or two until they became acclimated to living in the USA. It is this kind of individual action that Life Funds for North Korean refugees has inspired and so successfully undertaken.

I also encourage you to participate once again in the International Conference for North Korean Human Rights and Refugees to be held in Prague next year. I think it is very important for all of us to work together to free our brothers and sisters in North Korea.

I know that the task ahead of us is awesome, and I know that you and your organization have never turned your backs on those in great need but have given generously of yourselves. When I first became involved in this issue I naively kept thinking if we could just get a hearing in the Congress on this issue, it will be solved. If I could just get this one paper published about the refugees, people will respond. If I can just get this material into the hands of the State Department, things will change. I know now after these many years, that this is a long and arduous task. So, I have another card I keep close at hand which is a quote from Paul's letter to the Galatians, Galatians 6: verse 9: "Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up."

For you and me, that harvest is not food, but the North Korean people. And if we do not give up, they will one day be free.

Thank you.
Suzanne Scholte
Defense Forum Foundation