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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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