By Connie Lawn and Charles Sneiderman
The Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights Center for Justice and Human Rights and the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea hosted a discussion in Washington D.C. on Friday, February 13, 2015, with three North Koreans former political prisoners who have become activists. They described systematic torture, starvation, forced abortion, and the disappearance of members of their families. They estimate survival rates among the thousands incarcerated in North Korea to be less than ten percent.
They all had been favored by the ruling dynasty and their military, but had been imprisoned for such activities as reading foreign media, communicating with family in South Korea, and talking about religion. The panelists were Ms. Praise Joo, public relations manager of Serving Life International, Rev. Johan Kim of Cultural Welfare Foundation for North Korean Refugees, and Ms. Hyun-ah Ji, vice-chair of the International PEN North Korean Writers-in-Exile Center. They crossed the borders between North Korea and China multiple times to try to bring communications tools into the isolated country at great risk to their lives. The discussion was introduced by David McKean, Program Officer for Asia of the RFK Center and moderated by Dan Aum, current Donald. M. Wilson Fellow at the RFK Center. Henry Song, Executive Director of Inside NK, interpreted from Korean to English to an audience of human rights professionals and volunteers.
The activists hope more people in the world will get involved and help the isolated and suffering people in North Korea. They say there are a surprising number of religious believers who send help and give refuge to those who manage to defect.
On a personal note, the work of the RFK Center is important to me. I covered Robert F. Kennedy's 1968 presidential campaign and conducted one of the last interviews with him in Los Angeles, shortly before he was murdered. I am pleased to see his family and supporters are carrying on his legacy by fighting for the human rights of people oppressed throughout the world.