ICNK (21.03.2013) - The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) today welcomes the establishment of a special, three-person UN Commission of Inquiry to examine rights abuses in North Korea by the UN Human Rights Council at its 22nd session. The ICNK has campaigned since its founding to see the establishment of such a commission of inquiry (COI). This is an historic step towards ensuring accountability for human rights abuses in North Korea. READ MORE/VIEW HISTORIC UN HRC SESSION
The following wide-ranging interview by reporter, Kim So Yeol, with Christian activist Tim Peters, founder of Helping Hands Korea and long-term advocate for North Korean Human Rights, was conducted last month for an article that appeared in the February 2013 issue of NK Vision. Thank you to NKnet intern Nova Mercier for transcribing the interview and doing much of the editing. Read article in Korean based on this interview
What changes do you hope to see in regards to North Korean issues? Naturally, because life in North Korea for the rank and file is so deplorable and constrained, I have many aspirations for improvement. One of the most urgent would be to see a resolution of human rights violations in North Korea, the conditions are especially desperate in the DPRK’s prison system.
My hope is that the South Korean government becomes much more courageous in standing up for the rights of North Koreans, particularly those in transit from North Korea to South Korea. I hope that the new administration in Seoul will strongly defend their rights, as these people are in great danger after leaving North Korea.
There are so many areas in which improvements need to be made! I also hope the US, Japan, EU, and South Korea could separate trade issues from refugee and human rights issues when dealing with China. This is a barrier to progress in protecting refugees and stateless children in China. All aspects of the relationships between major governments seem to be held hostage to trade considerations. This is highly unfortunate and I hope that these issues can be decoupled and dealt with in a firm and principled way.
Essentially, governments have to ask themselves: do we really believe in justice? Do we really believe in protection for the vulnerable? Do we really believe in humanitarian values? Or are we a purely mercantile society that wants trade at any cost?
I fully understand that every society has to make a decision about what is most important to its members. But if we truly call ourselves democracies and republics, and we really care about the rule of law and human rights and freedoms, our commitment to those values should not vacillate depending on the economy. We should not be a fair-weather friend in our commitment to human rights and other personal freedoms. READ MORE:
“Born in a prison camp, Shin Dong-hyuk describes how three generations of a family are incarcerated if one family member is considered disloyal. Anderson Cooper reports.”(quoted from the CBS News 60 Minutes website)
***Note: HHK’s director was part of an activist team that traveled with Shin Dong-hyuk to the UK when Shin gave his testimony to the UK Parliament and major British media. A second trip was made not long after to Denmark. Helping Hands Korea has carried out its work of helping North Korean refugees and all North Koreans in crisis for the past 16 years and continues this work to the present under difficult circumstances.
Helping Hands Korea is profiled extensively in Melanie Kirkpatrick’s much heralded account of the network of volunteers, many of them Christian activists, that has sought to fill the vacuum created by governments and well-funded international agencies that have chosen to ignore the plight of North Korean refugees in China. Ms. Kirkpatrick, a veteran journalist and deputy editor for the Wall Street Journal, has painstakingly etched a comprehensive picture of the modern equivalent of the US Civil War’s abolitionists’ volunteer network, the Underground Railroad, to guide slaves in the South to safe havens in the Northern states. In the past 15 years, a tiny community of activists has designed a similar grid to facilitate the safe evacuation of North Korean refugees through vast distances of China, which for the refugees is deeply hostile territory since Beijing’s authorities adamantly continue a calloused policy of forced repatriation of North Korean defectors if caught. Helping Hands Korea has decried Western governments’ ongoing craven compromise with Chinese authorities for commercial gain, choosing massive profits instead of confronting China over its consistently egregious violation as a UN Security Council Member of its own human rights obligations towards North Korean refugees on its soil.
China has a policy of forcibly repatriating North Korean refugees, in total disregard of the international principle of non-refoulement and in violation of international law. Thousands of North Koreans have escaped from the world’s most closed and brutal totalitarian regime, fleeing famine, oppression and persecution. Many live a precarious existence in China, as stateless refugees in hiding, as orphaned or abandoned children, or as trafficked women. If sent back to North Korea, refugees face detention, torture and even execution as illegal border-crossers upon their return to North Korea, where the regime takes a dim view of defectors. In 2010, North Korea made the crime of defection a “crime of treachery against the nation”.
Under Kim Jong Un, the penalties have become harsher. Border guards have been ordered to shoot anyone escaping across the frontier to China. In January he announced that the penalty for defecting during the official period of mourning for his father, Kim Jong-il, is the execution of the defector’s entire family.
International law prohibits the forcible repatriation, either directly or indirectly, of any individuals to a country where they are at risk of facing persecution, torture or death. In 1988 China ratified the Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment, which prohibits the forcible return of people to states where they face a substantial risk of being tortured. China is also a state party to the UN Refugee Convention.
China claims these people are economic migrants, not refugees, but due to the consequences they face upon return to North Korea, all these people – whether they fled for economic or political or religious reasons – count as ‘refugees sur place’ under the UN’s definition.
Despite its obligations under these conventions, China has prevented the UN refugee agency (UNHCR) from access to North Koreans in China and considers all undocumented North Koreans as economic migrants, rather than as asylum-seekers. Many North Koreans in China do not seek to settle in China, but desire safe passage to a third country, particularly South Korea.
By kind invitation of Lord Alton of Liverpool, TheAll-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea is pleased to invite you to a discussion with Tim Peters, Founder of Helping Hands Korea. He will discuss China’s continuing breaches of international law with regard to North Korean refugees, its restrictive relationship with the UNHCR, and the repercussions of these actions in the future.
Tim Peters has been working with North Korean people in crisis since he founded Helping Hands Korea in 1996. In response to news of famine in North Korea, Helping Hands Korea launched a small program to provide food aid to the most vulnerable sectors of North Korean society. Through these efforts, unorthodox avenues of aid delivery were developed that maximized transparency in monitoring, a chronic challenge to humanitarian groups in North Korea. From 1998, Helping Hands Korea undertook the additional task of assisting North Koreans in China who had fled famine and oppression in their own country only to find their lives also at risk in China. Aid to North Korean refugees in China includes secret shelters, food, clothing, emergency medical treatment, as well as spiritual guidance and comfort. In cases where refugees face particular danger, logistical support is given to refugees for escape to third countries, the so-called ‘underground railroad.’ Since 2005, aid to displaced children of forcibly repatriated North Korean refugee women has grown in importance.
Mr. Peters’ humanitarian activism has been profiled in a cover story of TIME magazine, as well as in Newsweek (Asia), The Sunday Times, New York Times, International Herald Tribune, Washington Times, BBC, NPR, ABC’s Nightline, Korea Herald, Korea Times, Christianity Today and the award-winning documentary production by Incite Productions, Seoul Train. The Wall Street Journalrecommended Mr. Peters be considered for the 2007 Nobel Peace Prize. He was awarded the 2008 Stephen’s Prize for activism in Oslo, by Norway’s former Prime Minister Kjell Bondevik on behalf of the Stephanus Alliance.
Mr. Peters and his wife are currently based in Seoul, South Korea where he has lived and worked on three occasions for a total of nearly 22 years since 1975. In addition to his humanitarian work, within the past eight years he has worked as an editor and speechwriter for the Korean National Commission for UNESCO, the Korean National Red Cross and the Federation of Korean Industries (FKI) in Seoul. In early 2004, he was approached by the World Economic Forum to prepare a paper that would outline the current predicament of North Korean refugees in China, to project worst-case and best-case scenarios of this crisis as well as to recommend practical measures to help the 300,000 North Korean refugees in China. Mr Peters has testified before the U.S. Congress on three occasions between 2002 and 2005. His written submission for the April 28, 2004 hearing of the International Relations Committee, Subcommittee of Asia and the Pacific, entitled “Korean Pathetique: A Symphony of Refugee Tears Unheeded” contains the essence of his analysis and policy recommendations as submitted to the World Economic Forum (document available upon request). This analysis of the multi-faceted North Korean refugee problem with proposed solutions has been referenced in the Encyclopedia of Human Rights, 2009, (v.3)by Oxford University Press.
Former prisoner (from birth) of N.Korea's Camp 14 and only escapee
“……In fact, the regime may not survive much longer. “News is increasingly leaking into the North through short-wave radio broadcasts and illegal international phone calls,” explains Tim Peters, a Seoul-based pastor who helps North Koreans escape. “Coming from a society in which it is virtual suicide to speak out, brave defectors like Song and Shin do a great service to their countrymen.
“And disenchantment with the third generation of leadership in North Korea is on the rise. Refugees tell us that most people are fed up, but they also know that voicing such dissatisfaction can mean long-term imprisonment, if not worse.”
CBC’s Anna Maria Tremonti follows up her interview with Shin Dong-hyuk, about whom the new best-selling book Escape from Camp 14 was written, by interviewing Tim on the rampant trafficking of North Korean women in China and HHK’s care for their children after the trafficked women are forcibly repatriated to the DPRK by China. To hear the interview, click on ‘Listen’at the top of the CBC page in the Checking-In section.(Tim’s interview is between minutes 4:00 to 14:00 of The Current) http://www.cbc.ca/thecurrent/episode/2012/05/17/checking—in-5/
Reporting from Seoul: It’s well after dark and Tim Peters leans forward to tell a story about poverty and North Korea. He’s surrounded by a dozen people at a gathering with the cozy atmosphere of a community college night class, the students engrossed by a mentor’s tales. READ MOREabout the Catacombs movement to help North Koreans.
South Korean pastor Suh Kyung-suk shouts toward the Chinese Embassy during a rally in support of North Korean refugees arrested by Chinese authorities in Seoul.
Seoul—Angry demonstrators staged a rally Tuesday near the Chinese Embassy here to protest China’s state security police for arresting dozens of North Korean defectors who face torture, imprisonment and even death if returned to their homeland.