The Victims of Communism Foundation's Blog

Captive Nations Report 2017: North Korea

Captive Nations Report 2017: North Korea

I want to summarize very quickly some of the recent work we’ve been doing on North Korea over the past year. We just had North Korea Freedom Week in April, where we hosted a whole delegation of North Korean defectors. One of the points that the delegation made is that the Trump administration is relying on China to help rein in North Korea, and that’s just not going to happen. We can’t rely on China to help, clearly. China continues to repatriate North Korean refugees, which is a death sentence for them. Eighty percent of the North Koreans escaping carry poison, because when they cross that border, if they get caught, they’d rather die than be sent back to North Korea. The situation is continuing to deteriorate, and that’s why you see the level of escapees dropping. Who’s escaping now? It’s usually the diplomats, like Thae Yong-ho, who defected from his post at the North Korean embassy in London. There was a general that just escaped a week ago. The high-ranking people are able to get out, but for the average citizen it is far more difficult, far more expensive, to get people through the underground railroad.

With Kim Jong-un, the very important point that was made repeatedly, which we all know, is that there is not going to be peace in Korea until the dictatorship is gone. By contrast, the new president of South Korea, Moon Jae-in, declared that they do not want regime change, and they do not want military action, they just want peace. When he said that I thought of the alien creature in the movie Independence Day who, when the President of the United States goes to ask for peace, responds, “no peace.” There’s not going to be any peace in Korea until the regime is gone. Unfortunately, the Moon administration thinks that’s possible to have peace with Kim Jong-un. We’re calling it the “Moonshine Policy” instead of the “Sunshine Policy.”

One of the things that’s very important is the role of the North Korean defectors in getting information into North Korea and their work trying to change the regime peacefully. Throughout North Korea Freedom Week the defectors emphasized how important it is to get information to the people of North Korea. The defectors know the message that needs to be sent, and how to get it in there.

For example, we continue to support the daily broadcast of Free North Korea Radio. Ten percent of defectors now are defecting because they’re listening to Free North Korea Radio. The importance of support from the US continues to be really, really critical. Free North Korea Radio is a partnership between US citizens, Korean-American churches, and North Korean defectors. The North Korean defectors do the programming, and the Americans and Korean-Americans pay for the shortwave transmission. We’re continuing to remain on the air every day and are the most targeted for jamming.

Over the past two years we carried out a special radio broadcast which has gotten incredible responses. North Korean defectors showed up for North Korea Freedom Week with some portraits that had been smuggled out of Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea, in response to a program we started last year in which we simply asked members of Congress, “If you wanted to send a message to North Korea, what would you say?” We started broadcasting those messages in, and these portraits came back, of Congressmen Ed Royce and Chris Smith, and Senator Ted Cruz, who participated in the program. They were handwoven silk portraits, some of the most beautiful art I have ever seen—the portraits shimmered. They were smuggled out with this message from two brothers in Pyongyang, the capital city of North Korea: “Tell the American politicians that there are people in a dark place that still have hope.” This is an indication that the people in North Korea are getting information and they’re hearing and they’re responding to it. What’s important about this is that those brothers risked their lives to make these portraits. They would have been executed if they had been caught.

The defectors cited other examples of how the people were becoming more resistant to the regime: an entire family escaped a few months ago after overpowering border guards; a group of people on a train stood up against a state security agent who was trying to throw a mother and her daughter off a train for not having travel permits. None of these things were possible in the past.

And how do the people of North Korea know about Otto Warmbier? Because the defectors launched three hundred thousand leaflets into North Korea last month, telling the people of North Korea that this young man, an American, was killed by that regime. This was done by Park Sang-hak of Fighters for Free North Korea, a defector.

The defectors continue to be the key people to change things in the regime and get information in. Unfortunately, they are not getting any support and it’s very important to tell you this. We tried to meet with the Trump administration, tried to meet with Trump, tried to meet with Pence, during North Korea Freedom Week. If they had just tweeted or done anything to acknowledge the defectors it would have been a powerful blow to that regime, that would have been like a missile into the heart of Kim Jong Un. Unfortunately, we could not get any high-level meetings for the defectors with Trump administration officials. If we had, that would have been a powerful positive sign to the people in North Korea—including most importantly, the elites—that America wants to work for peaceful change and is not their enemy as they are brainwashed to believe.

The military people who have escaped from North Korea have also formed the North Korean People’s Liberation Front. They are in touch with military leaders, at least three high-ranking military leaders in North Korea. Through direct contact with these military leaders, through the Free North Korea Radio broadcast, and through smuggling in USBs and SD cards, they are calling for an end to the Kim Jong-un dictatorship and telling them what happened in Egypt, Romania, and other places where the military sided with the people and got rid of the dictator.

The most important things we should do now are to vigorously enforce sanctions to cut off the flow of money to Kim Jong-un, pressure countries to stop the slave labor of North Korean workers aboard that brings in hundreds of millions of dollars in cold cash to Kim, and support the defector NGOs working to bring about the end of the Kim dictatorship.


These remarks were delivered at events held by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation to commemorate Captive Nations Week in Washington, D.C. on July 19, 2017.

Photo by flickr user (Stephan)