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Freedom of information fundamental to paving the path to peace

[Assistant Secretary Tom Malinowski Interview]
Lee Kwang Baek; Kim Ga Young  |  2016-07-08 14:58
During a recent trip to South Korea, U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights Tom Malinowski (pictured left) sat down with Unification Media Group to discuss the human rights environment in North Korea and outline ways to build on existing momentum to foster a free, open North Korea.

The interview was broadcast via Unification Media Groups shortwave radio service into the North on June 17. 

The following is the full transcript of Unification Media Group President Lee Kwang Baeks interview with U.S. Assistant Secretary of Democracy and Human Rights Tom Malinowski. 

Unification Media Group: Thank you for taking the time out to sit down with us. If you could please introduce yourself for our listeners in North Korea. 

Assistant Secretary Malinowski: Hello, North Korea. My name is Tom Malinowski. Im the Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy and Human Rights in the United States government. Ive had this job for about two years. I used to work for a human rights organization called Human Rights Watch that promotes human rights in all the countries of the world. 

I now advise our Secretary of State John Kerry and our President Barack Obama on the best way to meet our own human rights obligations and to encourage others to respect human rights as well.  

What brings you to [South] Korea? 

Im mostly here to talk about the situation in North Korea. We, in the United States, and our friends here in South Korea are trying to figure out how we can best help the people of North Korea deal with a very difficult situation that they have been in. We wish that we had more contact with the people of North Korea. We wish that we could hear from them directly. We wish that they could travel to the United States and South Korea and that we could trade together and learn from each other.  

We cannot do that because the North Korean government does not allow any of that. But what we can do is try to talk to each other through this kind of media; to encourage radio broadcasts, so that there is more information going to the people of North Korea; to try to encourage other ways of reaching you, the people of North Korea to share our movies, and our books, and our literature; and to try our best to hear from you what you want to learn about, and even though its very imperfect, we can still try to get to know each other better in this way.

Earlier in May, Kim Jong Un declared the official opening of his era through the 7th Party Congress to people both at home and abroad. It has been five years since Kim assumed his leadership. What do you make of it so far?  

To most people outside of North Korea, it is both amazing and strange that someone like Kim Jong Un--this very, very young man--could exercise such absolute power over the lives of these people simply because his father and his grandfather did the same thing. This is the 21st century, and in most countries, and in most parts of the world, this does not happen.

In South Korea and in America, if you want to lead your country, you have to earn it. You have to show your people that you have the skills, and the values that they want in a leader. You have to ask for their support, you have to compete for their support. In America, we are having an election year for our president, and its going to be a very hard competition between Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump, both of whom will be making their arguments to the American people, and in a few months, the American people will choose. Thats the way its supposed to work. 

Now, the only reason why this continues in North Korea, as you all know, is because if people in North Korea tried to make a different choice, they would be punished. This is not a natural state of affairs. This is not how people want to live. This is not the way people do live in most places in the world. We dont know how long it will last, but we hope it will not last too much longer.  

Do you think there have been improvements in the area of North Koreas human rights after the UN Commission of Inquiry submitted its final report in 2014?  

The COI report was important because it told people all over the world, what you, the North Korean people, know already. It told us about the reality of life in North Korea and particularly about the way in which the government punishes people who dare to raise their voice in opposition, or who think differently, or who behave in ways that go against the rules of the ruling party. 

And, it was important because it was not a report published by America or South Korea, or Japan. This was a report from the United Nations. It represented the views of every country in the world, and therefore, cannot be denied by the government of North Korea. Ever since the COI report was published, the issue of human rights in North Korea has been at the center of international policy towards North Korea. 

It is being discussed in the UN Security Council, it is being discussed in Washington and Seoul and Europe, and were all trying to think about how we can best help the people of North Korea in their current situation, and how we can try to speed up the pace of change inside your country. 

I understand that youre working to identify North Korean officials who can be held accountable for the human rights violations. 

I think there are many people in the North Korean government who know that someday things will change. Someday the Korean Peninsula will be reunified, and I believe that they probably worry about their prospects, when that future comes. Will they still have jobs, will they still have money, will they still have the chance to be successful? 

We want to make sure that they know that if today, they are responsible for terrible human rights abuses, if they are commanding a prison camp, if they are involved in executions, if they are involved in hunting down North Koreans who leave their country in other countries, we will know who they are, their names will be on a list, they will be subject to sanctions, and in the future, when the rest of their people are progressing as part of a unified Korean Peninsula, they will be at the very bottom of the society, not at the top. 

There will be consequences that they will feel, and we hope that this prospect will cause some of them to think twice. We hope that it will cause them to make better decisions today, as they think about the future that they will have tomorrow. 

During many different events, you have talked about the importance of getting information into North Korea. Why do you think these kind of activities are necessary?  

First of all, everybody in the world is curious, everybody wants to know, everybody wants to pursue knowledge. I think all of us have a natural instinct to want to know more about the rest of the world. Im very curious about life in North Korea. I would love to have a chance someday to meet the people who live there and to know more about what they think and how they live. 

And, I think the people of North Korea should have the same ability to reach out and learn about how people live in South Korea, Japan, and the United States, Europe, and every part of the world. We want to be able to read each others books. We want to be able to see each others movies. We want to be able to learn each others history. We want to learn from our achievements, and we want to learn from one anothers mistakes as well. So one of the greatest crimes, it seems to me, that the North Korean government has committed is to deny its people the chance to gain this kind of knowledge, to deny them the chance to come to know their brothers and sisters in South Korea, and the citizens of other countries in other parts of the world. 

Now, I think this is becoming much harder for the government of North Korea to do. More people in your country have cell phones. More people in your country have access to tablets that show movies and even to the internet, and we want to encourage that. We think that if our goal is peace, if our goal is to avoid conflict, anything that allows us to know each other better is a good thing. 

Finally, would you kindly share a few words with our listeners in the North who are in hidden places tuning into this show?  

First, it makes us very sad that you have to be in hiding just to be able to hear from somebody like me, and I hope one day that we can meet in a situation where nobody has to be afraid. I would love to ask you questions about your life, and I would love to give you a chance to ask me questions about my country. If you have critical questions, if you have tough questions about the United States that you would like to have the answers to, I would love to have the opportunity to talk to you about those things, too.

Second, I can tell you that I have met a lot of North Koreans in the last few years--men and women from your country who have managed to come out and begin a new life in South Korea or in the United States. Many of them have experienced difficult things in their life. Many of them have been denied a good education, but they are some of the most impressive, and courageous people I have ever met. Because they have had to struggle, in some ways, they are more resilient, they are more creative, they are more talented than the many people who have lived all their life in South Korea or the United States. If you have to find a way to make money in North Korea, you probably know more about market economics than most people in America do, because you have had to learn for yourself how to survive by buying and selling things. 

Because they have experienced terrible political repression, because they have been denied their freedom, they know the value of freedom more strongly than many people in America and South Korea do. So, although they have some disadvantages, because of how they grew up, they also have some advantages. And I strongly believe that when North Korea is more free, when the Korean Peninsula is more unified, the people of North Korea will be among the most successful peoples in the world, because of what they had to learn in their struggle to get to that point.

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