Chipping Away at NKHR in Hong Kong

While the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees has received worldwide attention in recent times, most notably during the “Save My Friend” campaign of early 2012, few voices of public opposition emanate from China. This wall of silence appears to be slowly chipping away, however, and “North Korean Defectors Concern,” the first North Korean human rights organization in Hong Kong, has been spreading awareness about China’s policy of repatriating defectors over the past year.

Led by Owen Lau, a student at City University of Hong Kong, the group’s awareness-raising activities include seminars, protests, and street campaigns. They focus in particular on promoting a dialogue with local people to explain why helping North Koreans is warranted. “We’ve had some success,” he says, noting that the group has already collected almost 2,000 signatures in support of their cause.

The group has found that campaigning online is the easiest way to reach mainland Chinese. “It’s easier to do campaigns through the Internet because many young Chinese find ways to visit banned websites,” Lau says. The group has been posting pictures of its activities on Facebook over the past year. Lau says there are plans to create a full website in the near future.

Despite the group’s efforts, however, Lau admits that spreading awareness of North Korean human rights has not been easy. He says this is because a lot of people in Hong Kong and China are focused on their own interests, and lack international horizons. The most frequent question the activists receive centers on the point that “The social problems in Hong Kong have not been solved, so why do we need to take care of North Koreans?”

This is why the group decided to use film to help spread awareness about North Korean human rights. On August 10th and 11th, they held a North Korean human rights film festival at a church in the city. Drawing around 130 people, five movies were shown: “Winter Butterfly,” “Crossing,” “The People’s Crisis,” “Engaged”, and “Traveler from the North.” The organizers also brought in two speakers: Kim Kyu Min, the co-director of “Crossing,” and an anonymous defector who spoke about her experiences escaping from North Korea.

The film festival received support from the North Korean Strategy Center, a South Korean human rights organization run by “The Aquariums of Pyongyang” author and North Korean defector Kang Cheol Hwan. The group’s Facebook page is here