[imText1]While the interest for North Korean human rights is evermore increasing, the international conference for the North Korean human rights, “Seoul Summit: Promoting Human Rights in North Korea” opened in Seoul. The North Korean human rights activists participating in the conference flew in from around the world, and came to an agreement that the international society knowing about the realities of North Korea, must no longer ignore the problem of North Korean human rights.
At the conference, The DailyNK met with Suzanne Scholte, President of the Defense Forum Foundation, credited for the passage of the US North Korean Human Rights Act. Scholte raised the issue of the North Korean human rights for the first time in the United States in 1996 and has been one of the most active North Korean human rights activists ever since.
After the US North Korean Human Rights Act was unanimously passed, Suzanne Scholte has been advocating, “We need to try to get humanitarian aid into North Korea through organizations that have proven that they will do that rather than having it go through the government and Kim Jong Il’s distribution system.”
Following is the interview with Suzanne Sholte in full text:
Q: Could you give a brief self introduction for our Daily NK readers?
A: Well, my name is Suzanne Scholte and I am the President of the Defense Forum Foundation, which is a non-profit foundation. We started the program in 1996. We bring the defectors from North Korea to the United States to speak out about the Kim Jong Il regime. I am also the vice chairman and one of the founding board members for the US committee for Human Rights in North Korea, and I am also the vice chairman and one of the founding board members for the North Korea Freedom Coalition.
Q: How did you come about becoming interested in the North Korean human rights issue?
A: Well, our foundation is very involved in defense, foreign affairs, and human rights issues. We have been very involved in bringing defectors from different countries to come to the United States and speak out about what was then the Soviet Union, China, Cuba, and I’ve always wanted someone that was from North Korea. And I got involved as I mentioned before, in ’96, and when we brought these defectors over, it was the first time that the North Korean defectors had come to the United States to speak out about the Kim Jong Il regime, and there was very little knowledge in the United States about the human rights conditions in North Korea at the time because there hadn’t been defectors that had spoken out before. So, I realized that I had to do more. I had a high ranking colonel named Choi Ju Hwal and a diplomat named Ko Yong Hwan. They were the first ones that we brought over, and they said, “You Know Suzanne, for people in America to understand they have got to understand the political prisoner camps.” So within just a few months later we brought over Lee Sun Ok and Kang Chul Hwan, who is now very famous because he’s got to meet President Bush. And we immediately began work to get a hearing in Congress on the political prisoner camps. We succeeded in having a hearing back in ’99 with Lee Sun Ok, Kang Chul Hwan, and Ahn Myung Chul who had been a guard in the political prisoner camps. As I mentioned before there was not that many real people with knowledge of this issue and it just became a labor of love for me. It became a passion for me to work real aggressively for North Korean human rights. I would say the reason why I got involved was because it was an issue that no one was really paying any attention to. And I am also a Christian and it obviously deeply affected me because these are horrible human rights conditions, and being a believer I felt like God was calling me to get very involved in this. That is why I’ve been able to stay with it for so long.
Q: How active were you with the passing of the North Korean Human Rights Act?
A: We formed this coalition. That’s why we formed this North Korea Freedom Coalition. The other organization that I helped out with in the US Committees doesn’t get involved in lobbying so we all thought to put together people to lobby for the passage of the legislation. So we formed the North Korea Freedom Coalition basically for the purpose of passing this legislation. We were very involved with working towards this passage, and we worked very closely with Doug Anderson. I would say if you had to point to one single person who is responsible for the North Korean Human Rights Act, I would say Doug Anderson. Some of the things we did was we formed a coalition and we had a North Korean Freedom Day which was this huge rally. When we were planning that I had people tell me that there was no way we would get more than 200 people to come to Washington for the rally, especially among the Korean-American community because Korean-Americans are really focused on work, putting their kids into good colleges, and being productive citizens. I was really worried about it for a long time because if we had only a small of people come, then it would backfire and show that people really don’t care. It was amazing because we had a 1,000 people that came to the rally. The whole day was dedicated to exposing the human rights conditions in North Korea. We had 18 North Korean defectors there and we started with a press conference. We did a photo opportunity in front of the Holocaust museum just to kind of focus on how there is a holocaust going on right now in North Korea, and the Holocaust museum is dedicated to ending genocide. Then we marched to the rally on Capital Hill, and then that afternoon we had 200 people split into 20 teams of 10 lobby to all the senators and congressmen that run the foreign affairs committee who were going to make or break the legislation. At the end of the day we had a prayer vigil which was totally put together by the Korean-American pastors in the area. Both Senators credited the North Korean Freedom Coalition and North Korea Freedom Day for the passage of this legislation because it really galvanized grass roots support. And it also showed that there was a broad range of support because the people that came were college kids (LINK), Korean War veterans, a lot of American Christians, law makers, and we had organizations that came from Japan (Japanese Rescue Movement), and South Korea. One of our active members was Rabbi Abraham Cooper and he’s Jewish which shows that we had different religions involved as well and people with different political philosophies. It was a total bi-partisan effort.
Q: The legislation is important as a whole, but what would you find as the most important part?
A: Whenever I think about what I have to do next, it’s always about what do you do to save lives. That’s got to be the emphasis. So I would say that the most important part of the legislation is trying to rescue the refugees that have escaped. There is a part of the legislation which calls for refugee protection and funding that goes to support groups that are trying to help the refugees. The call for increased programs like radio programs and getting radios into North Korea is absolutely important. We need to try to get humanitarian aide into North Korea through organizations that proven that they will do that rather than having it go through the government and Kim Jong Il’s distribution system.
Q: And very briefly what do you plan on doing in the near future?
A: We are working in several different areas. Number one, we will continue in international protests with groups in South Korea, Japan, and hopefully other countries. We want to keep a pressure on China through international protests. We’re continuing to push for hearings on the North Korean Human Rights violations, the development of weapons of mass destructions, gas chambers, and testing on political prisoners in the camps. We’re also planning a Congressional hearing on other human rights violations North Korea has committed against not on its own citizens but other people of the world. So this hearing will address the Japanese citizens that were abducted, the Korean War abductees, the abductees since the Korean War and the POWs that have been held—they say there may be as 500 Korean POWs that are still being held in North Korea. We plan to bring over 2 survivors who were POWs that escaped and have a hearing on that to expose these other violations that North Korea has committed. Also, right now we’re trying to reach out to different embassies and ambassadors in regions that have refugees to give safe passage to those North Korean asylum seekers. We believe the famine like conditions are back. We have members that work inside North Korea that are private members—we don’t publicly recognize them as members but we keep getting these reports that people are still starving. We are very concerned with the winter months coming up that there is going to be more refugees trying to escape. So we’re trying to reach out to these countries and pressure them into giving the refugees a safe passage. And we’re probably going to have North Korean Freedom Week which will be a focus on the whole issue. We want to bring back the North Korean Genocide exhibit which is a powerful exhibit back to Washington. We want to publicize it even more and get people to see the atrocities. During that week we’ll have rallies and demonstrations. We’re calling all of our coalition members to plan events specifically for that week.