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View more articles by Dennis P. Halpin
Dennis P. Halpin
Dennis P. Halpin, a former Foreign Service Officer and senior Congressional staff, is a consultant on Asian issues.
The end of April continues to see a major focus in Washington on all things Korean, North and South. That indefatigable champion for North Korean human rights, Suzanne Scholte, will be bringing North Korea Freedom Week back to the nation’s capital after a hiatus of several years in Seoul. Human rights activists will again chase down legislators, as they did in their successful lobbying for the 2004 Leach-Lantos-Brownback North Korean Human Rights Act, urging them not to forget the huddled masses yearning to breathe free in North Korea.
This past Sunday, North Korean defectors laid a wreath at the Korean War Veterans Memorial on the Mall to thank those who once answered “the call to defend a country they never knew and a people they never met.” Soon after Korean-Americans gathered in protest of Prime Minister Abe’s Congressional speech on April 29, wartime Emperor Hirohito’s birthday, having flown in for the event an elderly Comfort Woman survivor who testified at a 2007 Congressional hearing and received the personal blessing of Pope Francis in Korea last year.
Washington, no stranger to hypocrisy, will witness more of the same. Japanese ultra-conservatives may come during North Korea Freedom Week to voice their protest over North Korean frogmen’s tragic abduction of a 13-year-old Japanese girl off of a beach in 1977. At the same time they will continue to vigorously deny the Imperial Japanese military’s “coercion of young women into sexual slavery, known to the world as comfort women,” to quote from a 2007 resolution unanimously adopted by the U.S. House of Representatives. Certain Korean-American activists sympathetic to Pyongyang will scream loudly over Prime Minister Abe’s continued prevarication on the Comfort Women issue. They will simultaneously ignore recent press reports concerning North Korean leader Kim Jong Un’s revival of his father’s gippeumjo pleasure squads of comely young women retained in leadership villas as virtual sex slaves.
Beijing … has publicly criticized Imperial Japan’s past trafficking of Korean women and children during World War II while … enabling the current trafficking of North Korean women and children on its northeast border
Demonstrators will head to the Chinese Embassy on this coming Saturday, May 2, for a protest over forced repatriation of North Korean refugees. Beijing, of course, has publicly criticized Imperial Japan’s past trafficking of Korean women and children during World War II while, at the same time, enabling the current trafficking of North Korean women and children on its northeast border.
Defectors will speak in D.C., to any willing to listen, as they did at a hearing convened by the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) into North Korean human rights abuses in the fall of 2013 at Johns Hopkins University’s School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS). They will again bear witness to the “unspeakable atrocities” in the kwalliso political prisoner camps, which were chronicled in the COI’s February 2014 report.
Others will recount their harrowing escapes from North Korea and across China while being pursued by agents as determined to bring about their re-capture as those who hunted down slaves escaping north to Canada in the underground railroad before the American Civil War. These eyewitness accounts describe a ‘tortuous, roundabout refugee trail” as perilous as the one depicted in the classic World War II refugee movie Casablanca: “Across the icy Tumen River into northeast China. Then by train or auto or foot to Beijing. Down the Chinese mainland to Southeast Asia. Then across the mighty Mekong into Thailand. Here the fortunate ones, through money, influence or luck, might obtain the necessary travel documents and scurry to Seoul or to the New World But the others wait in Thailand. And wait. And wait.”
One of the fortunate ones, a young man who escaped with his family from North Korea through China and into Laos in 2009, was sworn in as a new U.S. citizen at a naturalization ceremony at the Eastern District of Virginia Federal Court in Alexandria, Virginia on April 16. This young refugee was one of only 171 North Korean refugees arriving in the U.S. in the first decade (2004-2014) since enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Act, which sought to expedite resettlement of a population obviously “at risk.” Just a year ago his young female cousin was bought from traffickers in northeast China by human rights activists and made her own perilous journey south to Laos and then to America.
A FULL ACCOUNTING
‘… a U.S. federal court in Washington, DC has granted it a historic $330 million default award judgment against North Korea in a civil damages trial’
There was another development in April promising some measure of justice for the family of a victim of North Korea’s abduction policy who was not a Japanese citizen but was, in fact, a U.S. permanent resident. OneFreeKorea reported on April 13 that lawyer Asher Perlin “argued and won the case against North Korea at the Court of Appeals on behalf of Rev. Kim Dong Shik’s family.” The Jerusalem Post reported further that “an Israeli NGO announced on Monday that a U.S. federal court in Washington, DC has granted it a historic $330 million default award judgment against North Korea in a civil damages trial for wrongful death, torture and kidnapping. The judgment, only announced Monday, but written on April 9, included $15 million dollars each to the son and brother of Reverend Dong Shik Kim, presumed dead, as well as $300 million in punitive damages.”
Reverend Kim, doing humanitarian with North Korean refugees on China’s northeast border, was abducted by North Korean agents in Yanji, China in early 2000. As the Washington Post reported on June 19, 2008, Reverend Kim was “taken to North Korea for interrogation and imprisonment, according to testimony in South Korean courts.” The Post went on to report that “in January 2005, Sen. Barack Obama (D-Illinois) and other Illinois lawmakers co-signed a letter to North Korea’s ambassador to the United Nations, describing Kim as a ‘hero’ and demanding answers from North Korea about his whereabouts. The signatories warned that they would oppose North Korea’s removal from the U.S. list of state sponsors of terrorism – long a goal of the government in Pyongyang – until a full accounting’ of Kim’s abduction was provided.”
Reverend Kim’s wife, Young Hwa Esther Chung Kim of Skokie, Illinois traveled to Washington, D.C. in November 2007 to meet with a group representing Japanese abductee families. She had planned to join them in a meeting with the U.S. State Department but, although she was a U.S. citizen, unlike the Japanese visitors, she was told that she could not be included. She subsequently told the Post that her husband’s weight “dropped from 180 pounds to 75 pounds” after he was taken to North Korea as “he was given no food only water” She said her husband was presumed dead and that his remains were being held “in a restricted area controlled by the North Korean army.” Her desire was to obtain his remains to return them to Illinois for a Christian burial at his local Korean-American church. Mrs. Kim met while in Washington with Congresswoman Ileana Ros-Lehtinen who conveyed a letter on her behalf to Ambassador Christopher Hill in a subsequent meeting. The Post reported seven months later, however, that Ambassador Hill had “no memory of receiving her letter, a State Department official said, but would answer it if she re-sent it.”
A lost letter over the fate of a man once called a “hero” by then Senator Obama is but one of the unresolved, tragic Korean issues that has suddenly blossomed forth during this Washington spring … Others include a brutal colonial legacy and a warm Washington welcome for an equivocator over past sexual enslavement. Then there is a week to commemorate the lingering legacy of sixty years of atrocious human rights abuses which followed an abrupt national division and a fratricidal war. And so the Korean Peninsula, the last frontier of “the long, twilight struggle” of the Cold War, will remain tourjours triste.