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Why We Campaign On Human Rights In North Korea

On the evening of the 8th of October, I had the good fortune of meeting and introducing a remarkable lady; a lady of little but stout stature in her late sixties or early seventies (for I had the decency not to endeavour to ascertain her true age!); a lady who spent 8 years of her life imprisoned in one of the darkest, secretive incarceration facilities in the world today. But far from being the broken, emaciated shell ravaged by years of torturous and inhumane abuse I had envisioned in my mind’s eye, I was instead confronted by an Iron woman of incredible zeal, possessed with a burning determination to share her story with as many as would listen. Indeed it appeared to me as I watched her being interviewed by one of the many broadcast media interested in her plight, that her eyes blazed as though with fire whenever she made an emphatic point or two to the often bewildered reporters.

This formidable woman is Kim Young Soon, a former detainee in one of the most brutal prison camps, the infamous Camp 15, a North Korean political prison camp otherwise known as Yodok, whose story is recounted in the documentary titled ‘Yodok Stories’.

The week spanning the 7th to the 12th of October 2013 marked the 2nd instalment of the annual North Korea Freedom week held in the UK. As part of the events comprising the week, a film screening of ‘Yodok Stories’ was run at the HRAC in Shoreditch, London. The audience of whom a surprising majority comprised young ladies and gentlemen in the twenties/early thirties (a fact commented upon favourably by a visiting South Korean human rights activist), were blessed with the presence of aforementioned Kim Young Soon who took part in an insightful and a times animated Q+A session at the dénouement of the documentary which added a personal flavour to the evening’s proceedings.

Amid the many remarks she made, one I felt stood out above the rest, in response to a question on how she hoped to improve the plight of her fellow North Koreans. She replied (I paraphrase): ‘ Far from being silent, I want the world to know about what is going on in North Korea, as Silence and Secrecy are the very allies the leadership rely on, granting an excuse to carry on perpetuating its crimes against humanity’.

This sentiment I had been formerly apprised of, but to hear it from the mouth of not just a North Korean citizen but one who had been a detainee under the regime, reaffirmed to me the fitness and the rightness of the cause of all North Korean human rights defenders (both foreign and native) in an instant. For, it has often been said  that a public campaign such as that waged by Amnesty and other NGOs would only act to enrage the regime and possibly result in an increase in the number and even the severity of the human rights abuses perpetrated on those we profess to defend.

It is Kim Young Soon’s hope as it is mine, that by sharing her story which started with learning of her friends’ affair with Kim Jong Il, earning her a term of detention in a concentration camp and ended with her becoming a travelling human rights crusader; by speaking out to audiences as varied as the ordinary public present on the 8th of October to the panel on the on-going UN Commission of Inquiry into the human rights record of the North Korean state, a little cog in the wheel of progress will turn; a meaningful revolution in the direction of the final realisation, possession and exercise of the basic, inalienable human rights by North Korean citizens, rights so obvious and essential  I often take them for granted.

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