Around mid and late April every year, North Korean defector groups and human rights activists for North Korea in Seoul and Washington become busy as the North Korea Freedom Week begins with various seminars and campaigns on the topic of human rights in North Korea. The event, which began in 2004 and marks the 18th year this year, will be hosted for a week from Saturday under the theme of “Open! North Korea.” This is the first event since the launch of the Biden administration in the U.S., which has been avowing that it would put human rights at the center of foreign policies. This year’s seminars and meetings connecting experts, human rights activists, and North Korean defectors in the two countries will be held virtually due to COVID-19 as they did last year.
During a phone interview with the Dong-A Ilbo on Thursday (local time), Chair of North Korea Freedom Coalition and the host of the event Suzanne Scholte said she is very excited . “We expect human rights in North Korea and conditions for activities to protect human rights in the country to improve under the Biden administration. We will search more actively for ways to help North Korean residents.
“I am concerned about my friends and the members of human rights groups who distributed leaflets to North Korea,” said Scholte on potential punishment against them in accordance with the law banning the distribution of propaganda leaflets to North Korea. “The South Korean government belatedly released guidelines with an exception for activities in third countries, but what third countries are they talking about?” she said, adding that China and Russia are too dangerous to engage in human rights activities. “President Moon Jae-in is responsible for creating this situation.”
“There are many cases of defection from North Korea along the inter-Korean border, in particular, many North Korean soldiers stationed near the border defected to South Korea,” Scholte said regarding the effects of leaflet distribution. “This means that leaflets were effective in making North Korean become aware of the reality and decided to leave the country.” She reasoned the North Korean regime’s fervent tries to stop the distribution of leaflets. “As North Korean leader Kim Jong Un himself warned, massive famine is likely to occur. I am deeply concerned and sad,” the chair said regarding the current internal situation in North Korea. “With a precondition of proper monitoring, humanitarian assistance, such as food and vaccines, should be provided as soon as possible.”
Scholte appeared as a witness at the last week’s hearing for the law banning the distribution of leaflets to North Korea hosted by the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission under the U.S. Congress and said, “Kim Jong Un is a threat, not these items,” holding up a plastic bottle filled with rice, USB memory sticks storing South Korean TV shows, and leaflets.