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Activist for N.K. Human Rights Wins Seoul Peace Prize

Posted September. 04, 2008 09:27,   


“I am honored to receive this award on behalf of North Korean defectors who have courageously worked even at this moment for their brethren in the North and their human rights.”

So said Suzanne Scholte, a U.S. human rights activist and the president of the Defense Forum Foundation, after receiving the 2008 Seoul Peace Prize yesterday.

The following is an excerpt from her interview with The Dong-A Ilbo yesterday.

Dong-A: Is this award the first you have received from the South Korean government or a non-government organization?

Scholte: Yes. As a matter of fact, I received a warm greeting by the (South) Korean government in 1999 when I first visited (South) Korea to attend a conference on North Korean defectors. As the "sunshine policy" of engagement with the North intensified, however, the launch of the Roh Moo-hyun administration was followed by many rapid changes. In fact, Seoul should have actively engaged North Korea’s human rights issues, but it went the opposite way and remained silent. Nonetheless, the defectors have been always with me.

Dong-a: Do you feel any change since the inauguration of the Lee Myung-bak administration?

Scholte: I was encouraged by the attention and enthusiasm he showed on the human rights issues. The most important thing to bear in mind is that silence means death to North Koreans. The whole world should pay attention to this. It is estimated that more than one million people died in Rwanda, but as many as three million starved to death in North Korea. Though the world is talking about 2,000 political prisoners in Myanmar, few seem to want to talk about 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea. A lot of people fade away in concentration camps and from hunger. This is nothing but a massacre and an ongoing holocaust. In recent years, the Kim Jong Il government has tried to make the nuclear issue the main agenda for the North and the world has given him the greenlight to do at his discretion. Now we have to speak up about the human rights issues.”

Dong-A: The liberal camp says bringing up human rights will cause the North to further isolate itself, eventually causing more pain for its people.

Scholte: Such argument would have worked a decade or two ago. But we have already experimented with the sunshine policy. The result was failure. What has the engagement policy with Pyongyang brought about? More people in the North have died. How many more should die before we finally put an end to this human rights oppression?”

Dong-A: Some say a soft landing is needed given that a sudden collapse of the North Korean government could bring about an uncontrollable situation.

Scholte: A true soft landing starts with giving North Koreans their own voice and putting pressure on Kim Jong Il. Making them stand on their own feet is the only and sustainable soft landing. So far (South Korea and the U.S.) have coaxed Kim to maintain the status quo. We have to discuss what is the best option for the North Korean people.

Dong-A: What is the most urgent human rights issue?

Scholte: Food is the most urgent. I strongly support food aid. The North Korean government has manipulated grain distribution. We need a monitoring system to make sure the food reaches the people.

Dong-A: What have you focused on these days?

Scholte: I have mainly focused on providing North Korean defectors with assistance. Educating the U.S. Congress and senior officials for public relations about the situation of the North is also crucial. I am deeply involved in the Internet radio station Free North Korea. The broadcaster run by defectors is very important. I think it has a strong impact in informing North Koreans that defectors enjoy their freedom in South Korea.

Dong-a: How much do you think you have achieved over the past 12 years?

Scholte: To my regret, few things have changed for the better. That makes me sad the most. Despite this, I can say the achievement is that more people have realized the human rights situation in the North.