WASHINGTON – North Korean defectors, as well the Christians helping them to escape through China, described horrendous accounts of their harsh treatment by the Chinese government and the suffering they endured under the Kim Jong-Il regime.
"The human rights situation in North Korea is arguably the worst in the world," said Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition. "Living under the dictatorship of Kim Jong-Il, North Koreans live in what they describe as a 'hell on earth' of enslavement – cut off and isolated from the rest of the world and dependent on the regime as their source of information and for their needs."
A panel of four Koreans – some from North Korea others of Korean descent living in America or South Korea – briefed the U.S. Congressional Human Rights Caucus on Tuesday on the humanitarian emergency of North Korean refugees in China as part of North Korea Freedom Week.
The stories were filled with abuse by the Chinese government and human traffickers as well as gruesome torture by North Korean prison facilities upon the refugees' forced repatriation.
Among the witnesses was the Rev. Phillip Buck, a prominent Korean-American pastor whose 10 years of humanitarian work among North Korean refugees in China has helped about 1,000 refugees and over 100 of them escape to South Korea.
Buck, who was born in North Korea but immigrated to the United States in 1982, recalled that many North Korean women refugees were abducted and trafficked in China. He told the story of one woman who was sold to a Chinese family where five brothers were not married and she was forced to become the sex slave of all five brothers.
"She could not go to sleep every night and as a natural result she was diseased," said Buck, who was imprisoned by the Chinese government for one and a half years for helping North Korean refugees.
"Again I am a pastor. How can I not help them? As a human being how can I not help?" asked Buck who urged the U.S. government to take stronger action against North Korea and China on human rights violations.
Likewise, one North Korean defector, Lee Sung Gyu – secretary of the United Group of Ministers for North Korean Refugees and a freshman at the Chong Sin Seminary in South Korea – spoke about how North Korean women were forced to abandon the babies they had during their forced sexual encounters when they are repatriated to North Korea, not knowing if they would ever see their child again.
It is said that at least 500,000 North Koreans have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years. However, China has signed an agreement with its communist ally to return refugees back to North Korea where they face imprisonment, torture, and sometimes execution for leaving the country – a state crime.
China, in defense of its actions, has claimed North Koreans entering its country are "economic migrants" and not refugees and thus it has the right to return them.
"China has created the most horrific human rights tragedy occurring in the world today," declared Scholte. "Over 80 percent of North Korean women are being trafficked - sold as wives, sold into brothels as sex slaves, while other refugees become slave laborers and children are orphaned and abandoned."
Scholte said China has many readily available options besides repatriation of North Korean refugees including working with existing humanitarian workers helping North Korean refugees instead of imprisoning them; allowing the UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) to interview North Koreans instead of blocking them from leaving Beijing; and allowing North Korean refugees to settle in the United States, South Korea or other countries that have announced that they are willing to accept North Koreans as citizens.
"I am not a human rights activist, or nationalist, or even a person who seeks the reunification of the peninsula," said Choi Young Hun, South Korean businessman and humanitarian worker who was imprisoned for nearly four years by the Chinese government for helping North Korean refugees escape China by boat.
"I am someone … that is used by God. [But] you don't even have to be a Christian to feel sorry for the plight of the North Koreans," he said. "[W]hen you see these North Korean refugees and hear about these refugees, the love of God will speak to you and you will look into their interests."
There are about 10,000 known North Koreans who have successfully made it to South Korea.