Shin Sang-ok, a movie director who lived a successful and tumultuous life including nine years of captivity in North Korea, died Tuesday night while hospitalized.
He is survived by his wife, Choi Un-hee, two sons and two daughters.
Born in 1926 in North Hamkyong Province in what is today North Korea, he debuted as an art director soon after he graduated from a Tokyo university in 1945. He made his first movie in 1952.
He married Choi, a popular actress at the time, in 1953.
He and his wife were abducted by North Koreans in 1978 while in Hong Kong and held captive before their successful escape through Vienna in March 1986. They said they were forced to make movies eulogizing North Korean leader Kim Jong-il and his regime.
I confess that I am not familiar with the man's work. Alas, you will have to go elsewhere for a proper eulogy. He is considered to be one of the masters of early post-independence Korean film makers. The Guardian has a piece on Shin's experience as a film maker under Kim Jong-il.
The timing of Shin's death cannot be good politically for the Roh administration, which is taking some heat for being "lukewarm" on trying to secure the release of South Korean abductees compared to Japan's more vigorous efforts on behalf of its citizens. The attention brought on by the death one of the most famous abductees might turn the heat up more.
I have little to add to the extensive coverage at Oranckay and the Marmot's Hole (largely quoting Oranckay) of Park Geun-hye's offering to "go to the National Assembly and see what can be done about it legally." The "it" in this case is presumably banning The Da Vinci Code from Korean theaters.
While I have some quibbles with Oranckay's post (his use of "Talibanesque" is over the top and he confuses democracy with liberty), he is basically spot on in his criticism of Park's support of trying to stop the movie juxtaposed with her support for human rights for North Koreans. While there is certainly no equivalency between trying to ban a movie and what is going on in North Korea, her conduct here does raise suspicions about Park's true commitment to human liberty.
The main point of his post was bash Park and the Christian Council of Korea, but it does demonstrate a central dilemma that Korean advocates for North Korean human rights face. Some on the Korean right seem most interested in NK human rights as an issue with which to bash the Roh administration, which has caused some on the left remain silent on the issue or even speak out against it (although that might just be an excuse for them to not do what they were not going to do in the first place).
I had a (very, very small) part in helping organize the Seoul Summit for North Korean Human Rights and blogged it for One Free Korea (archived at the Korea Liberator). During my time at the summit and at related events, I personally only saw one member of the Uri party participate while I noted the presence of several GNP leaders. If the members of Uri party don’t even bother to show up, how can they help but concede the issue to the GNP? You can’t play if you don’t show up at the game.
Part of the problem is that the human rights issue reinforces the preexisting views of the parties towards North Korea. It fits the GNP’s view that the Kim Jong-il regime is really, really bad while it flies in the face of the Uri belief that it can be reasoned with.
I’ll give one example of how that reality has effected efforts in the ROK on behalf of North Korean human rights. The group Liberty in North Korea (Seoul chapter) has been meticulous about remaining non-partisan and non-religious, to the point where they refused an offer of free office space in Seoul from one of the Korean ‘new right’ organizations. So what happens when they host a symposium in Seoul? They get a protest from leftist students.
BTW, LiNK meets every Saturday afternoon. If you want to help, email them.
UPDATE: This post kind of touches on why I am a LiNK groupie, rather than a member. While I fully support what they are doing, what I would like the Korea branch of the organization to be excludes me somewhat. LiNK is getting more Korean members and I hope that LiNK-Seoul meetings will soon be conducted mostly in Korean and I am a monolingual English speaker. LiNK is non-partisan and I am anything but nonpartisan. That later concern will become less relevant as more liberals and leftists join.
This week may end the Odyssey of North Korean defector Ma Young-ae, who after settling briefly in South Korea defected again to the U.S. Ma is seeking asylum in the U.S. as a refugee from what she says is “political oppression” in South Korea.
A source close to North Korean human rights activists in Washington on Tuesday said Ma will have her final interview with U.S. authorities on the matter on Thursday. The source added her chances look “extremely good.”
I havelongcomplained that it is a black mark against America that we have yet to take in any refugees. I am glad to see that is about to change.
The Chosun goes on to report that Ma is actually a double refugee:
Ma came to South Korea in 2000. In April 2004, she went to the U.S. for the events of a North Korea Freedom Day organized there, but the South Korean government revoked her passport because of her anti-North Korean activities abroad. In response, Ma applied for asylum in the U.S.
(Emphasis added) Whoa! If that is true (and the Chosun is not above spicing its stories up a bit), then I think Ma's case qualifies. I looked for other evidence on-line but only came up with this New York Sun piece which, while saying that Ma feared persecution if she returned to South Korea, did not mention a revoked passport.
There are practical problems involved with getting North Korean refugees to the US. As far as I know, there are three pipelines (or underground railroads) for North Korean refugees. One goes from northern China directly to South Korea and another one goes through China and southeast Asia to South Korea. Once the refugees get to South Korea, they are legally citizens under Articles 2 and 3 of ROK constitution and are thus no longer considered refugees. In fact, if Ma is accepted as a refugee in the States, it would have to be based on her being repressed in South Korea, which would be seen as a slap in the face of the Roh administration.
A third, smaller pipeline is through Russia to Europe. Several European countries have already taken in North Korean refugees and there is no need to reship them to the USA.
Considering the tight security of American overseas facilities, there is little chance that North Korean refugees in Asian countries can apply for political refugee status in the United States without American embassy personnel or interested NGO's actively helping them. So what is needed is active cooperation between the United States, NGO's and a country in the region (possibly Mongolia) to create a fourth refugee pipeline to North America.
There are no easy answers. It is not a perfect plan but it is the best I can come up with right now.
UPDATE: Joshua at the Korea Liberator has much more.
In the application, Ma claimed she was oppressed by the South Korean government as it declined her an extension of her passport on the basis of her having been held for a court trial which, she said, was on charges of having brought her son from North Korea.
RFA also quoted Ma as saying that a South Korean who belonged to a government-affiliated organization threatened her and her husband when they testified on North Korea's reality at Christian gatherings in the United States.
Currently, she has legal status on a student visa, making hers an ``affirmative'' asylum application unlike a ``defensive'' asylum application which is filed when somebody is already placed in what is called removal proceedings such as deportation, her lawyer, Sharman M. Leventon of Brez & Coven, was quoted as saying.
North Korean Human Rights Conference and Hearing in Brussels March 22-23, 2006
Freedom House, together with its partners, Human Rights Without Frontiers, Christian Solidarity Worldwide, Committee to Help the People of North Korea, and Société Internationale des Droits de l’Homme, held its third international conference on North Korean human rights in Brussels, Belgium on March 22, 2006.
Attended by 85 people, including government officials from South Korea, Japan and the European Union, and NGO representatives from South Korea, Japan, China, the US and the European Union, the conference presented the current human rights situation in North Korea from a number of different perspectives. A documentary and testimonies from North Korean defectors were followed by an overview on the state of North Korean human rights provided by two North Korean NGOs. Testimonies of abductions and a discussion on the gulags of North Korea were also presented.
Both shortand longterm collaborative goals were established at the conference. They included the need to develop an international advocacy campaign to highlight the plight of North Korean refugees, gulag victims and exploited laborers, as well as the importance of communicating to North Koreans Kim Jong II’s human rights abuses and the international community’s commitment to hold the leader accountable for his crimes against humanity.
Freedom House also helped to promote a March 23 hearing held at the European Parliament entitled “Human Rights and refugees: The North Korean Problem.” The hearing was attended by nearly 200 people and included strong testimonies of human rights abuses. The hearing was led by Hungarian Member of the European Parliament Istvan Szent-Ivanyi, who later commented, “It was a historic event that members of the European Parliament in Brussels, the heart of the EU, were able to listen to such vivid testimony from North Korean refugees themselves. It means that global society has started to speak in one voice and North Korean human rights are emerging as a universal concern.”
I just saw this from the Norweigen-based group Forum 18 (named for article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights).
Here is the summary:
Two recent reports based on testimony from North Korean refugees – one by the US Commission on International Religious Freedom - have confirmed earlier findings that religious freedom does not exist in North Korea, that local people are aware of state-sponsored acts of religious persecution and that the only state-approved religion is Juche, or self-reliance, which is closely allied to the cult of the deceased leader Kim Il-Sung. Some interviewees claimed they had witnessed or heard of extreme punishments, even death, meted out to religious believers, others recounted how some religious believers were spared such punishments. Christian organisation Open Doors has noted that North Koreans arriving in China are usually very opposed to religion in general and Christianity in particular as a result of the long-term and regular state indoctrination to which they had been subjected. Visitors to Pyongyang have told Forum 18 News Service that no regular worship takes place at the three official Christian churches in the city and that Buddhist monasteries elsewhere are neglected cultural relics.
ORIGINAL POST: A major conference on human rights in North Korea is underway in Brussels, Belgium with an international cast (Chosun Ilbo):
The European Union capital Brussels will see a major conference on human rights in North Korea starting Wednesday, coinciding with the testimony of defectors from the Stalinist country before the European Parliament. The conference is the third in recent months after events in Washington last July and in Seoul in December.
The conference brings together a range of activist groups and NGOs. It is co-hosted by Human Rights without Frontiers of Belgium, Christian Solidarity Worldwide of the U.K., the French Committee to Help the Population of North Korea, and Freedom House of the U.S. The parliamentary hearing was organized by Hungarian MEP Istvan Szent-Ivany. (emphasis is mine)
Of course, Korea will be well represented:
From South Korea, the conference will be attended by Yoo Se-hee of Citizens United for a Better Society, Shin Ji-ho of Liberty Union and Han Ki-hong of Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights. They have vowed to inform Europeans of human rights abuses in the North, focusing on the forced repatriation of North Korean refugees, concentration camps for political dissidents, public executions and other brutality.
North Korean defectors will also testify at the conference, while NGOs and activists will propose ways of improving conditions in the North. Panel discussions will focus on the plight of refugees and problems with international humanitarian aid to North. The conference in Seoul last year resolved to draw attention to North Korean abuses on Human Rights Day (Dec. 20) every year, and the “Seoul Declaration” called for an international network to address North Korean human rights issues.
(NOTE: Anyone interested in helping LiNK's activities in Korea can email Adrian Hong.)
I sat in on a guest lecture by LiNK's Adrian Hong (who is in town on other business) last night on human rights in North Korea. Much of what he talked about was old news to me but it was still a good chance to brush up on my knowledge.
However, it is apparently unknown to many Korean students. As part of his discussion, Hong played a video of interviews with Korean college and high school students. They displayed an appalling lack of knowledge about what is going on in the northern half of Korea and the kind of conditions that North Koreans have to endure. While the tape was only anecdotal evidence, my experience with talking to young Koreans suggests that many of them are just as ignorant about conditions in North Korea.
I can guess a few reasons for that. First, most college kids want to enjoy their lives before they start their careers and just don't want to think about such things. Those who are interested in social/political issues often find themselves involved with leftist groups because that is the only show it town.
Part of the problem is that the Korean public when through anti-Pyongyang propaganda overkill in the past, as Oranckay noted:
Frankly, I think one of the reasons the SK people are so willing to go along with recent policies is because they’re the only thing that hadn’t been tried so far and they are still excited by the “progress” being made. One of the single most impressive moments of the whole Pyongyang summit was when KJI started telling jokes about himself. Only a few years prior all Northerners were drawn as wolves in SK papers. No one had ever even heard his evil voice before but now he was sounding human. Thinking of him as a neighborhood ajeossi might even be dangerous, but I think people were just tired of decades of thinking that a little humanity wasn’t even a possibility.
That makes some younger Koreans less likely to believe the truth about what is going on in North Korea.
That is slowly changing. I have long said that gyopo were going to have to take the lead in educating their young cousins in the ROK about the situation in North Korea. Having been much less exposed to both anti-communist and Hanchongryon-type propaganda, Korean-Americans can more easily look at the situation in North Korea for what it is and can share that truth with their cousins in the old country. So I am a big fan of LiNK's activities in Korea.
Another nice thing about LiNK from a coalition-building prospective is that they are not a religious-based or conservative organization, which means they can approach Koreans across the political spectrum without being pigeon-holed as 'right-wing Christians.' In fact, Hong told me after the lecture that the LiNK chapter at Ewha University broke off and formed their own organization because they did not consider LiNK to be hardcore enough.
Be that as it may, they serve an important role in Korea and I'm glad they are here.
LiNK Executive Director Adrian Hong will be speaking about the North Korean human rights crisis, recent developments in international efforts working for the cause, and how LiNK fits in. Please join us at 5 pm in Room 503 of the Centennial Hall, Sookmyung Women's University. Those interested in helping LiNK Seoul are especially encouraged to come.
Here is how to get to Sookmyung U. (information from their homepage):
From Subway Line4 Get off at the Sookmyung Women's Univ(galwol) Station and approximately 10 minutes walking distance from Exit No.10.
From Subway Line1 Get off at the NamYeong Station and 15 minutes walking distance in the direction of Hyochang Park.
From Subway Line6 Get off at the Hyochang Park Station and approsimately 10 minutes walking distance form Exit No.1 or 2 in the direction of Hyochang Park.
Centennial Hall is building #18 on this map (click on it for a more printer friendly map):
I am very happy to see LiNK getting the ball rolling at the start of spring semester.
I hope to make it there but the start of classes and the need to help take care of my new daughter make prevent me from doing so.
In related news, LiNK is in the planning stages of a big event in Korea this summer:
New Dates! June 5 - June 23rd LiNK will be executing an exciting awareness initiative in South Korea this summer. We are looking for a delegation of LiNK members from all over the world to participate and join us for those three important weeks. Details will be divulged to only those accepted, and LiNK will seek to find funds to provide financial subsidy of flight expenses. We will seek to find delegation members housing together as well.
If you are interested in participating, please send a resume over to email@example.com, with the subject heading of: "Project Sunshine Application." All applications are due by midnight, March 15.
I'm sure Adrian will be ready to answer any question about it during the Sookmyung event.
As part of my coverage of the Seoul Summit for Human Rights in North Korea, I reported on a speech make by GNP member of the Kuk Hoe, Kim Moon-soo. I happened to have met a member of his staff (Ms Soh Ji-young) during the conference and sent the link to her. She was kind enough to send an English version of Representative Kim's speech, which I have pasted below.
Kim is one of the leading voices in South Korea for human rights for North Koreans, so it behooves anyone interested in the issue to read it all. To that end, I am putting it up in full and without a post continuation.
Here it is:
North Korean Human Rights Conference (Dec. 9. 2005)
The National Assembly's Role on North Korean Human Rights
Distinguished guests and friends,
I thank you for inviting me to this meaningful and honorable conference on human rights.
The year 2005 has been a year filled with passionate campaigns for North Korean human rights.
The adoption of the third North Korean human rights resolution by the UN Commission for Human Rights in April; the first international North Korean human rights conference in July; the appointment of the US special envoy; and the UN General Assembly's first resolution on North Korean human rights; these were all made possible through the devoted efforts of each and every one of you gathered today.
But regrettably, South Koreais choosing to remain silent on the human rights situation in the North. For the past three years, the South Korean government has abstained or not attended the voting of U.N. resolutions on North Korean human rights and even abstained from voting on the UN General Assembly resolution in November.
The Grand National Party has submitted a total of 10 bills on North Korean human rights to the National Assembly, including five legislations that I sponsored on North Korean human rights, abductees, prisoners-of-war, North Korean refugees and separated families. I also submitted on Dec. 5. a resolution demanding a parliamentary investigation into the 2000 abduction case of Rev. Kim Dong-shik and repatriation of POW Han Man-taek early this year.
But despite the wide support of our party, not one human rights bill has been able to pass through the Assembly, as the GNP is not a majority.
In this situation, the efforts of international bodies, NGOs and the media serve a pivotal role. I firmly believe that today's conference will serve positively in the passage of North Korean human rights bills in South Korea. The US has legislated the North Korean Human Rights Act with Jay Lefkowitz as special envoy, while Japan has also appointed a special envoy on human rights.
I believe that these efforts by the U.S. and Japan will not only work toward improving North Korean human rights but also motivate our National Assembly into taking action.
I feel ashamed that our government is choosing to remain silent and is only concentrating on not provoking North Korea. Due to the government's "quiet diplomacy" policy, thousands of refugees are meeting a quiet death.
What is the use of unification without freedom and human rights? Genuine peace and reconciliation between the two Koreas can never be achieved without improvement in the human rights issue.
I would like to outline a few agendas for improving human rights in North Korea.
First, we must team up with international community to conduct surveys of the human rights situation in the North.
Currently, North Korea is refusing to disclose any population statistics. The last survey was done in 1994 with the support of the United Nations Population Fund.
The same applies for North Korea's food and electricity situation. Although the international community continues to donate aid, we do not know how much goes to the North Korean people. We must conduct intensive surveys in North Korea on areas such as food, electricity, medical supplies and other basic necessities.
We must also conduct investigations on the human rights abuses in the North, such as political camps, public executions and the country's criminal code and how it is enforced.
Second, we must tear down the high walls surrounding Korean embassies in China and other countries and accept North Korean refugees seeking to come to Korea. Even at this very moment, thousands of North Korea refugees remain in hiding, living in fear of being forcibly sent back to North Korea. We must find a way for them to safely reach South Korea, and stop them from risking their lives and climbing the walls of foreign missions.
As of Dec 1, 2005, a total of 1,214 North Korean refugees have come to South Korea, down by 33 percent compared to last year.
Based on the Constitution, North Korean refugees are citizens of South Korea. How can a country which just looks on and does nothing about the human rights atrocities of its own people can be called a country which values human rights?
Third, we must exert all efforts to solve the issue of POWs, abductees and separated families.
Almost six years have passed since the abduction of Rev. Kim Dong-shik, but the government has yet to confirm whether he is dead or alive.
POW Han Man-taek, who escaped to China after being detained in the North for more than half a century, was caught by Chinese authorities and sent back to the North, but the government does not even know the details of the incident.
The issue of Korean POWs and abductees were never selected as formal agendas in inter-Korean talks, as the North is refusing to acknowledge they ever exist.
How will we able to relieve the grief of the families of POWs and abductees?
For the past twenty years, only 3,506 separated families were able to confirm the whereabouts of their kin in the North, a minimal number compared to the 124,523 applicants seeking to meet their families. As most of the applicants are over 70 years of age, we do not have much time. We must act quickly.
There are three main issues involving North Korea. One is regarding nuclear weapons, missiles, and biochemical weapons. Another is regarding economical issues such as inter-Korean exchange, food shortage and humanitarian aid. The third is human rights, involving prison camps, public execution, and violation of basic rights.
Among these I believe the most serious one is the human rights issue. That is because if basic human rights are established, then the nuclear issue and economic issue can be naturally resolved as well.
The issue of nuclear programs, humanitarian aid, democracy and human rights are not separate issues that are in conflict against each other, but those which must go together in order to be solved.
I firmly believe this North Korean human rights conference in Seoulcan help shed a glorious light to the barren and dark landof North Korea.