Defying Totalitarian Regimes with Joo-Il Kim

Joo-Il Kim, North Korean defector and the founder of Free NK, a London-based online publication aiming to draw attention to the Kim-Jong Un regime’s abuses, addresses the 4th Annual Geneva Summit for Human Rights and Democracy – see below for full prepared remarks.

Full remarks

Joo Il Kim: 

Hi, I’m a North Korean of the revolution who served as a military officer up until escaping North Korea in 2005. Currently I’m a Secretary General of the North Korean Residents Society in Europe, which is an organization of free North Koreans living in Europe who aims to improve human rights conditions in North Korea and calls for the government to adopt Open Door reform policies. 

After risking our life, we escaped from this psychotic regime. After coming to Britain, I have come to realize that the country that I’ve protected with my life is despotic and oppressive. I would like to accuse at this point the despotic regime of North Korea. There is no place for freedom and human rights to play. People in North Korea are not even aware of the very notion of freedom and human rights. 

In the heart of the gray zone of human rights in North Korea there lie prison camps and the Ten Principles for the establishment of the one ideology system. Although this may be unfamiliar for you, all the North Koreans must know these by heart and they precede all the others, including the Constitution. This was proposed by Kim Jong-il in 1974 and has provided the legal grounds for the regime to recklessly lock up thousands of people behind their prison camps. In order to join the League of Socialist Working Youth, one must completely memorize the Ten Principles. For those who want to join the North Korean Workers Party, they even lose the eligibility to join unless they have memorized it by heart. The notorious prison camps are set up on behalf of these principles. And precisely these Ten Principles and the prison camps should be abolished all together. Even if the North Korean regime removes its prison camps under the growing pressure from the international society, the second and the third prison camps will spring about if the Ten Principles remain intact. 

Within the prison camps – there are about six officially known prison camps in North Korea, but it is hard to escape the actual numbers since the prison camps are existent. Even within the North Korean military that has 1.2 million soldiers. This includes women, children, and even the newborn babies with a rough estimate of 200 000, who are subject to forced labor. Some are even buried alive or executed secretly [or] publicly without a proper trial. 

I would like to take this opportunity to accuse North Korea of violating human rights laws. There are alot of prison camps, detention camps, and various torture mechanisms as told by those who have gone through, who have managed to escape to Europe. I would like to introduce my friend who has managed to escape from North Korea and She’s currently living in Britain with me right now. He has been repatriated back to North Korea three times. She’s going to talk about his experience in a prison camp later on. Because of the element of crimes by association under the criminal code, although she does not – her family has been imprisoned as well. I hope all the people here will pay keen attention to the situations happening in North Korea. 

Also I would like to raise attention to the reformant of the repatriates in the international society. Those who have risked their lives to escape from North Korea are often criticized as illegal border crossers by [the] Chinese government. But however, they are actually refugees not political – the Chinese government’s use of the term illegal border crossers to describe North Korea’s political refugee is an unjustifiable act, and they are specified as political refugees even in the constitution within North Korea. Even those who have repatriated were innocent normal citizens. They become categorized as political criminals and are put under inhumane punishment. The Chinese government claims that these people are illegal border crossers. [But] border crossers for survival should be known to the international society and I would like to put an end to this systematic violation of human rights. 

The human rights violation situation in North Korea – in terms of resolving the human rights violation situation, we should all know that human rights and humanitarianism should not be separable but brought again together. 

The continuation of the despotic regime for three generations is unprecedented in history. The North Korean regime that has been oppressing human rights should be known to the international society. Children in another country may not know about politics but North Korea’s hungry children do. Even after the 15 years of international food aid to North Korea, the dire situation in North Korea has not improved much. The children are brainwashed by propaganda that idolizes the leadership. The current food aid distribution system does not help better the living conditions of North Korean people, but only prolongs the atrocious regime of Kim Jong-il. This is because charity organizations’ primary concern is in building the records of their own charity work under the banner of humanitarian aid to North Korea rather than of being generally dedicated to identifying the ultimate causes of children suffering in North Korea. 

Turning a blind eye to human rights violations for the sake of humanitarianism is like letting cancer cells grow. These cancer cells would eventually spread across the country and take away the lives of North Koreans. We shouldn’t we should never forget that humanitarianism is a fertilizer that nurtures and breathes the seed of the human rights abuses in North Korea. As one of the citizens of North Korea, I would like to urge International organizations and society to strive to link the notion of humanitarian aid to the notion of human rights. 

Because I am very familiar with the situation in North Korea, the North Korean Resident Society in Europe is planning to publish a printed newspaper called Free NK Newspaper with the hopes to enlighten those who are unaware of the very notion of human rights. There is very limited access to the internet and social media. So in order to change and transform the dictator regime, the only way to do so is by providing analog means such as printed newspaper, which is considered the most efficient way of reaching people. 

Changing the despotic regime is impossible only with North Koreans themselves. We are in great need of your help to carry on our efforts in bringing in democracy and improving the human rights situation in North Korea. In order to break down the regime that we currently see, we are in great need of your help. 

Thank you and I would like to add one other thing. Your interest and support will be the driving force of changing the society in North Korea standing in front of the Geneva conference after coming here risking my life and all those who have come all the way from South Korea I would like to appreciate and give sincere thanks to them. I would like to say that your consciousness and your belief and truth and human rights and situation there could be changed only by your help. Thank you very much

Sung Ju Kim

Hello, I’m currently a refugee in North Korea currently living in Great Britain. Throughout the eight years of staying in China, I have been repatriated to North Korea three times. In addition, while I was in North Korea I was made to do forced labor two times. I stand here before you to share my first hand experience regarding a violation of human rights in North Korea. 

Those who are repatriated back to North Korea are treated as if they are non-human beings. This is why we are made to crawl through a small door when entering the prison center. All the repatriates are required to go through body investigation. This is because the North Korean officials seek to take away all the money that may be hidden in their bodies. When caught by police in China, many North Korean refugees swallow their money after folding them into a plastic bag. For men, the officers thoroughly investigated their naked bodies. Even for women in a group of ten they are investigated in the same manner by a female telephone operator. These people put their hands into women’s genitals to check if any money has been hidden. Some women are also forced to repeat sitting up and down so that the money might fall from their genitals. 

In the Detention Center people are made to wake up at five and go to bed around 11 and 1 AM. About 40 to 50 people share a tiny space within a very limited space. They cannot even sleep with their feet spread out. Even if one person were to talk to another person, all the members become punished. Sanitation is near impossible and contagious diseases are prevalent. Due to the fleas, all the people, regardless of the reasons, are made to go through interrogations. This process includes mental and physical agonies. 

The form of torture come in various forms. Some of the primary ones are beating, having people scratch down with the wooden bar placed in between the legs, walking across a glass floor with nailed

slates, beating a pregnant woman’s waist to have their babies be aborted, having one another hit… IIt is just beyond human beings’ imagination. The intensity of torture is just too brutal that even the Innocents end up saying that they have committed crimes because this will end the interrogation a bit early. If North Korean authorities decide to do so, even the non-political refugees can become the ones. 

Interrogatory questions include who have you met while living in China, and have you met any missionaries or Western people while traveling in China? If they said yes, they are then sent to a Political Refugee Detention Center or are executed publicly. 

While living in my hometown I have seen many hangings and open guard executions. This is to evoke fear from the citizens. The intensity of torture is too brutal that one person who was starving asked Korean missionary for some money I falsely charged a crime to Korean missionary so that he could escape from the situation. Also I’ve witnessed one who had gotten pregnant in China and was forced to go through abortion and was called the traitor of the country who now bears a seed of Chinese. 

Officers sometimes ask if one has money inside their stomach. If a repatriate avoids answering this question the torture begins and one is made to scratch in bathroom until the money can be excreted out. After all these torturing and integrating, repatriates are classified into the following: those who attempted to escape to Korea or America, or practice religion, or have contacted Koreans to find their families living in South Korea will be sent either to a Political Refugee Detention Camp or put [up for] execution. Some females may be committed to sexual harassment as well. There are many who run off from a running train. I have also jumped up from the running train when trying to escape from the detention camp.

There’s a detention camp that is reserved for people who have relatively less criminal [behavior]. Especially children disabled Elders and pregnant women are forced to do labor. In North Korea there’s this saying “one for all and all for one.” Thus when children, disabled, elders, and pregnant women whose labor capacities tend to fall behind perform inefficient work, all the individuals within the centre are punished. Thus there arises hatred against those inefficient workers and among others and thus beating and ill treatments become accepted as a norm. Those who die within these processes are buried without any form of funeral and are reported missing. 

To this day, I cannot fall asleep when thinking about the brutal tortures and the inhumane violation of human rights. When I hear a siren noise in the street, I get reminded of the time of getting arrested by [the] police in China. Every night I have been suffering from nightmares, insomnia after being tortured while staying in China. I even hear the buzzing noises. 

I have recently heard about the refugees who are in danger of being sent back to North Korea. I know exactly how they feel. There are some who carry around rat poison, razors, or even a hand grenade because they prefer death over repatriation to North Korea because they believe this is a better option. All the North Korean refugees know the brutal punishments that awaits before them and also to their family members on the basis of guilt by association. 

Citizens of North Korea are in urgent need of help. Regardless of the borders and nationalities we are the same human beings and rights are important for all equally. I hope all of you here could help ensure North Koreans gain their basic human rights. Now I would like to present a six minute long video clip and thank you.


I would like to thank the speaker for this moving testimony. It was very poignant and I’d like to thank you for sharing these very difficult moments you experienced with us. I’d like to ask Mr. Nistro Rodriguez, a member of the movement of young Cubans…

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