The U.S.-Korea Institute, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), and the Committee for the Release of Shin Sook-ja, Oh Hae-won, and Oh Kyu-won hosted Dr. Oh Kil-nam, a survivor of North Korean abduction, and four other speakers on September 11, 2012. The event aimed to update the public on the ongoing campaign to rescue Dr. Oh’s wife and two daughters who are still held in North Korea. The campaign seeks to bring into light the issue of political prisoner camps and foreigner abductions in North Korea via Dr. Oh’s case.
Greg Scarlatoiu, the executive director at HRNK, moderated the event, which started with a documentary about Dr. Oh’s story. Dr. Oh gave a brief personal account of his family’s situation and how far his campaign has progressed: the United Nations Working Group on Arbitrary Detention has issued an official opinion in May 2012 that Shin Sook Ja, Oh Hae-won, and Oh Kyu-won are being held arbitrarily by the North Korean authorities. Saying that “I must take them back to me,” Dr. Oh asked the international community to help him keep up the fight.
Dr. Roberta Cohen, the Co-Chair of HRNK, expressed the full support of the HRNK and argued that North Korea should respond to the growing international call to give a full accounting of all the abductees as well as political prisoners held in concentration camps. For North Korea, said Dr. Cohen, releasing the abductees and political prisoners signal receptivity to the international standards, which will enable North Korea to normalize relations with the international community and attract economic aids, investments, and dialogues. The signals for cooperation from North Korea are not there yet; therefore, NGOs and governments should keep pressuring the UN, which, in turn, should pressure North Korea.
Sung-Yong Choi, the President of Family Assembly Abducted to North Korea, spoke on behalf of 517 families abducted to North Korea. Mr. Choi and his organization seek to rescue those detained forcibly in North Korea and command attentions to the abduction issue by both the North Korean and the South Korean governments. Encouraged by the recent campaign for rescuing Shin Sook Ja that gained momentum in South Korea, Mr. Choi and Dr. Oh decided to continue pressing for greater publicity and participation by the international community. Mr. Choi urged the audience to take action and continue to pressure international organizations to help Dr. Oh’s family to be reunited.
Hong-Jae Choi, the Co-Chairperson of the Committee for the Release of Shin Sook Ja, Oh Hae-won, and Oh Kyu-won, shared with the audience his reason for being actively involved in Dr. Oh’s case: as a father of two daughters, Mr. Choi “cannot tolerate the pain in Dr. Oh’s heart,” and Mr. Choi regrets his involvement in the pro-North Korea student movement in the 1980s. Mr. Choi argued that the campaign should capitalize on the next 2 to 3 years of Kim Jong Eun’s reform policy, during which North Korea may be more responsive to the international community’s pressure.
Eun-Kyong Kwon, the manager of the International Team of Open North Korea, expressed optimism about the campaign, especially with the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention’s recent opinion on Dr. Oh’s case. Ms. Kwon cited several previous experiences in which the UN Working Group’s pressure successfully released political prisoners. As the world takes greater interest in the issue, North Korea will be forced to respond. Given this, urged Ms. Kwon, “the defenders of human rights can pressure the U.S. Congress and Administration” to help Dr. Oh and shed light to the political prison camps in North Korea.