N.Korea Rights Conference Focuses on Plight of Women

The 10th International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees in Toronto, Canada, last weekend condemned gross infringement of human rights in North Korea and sought ways to tackle the problems through international cooperation.

◆ North Korean Refugees in China

Saturday's conference focused on the violation of the rights of North Korean women who escaped to China. Lee Won-woong, professor of social welfare studies at Kwandong University, said, "Women make up 70 percent of North Korean defectors, and most of them are victims of human trafficking and bonded labor. Many of them are trafficked and sold to farmers in the inland China or become sex slaves in cities."

One North Korean woman defector who was present in the conference said, "When we cross the Duman (or Tumen) River, there are Chinese traffickers waiting for us. Because we have nobody to rely on in China, and we get repatriated if caught in China, and most North Korean women are raped and sold without being able to resist." She said the "price" of a North Korean women is 2,000 yuan (W350,000) if she is older, and 8,000 (W1.4 million) if she is in her 20s.

Kim Mi-ran, a 50-year-old woman who defected to South Korea in 2008, said, "Many of these women are sold to disabled Chinese men in the countryside. They're shackled, and their husbands even follow them into the toilet. Young and pretty women are sold to brothels and karaoke parlors and are forced into prostitution."

◆ Repatriation and Imprisonment

Women defectors say that as soon as they are caught and sent back to the national security and intelligence office near the border, military doctors with latex gloves put their hands in the vagina and anus -- regardless whether the woman is pregnant or virgin -- to see if there is any money hidden there. They also make the women sit and stand 100 times to see if something hidden in their body cavities drops out.

“North Korean agents say that pregnant women who were caught in China have the babies of "dirty dogs (referring to Chinese), and take them out of the office for a forced abortion," Kim Mi-ran said. "Many women die in prison because they don't get adequate treatment after losing a lot of blood from the abortion and malnutrition."

◆ Call on China

Roberta Cohen of the conservative Brookings Institution in the U.S., said although China is a signatory of the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, it does not have the refugee adjudication process, and bans the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in China from contacting North Korean refugees. She said this is a violation of international law.

Participants in the conference agreed to assist global efforts to raise awareness of the human rights situation in North Korea. The conference was organized by, the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights in South Korea and a Canada-based youth organization on North Korean human rights named HanVoice. It was sponsored by the National Endowment for Democracy and the Chosun Ilbo.

HanVoice was formed in Toronto chiefly by second-generation Korean-Canadian youngsters in 2007. It has about 200 members, 20 percent of whom are of non-Korean descent.

englishnews@chosun.com / Aug. 23, 2010 12:47 KST