Recent Escapees Plea for the Lives of North Koreans

Save Our Families Who Face Torture and Execution


(Washington, D.C. and New York) The North Korea Freedom Coalition will host a series of events featuring recent escapees from North Korea to plea for the lives of North Koreans currently detained in China and those who face unspeakable and atrocious human rights violations every day under the regime of Kim Jong Un. From the day he came to power Kim Jong Un launched a brutal crackdown on those trying to escape that greatly escalated during the Covid induced border closure.  Thus, the number of escapees making it to South Korea plummeted from over 1000 in 2019 to only 67 in 2022, according to the South Korean Ministry of Unification.

Pastor Philip Lee of Unification Hope Mission, a North Korean escapee himself who now helps rescue escapees said, “there are between 600 to 1000 North Korea children, women and men currently detained in China who risk repatriation when the border re-opens as China has a policy of forced repatriation meaning that they are classified as political prisoners, subject to certain torture, detention, sentenced to life imprisonment, confined to political prison camps, and may even face public or secret executions.”

During the Covid pandemic, the UN Special Rapporteurs on the situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and on Torture and other Cruel, Inhumane or Degrading Treatment or Punishment as well as the Working Group on Arbitrary Detention made a direct appeal to Xi Jinping to halt the reparations and consult with the U.N. mechanisms including the High Commissioners for Human Rights and for Refugees.  At the time, the Rapporteurs estimated that over one thousand had been detained since the border closure in January 2020.  Over 33,000 North Koreans have been safely resettled in the Republic of Korea. On March 20th during the upcoming 52nd Human Rights Council session, the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation in the DPRK will “call for Member States, in particular China and the Russian Federation, to uphold the principle of non-refoulement to individuals from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, who are at risk of serious human rights violations upon their forced repatriation.”

“This is a matter of extreme urgency,” explained NKFC Chairman Suzanne Scholte. “Anyone who escaped during the pandemic is at risk of execution if they are forced back, because they had to have the means to escape during COVID meaning they were elites OR had family in South Korea financing their rescue – those are crimes punishable by death in North Korea.” 

“Our witnesses will really underscore that point as two are mothers who rescued their children and one is a daughter whose mother rescued her!  All four are amazing women whose personal testimonies are living proof that when the women of North Korea one day enjoy the same human rights as South Koreans and Americans, North Korea can become as prosperous and successful as South Korea and not the current prison it is today,” she added. 

Further highlighting the families whose lives are in danger is the official translator for the visiting delegation: Esther Kim, a Korean American living in Virginia.  “My niece is like so many North Korean women, a victim of human traffickers in China, she was simply trying to escape an abusive relationship and get to South Korea where she can enjoy freedom, and where her other family members live.” 

Tragically, Kim’s niece was arrested in May of 2022 as she tried to escape through Mongolia and is now among those detained in China.  “We will plea to Xi Jinping: please save our families, allow safe passage for them to be reunited with their loved ones in South Korea,” Kim said. 

Another focus of the delegation’s visit is to highlight the fact that the atrocities occurring in North Korea today are as severe, and perhaps worse, than the well-known and documented suffering during the arduous march. 

“A lot of current media focus has understandably been on the threats the regime poses to South Korea and her allies, but we cannot lose sight of the threat this regime poses to its own people,” said NKFC Vice Chairman Jason West.  “Rather than focusing our attention on the Hwasung-17 ICBM necklace Kim Jong Un presented to his daughter and whether Kim Yo Jong is no longer in favor, we should be focusing on the noose Kim Jong Un has put around the necks of the daughters and sons of North Koreans and the suffering they experience totally because of him.”

NKFC has been bringing North Korean women to testify during the annual UN CSW gathering every year since 2016. “The UN CSW is the largest gathering of NGOs in the world, yet somehow our coalition was the first to raise the issue of North Korean women and most years we are the only ones focusing on this important issue,” said Ann Buwalda, Executive Director of Jubilee Campaign. She added, “It’s amazing to me that every year we have many tell us they had no idea about the situation for women in North Korea. That is why we must continue to raise the voices of these women on behalf of all the oppressed in North Korea, until they are free.”

The events will conclude with a prayer vigil in front of the United Nations led by Pastor Star Lee of the Esther Prayer Movement who has mobilized weekly and monthly prayer vigils around the world for the people of North Korea.

North Korean Eyewitnesses presenting at events in Washington, D.C. and New York City will be:

LEE Haeun: survivor of 50 days of torture and detention for making phone calls to South Korea. After her husband was sent to a political prison camp for listening to South Korea broadcasts, she and her daughter escaped from North Korea in 2019 in one of the last groups to escape before the border shut down. 

JI Hannah: survivor of North Korea’s political prison camps and China’s detention centers, Ji was an entrepreneur who lost everything during the infamous currency devaluation.  She successfully defected in 2015 and then saved up enough money to risk her own life to go back to China to save her two sons in 2019.

HAN Songmi: escaped from North Korea in 2011 when her mother raised enough money to pay brokers to get her out of North Korea.  The trauma of her life led her to remain silent for a decade but now she is speaking out and has published her memoir co-written with Casey Lartigue of Freedom Speakers International: Greenlight to Freedom: A North Korean Daughter’s Search for Her Mother and Herself.

LEE Seohyun: was born to an elite family in Pyongyang, North Korea, where she had great privileges but when the extensive brutal purges began under the Kim Jong Un regime, her family defected to South Korea and relocated in the United States in 2016. She currently attends Columbia University’s School of International and Public Affairs (SIPA) graduate program.

Public Events for the Visiting Delegation Include

New York City on March 16, 2023

UN Commission on the Status of Women Panel sessionTHURSDAY, MARCH 16TH, 10:30 am-12:00 noon at the Salvation Army Auditorium, see link here: 

3 pm Lay Flowers to Remember Otto Warmbier and all who have suffered because of  Kim Jong un at the DPRK Mission corner of 2nd Avenue and 43rd, New York

4:30 pm Flower Delivery to the Chinese Mission with a plea to allow safe passage to the children, women and men currently detained in China at 350 East 35th Street, New York

5:30-7 pm Prayer Vigil in front of the UN Headquarters hosted by the Esther Prayer Movement to pray for the North Korean people.

The Delegation is being hosted by the North Korea Freedom Coalition and its NGO members especially the Defense Forum Foundation, Esther Prayer Movement, Isabella Foundation, Jubilee Campaign.

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