Victims’ Voices: A Conversation on North Korean Human Rights

Today, the U.S. Mission to the UN and the Republic of Korea’s Mission to the UN co-hosted an event at the United Nations in New York, where three brave human rights abuse victims -- Joseph Kim, Jay Jo and Kim Hye-sook -- shared their harrowing stories of starvation, imprisonment, torture, and their dangerous escapes from North Korea so that people around the world could learn about what is happening in North Korea.

The first speaker was Joseph Kim, who grew up in North Korea during the great famine of the 1990s. At the age of 12 Joseph saw his father starve to death, his mother disappear, and his sister flee to China to search for food. In 2006, when he was 16, he decided to make the dangerous escape alone out of North Korea to look for food -- and for his sister.

At today’s event, Joseph urged the international community to continue to pay attention to the human rights situation in North Korea: “Even at this moment, the North Korean people are still fighting hard to survive. They have hope and they have not given up on life or the possibility of a better future. But hope by itself is not enough. I believe that with the attention of the international community, with your support, we can also make their hope of a better future into a reality.”

Joseph, who is now in college in the United States, continues the search for his sister.

Jay Jo recounted her story of losing half of her family during a famine and described what she saw happen to her parents as a child, “My parents often traveled to China in order to get the food for their children. But they were arrested by the Security Agents, and my mother, who was three months pregnant, was tortured up to the point that she could not use her legs and released months later, but my father died out of starvation and torture on the way to be transferred to another prison. The regime said he was shot to death because he was trying to escape, but it was not true.”

Jay Jo added, “Now I feel fortunate because I could overcome all of those tragedies, and testify in front of you, as a free, 28 year old US citizen.”

Kim Hye-sook escaped North Korea in 2008, after spending 28 years in a political prison camp. In the camp, she witnessed countless inhuman acts, including mothers forced to kill their own children in exchange for food.

At today’s event, Ambassador Samantha Power urged China and all countries in the region to protect North Korean refugees and asylum seekers who reach their territories. 

Sadly, as noted by the participants in today’s event, their stories are just three of millions. As the Ambassador pointed out, “While the hardship the three defectors endured is immeasurable -- their experience is not exceptional. On the contrary, it is remarkably common.” 

Knowing that there are still people in North Korea, who every day, endure the horrific abuses that they once encountered, is what drives defectors to keep telling their stories.

Ambassador Power concluded, "We must see that their voices, and those of other defectors, are amplified -- here at the UN, at the Security Council, and beyond. And we must not be satisfied with telling the stories, but with asking what we can do to stop to a system built to strip people of their most basic rights and dignity, and bring the perpetrators to account.”

About the Author: Caroline Weisser serves as Digital Director at the U.S. Mission to the United Nations.



Patrick W.
Maryland, USA
May 1, 2015
Our new plan should be ...Get China to take control of North Korea. I think China has to stop North Korean from do all these horrible things to it's people. I think they are the only one 's that have diplomatic talks with them, that could change the way things are over there. They have leverage over North Korea that they should start using. China need to start being a Leader in the World and help bring North Korea and other countries out of the Dark Ages. So, we all can be prosperous in the coming years.
North Korean Human Rights Abuse Victims - Joseph Kim, Jay Jo and Kim Hye-sook - Shared Their Stories at the United Nations
Posted by Caroline Weisser
April 30, 2015


Latest Stories

January 19, 2017

What We Got Right

With a new administration taking office this week, it is natural to assess the inheritance it will receive from the… more