I convened an all-star working group of 9 people who volunteered countless hours to meet over several months and provide insights to craft this policy recommendation to the Biden Administration. The working group members were: Guy Arrigoni, Markus Garlauskas, Hyun-Seung Lee, David Maxwell, Dr. John Park, Greg Scarlatoiu, Dr. Sue Mi Terry, Skip Vincenzo, and myself.
I am so excited to be moderating an all-star panel of women who have been crafting their careers that have been driven by their mission to promote change in our world with a focus on North Korea. Be sure to join us for what will be an inspiring event with practical tips from these leaders on how you can incorporate your passions into your career too.
On International Women’ Day, the Council of Korean Americans will be hosting an exclusive speaker panel of Korean women leaders on the topic of pursuing mission-driven careers, featuring human rights activists and innovation thought leaders:
Hannah Song, President & CEO of Liberty in North Korea
Jihyun Park, North Korean Defector & Human Rights Activist
Sylvia Kim, General Partner of CerraCap Cares
Event title: Creating Your Career: Lessons from Women Leaders in Mission-Driven Careers
I had the pleasure of moderating an online event with Hyun-Seung and Seo-Hyun yesterday, sponsored by the Harvard Kennedy School’s North Korea Study Group. This is part of a monthly conversation series with North Korean escapees I will moderate. Not sure if all of them will be recorded, but this one was, so be sure to check it out on this link! [The intro and Q&A were not recorded, thus the abrupt beginning and end]
Hyun-Seung and Seohyun Lee are the children of Ri Jong-Ho. He is the highest ranking living escapee who, before his escape, worked at Office 39 – a secretive North Korean party organization that seeks ways to maintain the foreign currency slush fund for the country’s leaders.
Hyun-Seung Lee is a former Deputy General Manager of the Korea Miyang Shipping Corporation (business entity of the DPRK regime), who graduated from China Dongbei University of Finance and Economics, where he was the chairman of the Kim Il Sung Socialist Youth League, Dalian China branch. After completing his military service in 2005 with the rank of Sergeant, he was granted membership in the Korean Workers Party. Despite his prestigious background and elite-level education, a series of brutal purges by Kim Jong Un forced him and his entire family to defect in late 2014, making their way first to South Korea. Subsequently the entire family emigrated to the United States (2016) where Hyun-Seung has been engaged with several Washington DC think tanks and NGOs in consulting roles.
Seohyun Lee was born and raised in central Pyongyang, North Korea. She went to China to study when she was a sophomore at Kim Il Sung University and earned her bachelor’s degree of Science in Finance from Dongbei University of Economics and Finance in 2014. She defected from North Korea in October 2014 during a heightened period of brutal purges by the Kim Jong Un regime. With her long-term vision to build a liberal democratic system and bring freedom in North Korea, she is currently pursuing further graduate studies.
We talked about their personal lives as students in North Korea, what media they watched inside North Korea, their thoughts on whether or not the North Korean regime will ever denuclearize, and what their future plans are in the United States. Watch the video below for more! And be sure to follow them on their fascinating Youtube channel: Pyonghattan
My latest Foreign Affairs article joins the chorus of voices who are critical of the legislation recently passed by the South Korean Parliament that criminalizes the dissemination of information into North Korea.
(It’s a guest link that bypasses the paywall, so do skim it if you have time)
Note that the nickname “anti-leaflet bill” is misleading; the legislation is much more comprehensive in its ban than leaflets across the inter-Korean border.
Others who have expressed strong concern and criticism of this South Korean legislation:
Representations Made To the UK Foreign Secretary about the Republic of Korea’s “Gag Law” (co-signed by Assemblyman Thae Yong-Ho; Assemblyman Ji Seong-Ho; Timothy Cho, British-North Korean escapee & Inquiry Clerk to the All-Parliamentary Group on North Korea; Benedict Rogers, Deputy Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission and Senior Analyst, East Asia, at CSW; Jihyun Park, British-North Korean escapee & Human Rights Activist; Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, Committee For Human rights in North Korea; and yours truly.
If you share our strong concern over this bill, call your US representative, or your representative if you live outside the US, and encourage them to voice their concern over this very problematic bill.
I’m excited to share that LUMEN has launched! With a shared passion for increasing information flow into and out of North Korea, our stellar team will continue to quietly work hard to mobilize cutting edge ideas, technologies, and and big thinking to make our world accessible to the North Korean people. If you are interested in contributing to our work, please reach out! www.lumen.global
On March 22, Member of EU Parliament Lazslo Tokes hosted an event at the EU Parliament on the power of information in North Korea. He played a big role in sparking the Romanian Revolution in 1989, and hsa been very active in human rights affairs in the EU Parliament. Willy Fautre, the director of the Human Rights without Frontiers organized the panelists and the event drew almost 100 attendees to discuss this subject. While I spoke of the importance of information getting INTO North Korea, Mr. Do spoke (to my left) spoke about the importance of information getting OUT of North Korea.
Mr. Do, a South Korean activist for human rights in North Korea, helped arrange to smuggle out what is known to be the first work of fiction written by a North Korean dissident currently living inside North Korea. That original manuscript was smuggled out of North Korea, passed through China, and arrived safely into South Korea. “The Accusation” is written by Bandi (the North Korean author’s pen name) and has been translated into many languages, including English. For more on this, please check out a recent New York Times article about the book.
Professor Remco Breuker from Leiden University spoke about his research findings on North Korean forced laborers in numerous countries. Not only are there North Korean workers in the EU, but they are working on projects that are paid for by the EU. For more fascinating reading on Professor Brueker’s research, read his report.
A movie (that I have yet to see, but has been repeatedly recommended to me) brings together all the elements of this blog post: CHUCK NORRIS VS. COMMUNISM. Information access, Romanian revolution, North Korea, Hollywood movies, activists, Christians and the Church all wrapped up into one movie. Go watch it!
The Oxford International Relations Society hosted a talk with Mrs. Park Jihyun, who presented a powerful and haunting overview of her experiences of living in and escaping from North Korea. The room was so packed that some students were turned away.
Amidst curious Oxford students, Mrs. Park shared her story with that quiet, still power she so naturally exudes. Her gravitas in undeniable. She is a fervent human rights advocate, fighting especially hard to raise awareness about the vulnerabilities of North Korean women and children. The evening was a somber yet hopeful one, as Mrs. Park shared with a few students of her activism work. Despite her harrowing experiences, she and her family found their way to the United Kingdom where she and her husband are raising their beautiful children. Her fight to survive, her resilience, and her huge heart for others are simply astonishing and inspiring.
As a breakout session, our panel was not live streamed so I’ll share a few photos from our session here. Isaac Stone Fish from Foreign Policy and role model Gayle Karen-Young moderated and facilitated the panel and Q&A with Ji Seong-Ho, Hyeon-Seo Lee, and myself.
We shared thoughts about information access in North Korea (an increasingly popular topic, yes!), and the possibilities and challenges that surround the future democratization in North Korea. At the last minute, Oslo Freedom Forum had to get a larger room and double the time for our session because of the sheer demand! The panelists and I were so encouraged to see the diverse audience that packed into the room to listen to and participate in the very last session of the Forum. If you haven’t seen Ji Seong-Ho’s speech from last year’s Oslo Freedom Forum, you must watch it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=kk0p0zcvlnU
Also, Lee Hyeon-Seo shared teasers about the NGO she is starting up soon. Keep your eyes and ears out for it! If you have any specific questions about what was discussed, feel free to message me.
During my trip to Seoul this summer, I met extraordinary people who escaped North Korea and are involved in service projects throughout South Korea. I was particularly inspired by North Korean defectors who are now college students in Seoul who want to “achieve unification of the two Koreas on a small scale by working with South Korean native peers through service projects.”
Esther Eom left North Korea several years ago and has been engaged in service projects over the past several years in Seoul. She is currently directing an NGO called “UNI SEED,” which engages university students who are South Korean natives and North Korean defectors to serve homeless people in Seoul. She believes that individual students can achieve what politicians currently cannot: unification (on a small scale) between North and South Koreans.
Additionally, she and her fellow NGO members want to signal to South Koreans and others that people who escaped North Korea are not solely dependent on South Korean NGO and government handouts. This young generation of North Korean defectors want to prove to themselves and others that not only can they survive, but also serve those in their new country.
Every third Saturday, UNI SEED cooks North Korean food, packages them into individual meals (rice, North Korean side dishes, and North Korean soup), and hands them out to homeless men and women in Seoul Station, a high-traffic area. They hand out the meals, and then go around the station to collect any and all trash that resulted from these meals. I was invited to their recent meal event and was inspired by how passionate, determined, and creative this group is.
There are other similar groups at churches and university campus across South Korea who want to achieve unification on a small scale by inviting South Korean native and North Korean defector students to work together on service projects and build trusting friendships through social events.
Keep an eye out for UNI SEED, Esther Eom, her colleagues, and for similar organizations. The power of a single individual truly cannot be underestimated!
Hyeonseo Lee graciously offered to do a Q&A with Parlio, an online forum for intelligent conversations on issues that matter. Please read her Q&A with Parlio on this link. She carefully answered every question that was asked on our platform and I guarantee that you’ll learn a lot from her Q&A!
She defected from North Korea and has become a very vocal North Korean human rights activist over the years. You gotta pick up a copy of her recently published book: The Girl with Seven Names. Her Ted Talk captured global interest in her story and the larger issues she spoke of, which you could watch below:
I”m a community manager at Parlio, so if you have any question, let me know. Please join Parlio today!
After I interviewed a few folks at the Unification Media Group for a book that I’m working on, they asked me to do an interview about my background as part of a weekly program they broadcast into North Korea, targeting young North Koreans who secretly listen to their radio program. The specific program hosts young guests from all over — United States, South Korean, North Korean defectors — to talk about their personal goals and dreams. The goal of this program is to inspire hope, dreams, and strength among North Korean youth. My interview ran long (because I’m long-winded), so it was split into two parts. The radio programs have already been broadcast into North Korea.
At the beginning of every program, the radio program host reads the opening lines in Korean (excuse my rough English translation):
“If you raise a chicken egg, a chick will hatch. If you raise a duck egg, a duckling will hatch. American President Lincoln had a dream to free slaves, and eventually emancipated slaves in his country. Similarly, the dreams that human beings raise will become reality. For the North Korean young people who are listening to this program, what kind of dreams do you hold dear in your heart? Now is the time for us to deliver the stories of young people who have passionately followed their dreams and made them into reality.”
If you have ideas of programs or content that you’d like to have broadcast into North Korea, or if you want to write a letter or speak to North Koreans through these radio programs that secretly broadcast into North Korea, contact me any time!
The Seoul-based “Unification Media Group” is the umbrella group for Radio Free Chosun, Open Radio for North Korea, Daily NK, and OTV.
Ji Seong-Ho walked 6,000 miles with just one leg and one arm on the crutches that his father made for him to defect North Korea for the second time to reach freedom in South Korea.
He was caught during his first attempt to escape North Korea, and was beaten severely by North Korean soldiers. When I met with him a few weeks ago in Seoul, he told me that the worst part of being punished by the soldiers was their fury they expressed at a “disabled freak” for bringing dishonor to their country. People like him were supposed to die in silence, not make a mockery of North Korea, they said.
He now runs an incredible organization titled “Now, Action, & Unity for Human Rights.” His organization is raising funds for him to move into a new office to continue the work his organization does: rescue North Korean children, raise global awareness about human rights violations in North Korea, and broadcast radio programs into North Korea for North Korean people to illicitly listen to. I watched him walk up the stairs to his tiny office on the fifth floor (no elevators) and thought, “my goodness. Humans are truly capable to overcoming any obstacle.”
I just made my contribution to his campaign on this site. Please check out the site and make your contribution today!
Normally, I try to avoid re-posting articles on the blog (even though there are so many good ones out there!) but this one was too good, too interesting, and too unique to not re-post.
Mr. Yeong-Jin Jang arrived in South Korea in 1997 after escaping North Korea and only recently came out to tell his story in an autobiographical novel, “A Mark of Red Honor.” Also, read this interview he gave with Mr. Choe Sang-Hun at New York Times, where he speaks of feeling like a “double alien” in South Korea.
This project will send two North Korean defector journalists to the Chinese-North Korean border to source news and share their findings with us all. Check out the video and support the good work that Chad O’Carroll and team are doing at NK News. (And sign up for their daily newsletter!)
What’s a better way to get news from this regime than from North Koreans themselves who have the skills to source primary materials and write stories to share with the world?
Song Byeok went from being a North Korean propaganda artist to political prisoner to now a dissident artist. His work will be exhibited in New York City for the next few weeks (May 7 – June 13) and I’d love for anyone in NYC to check his work out. This is an extremely unique show.
The exhibition, titled “Looking at the World’ is “dedicated to all those who have suffered from the physical and psychological abuses of a flawed government pivoted on the lack of human rights and freedom.”
Please check it out and share it with people you think may be interested. If you have Kim Jong Un’s email address, feel free to forward this to him!
This paper will make a case for the U.S. government to pursue three strategies if its operational objective is to force North Korea to reappraise its own interests. Individual self-determination and access to information—two properties the Kim regime fears most for its citizens to possess –are the short-term goals for North Koreans. This objective and two goals do not necessarily equate to regime change.
Even at its best, information fracking does not portend rapid changes in North Korea. But it does offer the best prospect for creating conditions for the government to consider incremental political changes. The more informed its citizens are, the less North Korea’s political leadership will be able to simply eliminate all the “bad seeds” in society by relegating alleged criminals and their relatives to political prison camps or worse. Otherwise, there will be no one left to rule over. Success of information hacking requires enlisting a broad range of stakeholders as part of its three-pronged strategy:
Strengthen covert operations to hack into North Korea’s information channels and support internal dissidents.
Increase funding for NGOs in the U.S. and South Korea to transmit outside media into North Korea and provide business skills to North Koreans.
Bolster training for North Korean defectors, the primary liaisons between North Korea and the outside world, in journalism, IT, and social media
We just launched North Korea Intellectuals Solidarity (NKIS) US website, which makes it easier for everyone to donate to NKIS. Please check out the site and consider making your donation today. You will be helping to make history. Spread the word!
North Korea has one of the worst — if not the worst — health care systems in the world. I’ve known this for a very a long time, but this point was driven home for me when one of the North Koreans I spent my day with today, a North Korean doctor, told me the following:
“I was trained as a doctor in North Korea, but feel immense guilt because I was unable to save lives in the very profession that is defined by saving lives.”
He, his colleagues, nor his hospital simply did not have the resources necessary to serve patients. Surgeries like appendectomies without anesthetics; sending patients armed with prescriptions and the hope to find medicines on the black market; “sterilizing” syringes with salt to reuse on the next patient; washing blood-soaked cotton balls for future re-use; storing hospital-made saline solution in beer bottles for patients’ IV are some of the memories that this doctor has of his working days in North Korea.
The sheer multidimensional inhumanity of this country is so unquestionably blunt. I hope that the sweeping quantitative descriptions of this regime — numbers of deaths, percentage figure of the population that’s starving, the pennies that the average North Korean citizen makes per month, the number of people in prison camps, the number failed defections — do not make consumers of this information jaded to the individual haunting experiences that painfully comprise these numbers.
If you’re interested in learning more about this doctor’s story, and those of other North Koreans who are currently doing a tour of events on the East Coast, check out my previous post for their event details!