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  • Wen-Yee Lee

North Korean Defectors Have Something to Say as Tension Spikes between Washington and Pyongyang


“When American citizens hear about North Korea, the two things that come to their minds [are] probably the nuclear bomb and Kim Jong Un,” says Illyong Ju, a 21-year-old North Korean defector during his first visit to Washington D.C. this September.

Working with Now Action & Unity for Human Rights, a North Korean human rights organization based in South Korea, Ju acts as a North Korean homeless child in the two-week performing tour across the U.S. He wants to show American people the cruel reality of North Korea and that there are innocent North Koreans who are suffering. “My friends are still there and they don’t know what human rights are.”

Defectors like Ju still have relatives and friends living in North Korea, so what he cares more about are people’s lives there, including its serious human rights abuses. Although the stories of North Korean people are rarely heard, they are the people who would suffer the most if a war breaks out.

In the 72nd United Nations General Assembly this week, world leaders discussed Pyongyang’s nuclear threat. President Donald Trump met with South Korean President Moon Jae-in to discuss the brewing crisis.

Even though Trump threatens to "totally destroy North Korea,” Moon tries to maintain peace. In favor of the reunification between North Korea and South Korea, he promised that “there will not be a war.”

Escaping from North Korea 11 years ago, Ji Seong-ho currently serves as the chairman of Now Action & Unity for Human Rights. “I am strongly against North Korea developing nuclear weapons,” he says, adding that the North Korean regime should improve the lives of its people.

Both Ju and Ji hope they can witness the reunification of the bitterly divided Korean Peninsula. Ju is currently studying political science at Korea University with a concrete goal to be a human rights lawyer for North Korean defectors. “After reunification, I want to be a bridge between [the] South and [the] North.”

"Government and citizens are different,” he added, “I want to let American citizens know about that.”



Eight North Korean defectors, including Ji Seong-ho (middle), presented people's life in North Korea in a play, Tuesday, Sept. 7, 2017, in Washington D.C. (Photo Credit: Wen-Yee Lee)


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