Confronting the North Korean Human Rights Crisis

thomasMy name is Thomas Barker. I am an attorney in Washington, D.C. Although my legal specialization is as a health care regulatory lawyer, for the past three years, I have developed a very fulfilling pro-bono practice representing people who I consider to be heroes: North Korean defectors. In this article, I will explain why I feel so passionate about my pro-bono practice, and then describe what we are accomplishing through the non-profit organization that we have formed.

Two recent events have served to remind me why our work is so important. The first is the announcement that the North Korean government of Kim Jong-Eun seems to have conducted a nuclear test, shortly after launching a missile earlier this year. Both of these actions violate international law and show that the Kim regime has no interest in being a responsible member of the world community. The second event is the recent visits of Google’s chief executive and of basketball star Dennis Rodman to North Korea. These visits are nothing but a propaganda ploy that perpetuate the Kim regime.

What is disconcerting about these events is that they serve to deflect the world’s attention away from the horrendous human rights violations committed by the Kim regime. And of course, that is exactly their intent. The last thing that Kim Jong Eun, his uncle, Jang Sung Taek, and the rest of the regime elites want the world to focus on is the atrocities that they are committing against the North Korean people.

And so, like well-fed rats, they hide their evil deeds from the light of day. But let us recount these atrocities. For just as we should never forget the Holocaust perpetrated by the German Nazi Party during World War II, the world must never forget the Holocaust perpetrated by the Kim regime:

Since the 1950s, the Kim regime has operated a vast system of political prison camps that quite likely surpasses the horrors of the Soviet gulags. The prisoners in these camps – whose only “crime” is perceived disloyalty to the Kim regime – are forced to work in slave labor conditions, subsisting on a diet of 300 calories per day that they must supplement with snakes, rats and tree bark in order to survive.

They are forced to watch public executions, and suffer torture for the most minor transgressions. Today, there are an estimated 200,000 people living in these prisons.

Since the mid-1990s, the Kim regime has starved its citizens. Due to the collapse of the Soviet Union, economic mismanagement, and the resulting breakdown of the food distribution system, more than three million North Koreans died of starvation from the famines of the 1990s.

When responsible leaders of the world stepped in to prevent this humanitarian tragedy, the Kim regime diverted the food aid to the elites and to the military, and kept it from average citizens.
o The North Korean people are systematically denied the most basic rights accepted by civilized humans: free speech; free exercise of religion; freedom of political association; and the freedom to be secure in one’s home.

Three years ago, I met four people living in the Washington, D.C. area who were miraculously able to escape from North Korea. As my friendship with them grew, I learned a great deal about daily life in North Korea. I also learned how passionately they feel about wanting to help their brothers and sisters who remain behind in that country. Together, we have formed a non-profit, non-governmental organization called North Korean Refugees Living in the United States, or NKUS.

The mission of NKUS is very simple. It provides assistance to North Korean defectors who are living in America – we think there are about 150 but pray that there will soon be more. In addition, NKUS views it as its mission to let the American people know about the atrocities of the Kim regime. Far from being a “strong and prosperous nation” – the stated goal of Kim Jong Eun – North Korea is one of the poorest nations on earth that is so weak and insecure that it must abuse its citizens to stay in power. Finally, NKUS hopes to educate the North Korean people – against all odds, given the restrictions on outside information that the Kim regime imposes on its citizens – about freedom, about America, and the truth about Kim Jong Eun.

In just the three short months since the Internal Revenue Service granted tax-exempt status to NKUS, we have accomplished a great deal. We have provided legal advice to North Korean defectors who do not know how to obtain a lawyer. We have provided access to the health care system for defectors who have basic health care needs. We have provided immigration advice and assistance to North Korean defectors living here. And we have shared information with Americans about the evils of the Kim regime.

There is much work that remains to be done, but there is every reason for optimism that our important work is hastening the downfall of the Kim regime. The Kim regime will end on a day, and at an hour, of God’s choosing. But for every minute until that hour comes, NKUS will be working to bring about the liberation of the North Korean people.


Thomas R. Barker
Foley Hoag LLP