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North Korea’s Human Rights Issues—This Is How You Can Help

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We sat down with Liberty in North Korea to learn more about the human rights issues within North Korea, as well as ways that any American can step up to help.


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North Korea is in the news as a political hot-button issue, but behind the politics, over 25 million people are living extremely challenging lives. Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) is an inspiring organization working tirelessly on their behalf. I sat down with Hannah Song, LiNK’s CEO, to learn more about how everyday Americans can practically support the North Korean people caught in the political crosshairs.

What’s life like for North Korean people?

North Korea is one of the greatest challenges facing humanity today. It’s widely recognized as one of the world’s most repressive countries and among the worst perpetrators of human rights violations. The government attempts to deny any form of political, economic or information freedom. North Korean people lack the most basic rights: freedoms of speech, movement, religion and even access to information.

What human rights issues get lost in all the political rhetoric?

When the world thinks about North Korea, it’s usually high-level politics: Kim Jong Un and nuclear weapons (especially lately).  However, this narrative is problematic because it portrays North Korea as an unsolvable issue. This perception has led to grave inaction in promoting change related to human rights over the last few decades.

This quote from the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights sums it up pretty well:

“The gravity, scale and nature of these violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world…  These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation.”

What are conditions like for North Koreans who escape to China?

Every year thousands of North Koreans risk their lives fleeing into neighboring China in search of food, family and freedom. This is illegal in the eyes of both North Korea and China.

Many North Korean women in China find themselves victims of sex trafficking, forced to work in brothels or online sex chatrooms. They may also end up being sold as wives.

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For any North Korean who escapes into China, they live with grave risk, often forced into hiding because the Chinese government refuses to recognize them as refugees. Instead, China actively seeks refugees out; arresting and forcibly sending them back. If returned, North Koreans often face harsh punishments including brutal beatings, forced labor, forced abortions, torture and internment in political prison camps.

What role does LiNK play here?

By using a 3,000-mile secret rescue route from China to Southeast Asia, we help North Koreans safely escape and reach freedom in countries like South Korea and America. We promote a “free passage” model offering refugees a safe way to escape China without any cost or condition.

What’s been missing from the North Korea narrative for too long are the stories of the North Korean people—the extreme challenges they face, the incredible ways they overcome them and the human progress they are able to forge. By changing the world’s perception of North Korea, we are mobilizing a movement that brings the attention, resources and support that the North Korean people deserve.

Every year thousands of North Koreans risk their lives fleeing into neighboring China in search of food, family and freedom. This is illegal in the eyes of both North Korea and China.

Our strategy is to create media and develop grassroots programs that educate and empower students to get involved in meaningful ways. Through our global campaigns, we reach thousands of people creating a global movement of support for the North Korean people.

Because limited perceptions on North Korea are often perpetuated by media and governments, we work with international journalists, filmmakers, diplomats and policymakers. We provide a broader perspective which influences the way the media reports on North Korea and how governments approach this issue.

Is there anything my church can do to help?

Activating your local community is incredibly powerful. If you want to host an awareness event featuring a movie screening, presentation or possibly a North Korean speaker, LiNK would love to talk to you to set this up.

You can also host a fundraiser to fund the rescue of a refugee. It only costs $3,000 to rescue one person. That’s totally doable for any church to fund! Our friends at Open Doors USA are doing amazing work to support communities persecuted for their faith. Prayer and thoughtful dialogue in your church to raise awareness about North Korean human rights is also an invaluable part of the effort.