Saturday, January 14, 2006

Gripping exposé Seoul Train - Activism

In Seoul Train, we meet the activists, learn of the risks they take for their refugees and for themselves, and see firsthand the toll their work takes on them. We also hear from the Chinese government, which articulates why the country claims the North Koreans are not refugees; from the UNHCR as to why it has failed to save even one North Korean refugee; from members of U.S. Congress that have publicly challenged both the People's Republic of China and the UNHCR; and from other experts (academics and NGOs) on the crisis at hand as they foretell the impending disaster. Among them:

Senator Sam Brownback, Chairman, U.S. Helsinki Commission. Brownback pushes for human rights reform throughout the world, including North Korea, China and Sudan. He's also the original sponsor and Senate champion of the recently enacted North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (H.R. 4011) and the Darfur Accountability Act (S. 495).

Marine Buissonnière, Secretary General. Médecins Sans Frontières International, Doctors Without Borders (MSF/DWB). Now the Secretary General for all of MSF/DWB, until 2003, Buissonnière was the regional representative for MSF in Seoul.

Chun Ki-won, Underground Railroad Activist. This mysterious and secretive pastor works the underground railroad with more success than any other single activist. He has traveled and initiated new routes that have brought approximately 10 percent of the total number of North Koreans that have made it to South Korea since the end of the Korean War in 1953. A former businessman, Chun was initiated into the North Korean refugee crisis during a business trip to the Yanbian area of China, near the North Korean border, where he saw the body of a North Korean that had been shot in the back trying to cross the Tumen River.

Dr. Chung Byung-ho, Professor of Cultural Anthropology, Hanyang University, South Korea. As an anthropology professor, Dr. Chung is an unbiased, respected expert on the effect of the food crisis upon North Koreans. He describes the famine in North Korea as one of the worst in modern history. Dr. Chung is acutely aware of the crisis; he oversees the six-month reeducation program for North Korean children that have made it to South Korea.

Kim Sang-hun, Underground Railroad Activist. Possibly the most covert member of the underground railroad, Kim a retired U.N. official, specializes in facilitating the escape of "high value" North Korean defectors that provide evidence against the Kim Jong-il regime for a future International Criminal Court tribunal.

Moon Kook-han, Underground Railroad Activist. Moon Kook-han specializes in making political statements as he leads refugee groups out of China. In 2001, he rushed a family of seven into the UNHCR office in downtown Beijing. With the Han-mi family, he stormed the Japanese consulate gates in Shenyang, China. He was also helping the ill-fated MoFA Seven, who were arrested by the Chinese and sent back to North Korea, where it is presumed some, if not all, have since died in concentration camps.

Tim Peters, Underground Railroad Activist and Founder and Director, Helping Hands Korea. Gentle and soft-spoken, Tim Peters is the glue that holds much of the underground railroad together. The Michigan native is the moral compass of the effort, supporting the activities of the underground railroad with funding, organization and guidance. Peters has lived in South Korea off and on for more than 28 years, dedicating himself to the service of the North Koreans. He is the founder and director of Helping Hands Korea and the Ton-a-Month Club, which provides more than a ton of food per month to North Koreans in the remote northern reaches of the country. To date, he has far surpassed that goal and is, in fact, three years ahead of plan.

Tarik Radwan, Immigration Attorney. An immigration attorney specializing in refugee issues, Radwan has dissected the agreement between the UNHCR and China. He has concluded that there are several legal measures available to the UNHCR to force China's compliance with international refugee law, but that the UNHCR has chosen not to use them.

Ron Redmond, Chief, Media Relations and Public Information Service, UNHCR. As the UNHCR spokesman, Ron Redmond attempts to explain the UNHCR's perceived apathy toward the growing crisis of North Korean refugees. He explains that without the support of U.N. member states, the UNHCR is rendered powerless, and he calls into question the political will of member states, namely the United States, to address the issue.

Suzanne Scholte, Vice-Chairman, North Korea Freedom CoalitionA human rights activist fighting on behalf of North Koreans, Suzanne Scholte has directed her relentless energy to marshal U.S. policymakers to care about this issue, and she was one of the instrumental behind-the-scenes players in the passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (H.R. 4011).

Dr. Norbert Vollertsen, Underground Railroad ActivistNorbert Vollertsen is a German medical doctor who has worked on numerous underground railroad operations. Prior to becoming an activist, Vollertsen provided medical relief within North Korea, stating, "Children were dying in front of my eyes." Notwithstanding his controversial tactics, his efforts have brought the plight of North Koreans to the world's attention.


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