The International North Korean Human Rights Festival took place in Berlin in October, with satellite events held in Heidelberg and Trier. The festival was organized by Saram, a Berlin-based group partnered with various human rights-focused NGOs with the mission of raising awareness for North Korean refugees.
In addition to screening relevant movies (e.g Cash for Kim, The Crossing, 48m) the film festival sought to address two questions: “Why does a place like North Korea still exist?” and “Can NGOs make a difference?”
Nicolai Sprekels, a spokesperson for Saram, emphasized during his opening speech the importance of understanding the challenges faced by North Korean refugees and defectors. His talk provided insights on the current circumstances and challenges that North Koreans face within their country and in China. He stressed the importance of “raising awareness not only for those who have managed to escape, but also for those who are still living in the North […].”
One defector who shared his story was Mr. Hyeong Soo Kim was born in North Korea and escaped in 2009. Kim states his age as seven years old because, as he puts it, “Only after my escape did I begin to live.” Kim himself studied biology at Pyongyang’s prestigious Kim Il Sung University and was tasked with developing the most beneficial food possible to ensure Kim Jong Il’s longevity. He later began working for the notorious Office 39, a shadowy organization known to manage the Kim family’s slush funds. After illegally listening to foreign radio broadcasts, he began to doubt the premise of the North Korean state and decided to escape. He now works for the Northern Research Association.
Throughout the event, Kim reflected on the events of his past and, as he refers to it, the “wrong years” in North Korea. He noted that there were rumors being spread in the North, warning that anybody who arrives in South Korea will only end up in a prison camp and die. This is one of the reasons why many refugees and defectors at first choose to stay in China. He also noted that during the 1998 Olympics in Seoul, many North Koreans were able to see the “real” South Korea for the first time. Kim explained that in 1998 in particular, many were killed as a result of Kim Jong Il’s orders to shoot anybody who attempted to cross the border into China. “I saw myself,” he said. “I saw seven dead bodies in the river. Six women and a man.”
[Read full Daily NK article]