Excerpts of an interview with Suzanne Scholte, president of the Defense Forum Foundation:
Q: We are constantly seeing news out of North Korea, that is—for lack of a better phrase—bizarre.
Scholte: This regime is sadistic and cruel. Just talking about recent events, Chang Sŏng-t’aek, who was Kim Jong Un’s uncle, devoted his entire life to that regime and was successful in helping the regime and then all of a sudden he falls out of favor and is basically publicly humiliated and then brutally killed. It just shows the level of cruelty that this regime represents. I do not believe he was fed to dogs; that report came out of China. … Part of the problem with reporting about North Korea is that we cannot go and see the political prison camps. … So it’s difficult to try to corroborate some of the stories. … One interesting thing about the defectors is that there’s a self-policing among them. They know that they were doubted, and therefore their credibility is always on the line. So they’re very careful, the defectors that I work with, they’re very careful to make sure that if we have a witness that comes over, that they’ve been vetted, and they’re really telling their true story.
Q: Why do you think governments and Western journalists have put so much focus on the nuclear issue and not the human rights threat for the citizens of North Korea?
The policy of George W. Bush was the same as Bill Clinton’s: we have to reach a deal on the nuclear issue first, then, we can talk about human rights. That has been a horrible mistake. During all the talks whether Four Party talks or Six Party talks, millions of North Koreans have died. And, not talking about the human rights atrocities fed into the lie that the North Korean people tell their own citizens, which is we hate them. North Koreans are told by the regime that Americans are Yankee imperialist wolves that occupy South Korea, and they want to destroy them, and so we have to build these nuclear weapons, because the United States is ready to attack us. … We fed into that lie because we didn’t talk about these human rights issues.
The Obama Administration has been very careful to keep the focus on human rights and the nuclear issue and give them equal importance. During this period the North Korean defectors kept telling us, “They will never give up their nuclear weapons. They only use negotiation to extract aid.” Hwang Jang yop (highest ranking North Korean defector and author of juche ideology) said that in 1997 when he defected, “Human rights is their Achilles heel. Human rights is what you have to talk about. They’re killing their own people. They’re using you in these talks. …At least we’ve come to that point now where we realize that.