June 14, 2019


By Rosa Park, HRNK Director of Programs and Editor

Today, Friday, June 14, 2019, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) and the North Korea Freedom Coalition (NKFC) together lay a wreath at the Victims of Communism 12th Annual Roll Call of Nations Wreath-Laying Ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial located on the corner of Massachusetts Avenue and New Jersey Avenue in Northwest Washington, DC. HRNK and NKFC join hands in remembrance of the countless victims of communism in North Korea since 1948, the year the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) was established. The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation was founded thanks to a bipartisan effort in Congress that lead to PL 103-199, which was “signed into law by President Bill Clinton on December 17, 1993.”[1]After years of hard work, President George W. Bush dedicated the Victims of Communism Memorial on June 12, 2007.[2]

NKFC & HRNK wreath before the wreath-laying ceremony.

During the dedication, President George W. Bush spoke to the underlying reason behind the memorial that still resonates today: “We dedicate this memorial because we have an obligation to those who died, to acknowledge their lives and honor their memory.”[3]There are an estimated 100 million victims of communism around the world. In North Korea, at times one hears about the improved standard of living in Pyongyang and greater access to markets all around the country. Nevertheless, thanks to the 2014 United Nations Report of the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the world now knows that crimes against humanity have been thoroughly documented in North Korea. On the surface, these are seemingly contradictory reports.

How do we define who a victim is in North Korea? The Oxford dictionary defines a victim as “a person harmed, injured, or killed as a result of a crime, accident, or other event or action.”[4]Today in North Korea, every citizen is indiscriminately a victim, from the lowest “hostile” classes to the highest, privileged “loyal” classes of songbun. The Kim regime is systematically harming, injuring, and killing anybody it arbitrarily deems to be a threat. Even the privileged in North Korea face the fear of execution at the hands of the Kim regime.

While fully acknowledging the rise of markets and cell phones in North Korea, which are undoubtedly positive developments the citizens of North Korea still face widespread malnutrition, political oppression, and fearpolitik. According to the World Food Programme, “an estimated 11 million people – more than 40 percent of the population – are undernourished.”[5]Malnutrition could easily be addressed by the Kim regime, which consciously chooses to keep its weapons rather than properly feed 11 million citizens. Malnutrition is even more acute in North Korea's political prison camps. There are more than 30 kwan-li-so (political prison camps) and kyo-hwa-so (reeducation through forced labor camps) that we know. Between 80,000 and 120,000 prisoners are held at the political prison camps. Many others are imprisoned in reeducation through forced labor camps. Even at the top of North Korean society, fear controls the privileged. High-level officials have been made to watch their peers be executed by ZPU-4 anti-aircraft machine guns to instill fear and to keep the elites in line. These atrocities are now well documented and continue to incite outrage. Corroboration of instances such as these have been made possible thanks to North Korean escapee testimony and satellite imagery, revealing the horrors committed by the Kim regime.

Compared to ten years ago, the world is now more aware of the suffering of the victims of communism, including the North Korean people. "Many people have been liberated from communism" states HRNK Co-Vice-Chair and NKFC Chairman Suzanne Scholte, "but North Koreans still suffer under this brutal ideology. Today, we not only remember the millions of North Koreans who have died at the hands of Kim Il Song, Kim Jong Il, and Kim Jong Un, but we remind the world that North Koreans are still suffering."

HRNK, NKFC, and countless other organizations and individuals understand that it would be detrimental to forget history and are passionate about raising awareness of the reality in North Korea. However, many Americans today are failing to remember or notice the suffering that is perpetrated at the hands of communist regimes around the world, including the crimes of the Kim regime. The Victims of Communism 2018 annual report found that “1 in 4 Americans Have Received No Education About Communism” and “52% of millennials indicated that they would prefer to live in a socialist (46%) or communist (6%) country [rather] than a capitalist (40%) one.”[6]

 HRNK & NKFC wreath-laying ceremony at the Victims of Communism Memorial. 

HRNK & NKFC staff and interns pause for a moment of silence for the North Korean people after the laying of the wreath at the Victims of Communism Memorial. 

In 1983, President Ronald Reagan reflected that “communism is another sad, bizarre chapter in human history whose last pages even now are being written.”[7] Today in 2019, HRNK and NKFC are still working towards righting the wrongs of communism's legacy. HRNK Executive Director Greg Scarlatoiu, a naturalized American born and raised in Nicolae CeauČ™escu’s communist Romania, worries "that Millennials do not fully appreciate the gravity of the abominable oppression, repression, and deprivation communism caused. I experienced that up close and personal until age 19. It is truly heartening to see my younger colleagues lay a wreath on behalf of HRNK today, in memory of the victims of this ideology that ultimately gave the world nothing but desperation, destruction, and genocide." Younger generations have an obligation, just as generations had before them, to those who died at the hands of communism to ensure that the errors and crimes of the past are never, ever repeated. We must “acknowledge their lives and honor their memory.”[8]''

HRNK legal research intern Brian Wild, HRNK research intern Eliza Klingler, HRNK legal research intern Kiersten Reinhold, HRNK director of programs and editor Rosa Park, NKFC member Greg Forman, HRNK research intern Eunsaem Shin, and NKFC/DFF intern Johnny Park stand with the HRNK & NKFC wreath before the Victims of Communism Memorial. 
Photos by Michele Helen Reyes

[1]Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "History of the Memorial," https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/memorial.

[2]Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, "The Dedication," https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/memorial.

[3]George W. Bush, White House Archives, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/06/20070612-2.html.

[4]Lexico Powered by Oxford, "Victim," https://www.lexico.com/en/definition/victim.

[5]World Food Programme, “WFP DPR Korea Country Brief April 2019,” https://docs.wfp.org/api/documents/WFP-0000105234/download/?_ga=2.132774918.949245137.1560460769-638249160.1560460769.

[6]Victims of Communism and Yougov, "Third Annual Report On U.S. Attitudes Toward Socialism,” https://www.victimsofcommunism.org/2018-annual-report.

[7]BBC,“Ronald Reagan: In his own words,” http://news.bbc.co.uk/2/hi/americas/3780871.stm.

[8]George W. Bush, White House Archives, https://georgewbush-whitehouse.archives.gov/news/releases/2007/06/20070612-2.html.