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article imageInternational officials discuss North Korean human rights (video) Special

By Andrew Moran     Aug 21, 2010 in World
Toronto - At the 10th annual International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees, international officials and members of non-governmental organizations discussed the political situation and the human rights issues in North Korea.
“Ladies and gentlemen, your excellencies, distinguished guests, and friends from all around the world making tremendous efforts in our united cause towards the protection of North Korean refugees and establishment of human rights,” stated founder and chairman of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, Benjamin H. Yoon.
What was this conference about?
On Saturday, at the University of Toronto in midtown Toronto, Canadian government officials and international representatives delivered speeches to the audience that touched upon the present political situation in North Korea, the history of the country, the human rights crisis currently ongoing and the hope that this awareness campaign will better the situation.
Carl Gershman  President of the National Endowment of Democracy and member of the Council on Foreign...
Carl Gershman, President of the National Endowment of Democracy and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The conference began with welcoming speeches from Han Voice executive board member, Randall Baran-Chong, and President of the National Endowment of Democracy and member of the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR), Carl Gershman.
“While there is reason to celebrate 10 years of this gathering, it would be far better if this conference would not have lasted over a decade,” said Baran-Chong. “The duty of every generation to build on a generation’s past. I want this conference to be the mark of a beginning.”
Officials speak out
Gershman, a former Senior Counselor to the United States Representatives to the United Nations, congratulated many public figures for their fight for human rights, while also thanking the conference and its attendees for “this important annual gathering.”
Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada  Deepak O...
Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Foreign Affairs Canada, Deepak Obhrai.
In the conference’s program, Gershman wrote: “The fact that such people could have emerged out of the nightmare of North Korea is a small miracle. It’s also a significant opportunity for liberalizing and ultimately liberating North Korea. Given the human and security interests that are at stake, we would be foolish not to seize it."
Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Lawrence Cannon, was supposed to deliver a speech but was unable to attend. Instead, Member of Parliament and Parliamentary Secretary to the Canadian Foreign Affairs Minister, Deepak Obhrai, highlighted the fact that Canadian Prime Minister Stephen Harper is committed to ensuring and protecting human rights for everybody and has continued to support human rights initiatives.
Member of Parliament and moderator for Sunday’s roundtable discussion, Barry Devolin, acknowledged that he isn’t an expert on human rights violations around the globe but said that through dialogue and informative conferences, then he would be open to support various programmes.
Canadian Member of Parliament Barry Devolin
Canadian Member of Parliament Barry Devolin
“Even though the situation is horrific, how can it be maintained for so long? How can the system continue for so long?” said board member of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, Man-ho Heo. He later noted that secret police agencies change their names and administrative status as much as eight times.
Dr. Kongdan Oh, Senior Researcher at the Institute for Defense Analysis and CFR member, provided a historical analysis on the Koreas, including the political regimes, wars and the internal affairs of the country where, according to a mini documentary played at the conference, one woman ate poison potato sprouts because she was so hungry and vice-directors were executed because of an electricity shortage.
“They were beginning to realize that they lived in a hell on Earth, not a paradise on Earth,” said Oh. The author of numerous articles published in various publications including The Hill News, The Korean Daily, Foreign Policy, Time Asia and many others, further stated that the food crisis worsens that people say to themselves: “Maybe Jesus Christ would save me.”
Dr. Kongdan Oh of the Brookings Institute and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
Dr. Kongdan Oh of the Brookings Institute and member of the Council on Foreign Relations.
The end of the 10th annual conference
The conference concludes on Sunday when invited guests take part in a roundtable discussion to talk about “constructive engagement for improving human rights in the country” and “relevant migration act regarding refugees.”
“As we continue to see interest and cooperation by various countries today that are opening their doors to North Korean refugees, it will be imperative for us to share our knowledge, experiences and learnings amongst NGOs and governments to best understand which programs and strategies have been most effective in successfully resettling North Korean refugees,” writes President of Liberty in North Korea, Hannah Song.
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