Tales of Horror Falling Mostly on Deaf Ears

Theirs were compelling tales of privation, hardship, sorrow and unspeakable horrors of sexual slavery. Published in The Seattle Times

Kyeong-Sook Cha and Soon-Hee Ma, two defectors from North Korea, testified for the House Committee on International Relations, and provided firsthand accounts of widespread tragedy occurring in the Sino-North Korean border areas.

In order to avoid the massive starvation resulting from North Korea’s failed economy, the daughters of these women had escaped to China to earn money for food. When their daughters failed to return, the women followed, braving the icy waters of Tumen River and the security forces on both sides of the border.

Kyeong-Sook Cha went to China with her younger daughter to look for her older daughter, who had disappeared. In the process, she witnessed widespread sexual slavery of North Korean women in China. Cha and her younger daughter were likewise kidnapped, sold as sex slaves, captured by Chinese police, repatriated to North Korea, abused by North Korean security agents, witnessed torture of pregnant women and babies, escaped to China and repeated the experience that would have broken most women the first time.

Despite horrible suffering, Cha miraculously found her older daughter and finally escaped to freedom together.

Soon-Hee Ma’s oldest daughter also went to China when the food distribution ceased. Fearing reprisals for her daughter’s defection, she and her two remaining daughters escaped North Korea to look for her eldest daughter. They were separated and sold off by human traffickers in China.

Ma, too, was eventually reunited with her daughters. Ma’s oldest daughter had been sold to a Chinese “husband,” and was able to convince him to buy her family back. Before Chinese authorities could repatriate them to North Korea, they bluffed their way into a South Korean consulate and to safety.

Unfortunately, no one from the mainstream media was present to bear witness to their moving testimony. Their misfortune was that the hearing took place on Oct. 27. The media in Washington, D.C., were in a feeding frenzy over the Harriet Miers withdrawal and the “Scooter” Libby indictments. Cha’s and Ma’s tragic stories were ignored.

In exasperation, Suzanne Scholte, of the Defense Forum Foundation and North Korea Freedom Coalition, remarked the media were “more interested in bringing down George Bush than Kim Jong-il.”

Nonetheless, the testimony of the women had apparently made an impression on Reps. Jim Leach, R-Iowa, Christopher Smith, R-N.J., and Ed Royce, R-Calif.

In fact, Congress previously passed landmark legislation, the North Korea Human Rights Act, in 2004. The result of the legislation, however, has not been impressive.

Timothy Peters of Helping Hands Korea, a Christian relief project, complained that, despite the intent of the law to help North Korean defectors, the State Department has been “seriously out of step with the spirit and letter” of the act, and “not a single North Korean refugee has been assisted” in asylum-seeking since the passage of the law, leaving them to the mercy of Chinese police, North Korean agents and human traffickers.

Scholte, a leading advocate for North Korean defectors, is emphatic about what the U.S. should do. Her prescriptions include fully implementing the North Korea Human Rights Act, pressuring China to allow access to the refugees, and funding organizations willing to help, including North Korea Free Radio and others that relay the truth about the outside world to North Koreans.

Despite the collusion between the Chinese and North Korean governments to prevent North Korean defections, it is clear from the testimony of Cha, Ma and others involved in the North Korean “underground railroad” that neither government is able to stem the flow of the desperate people who seek to escape nightmarish North Korea, where millions starve and 200,000 languish in gulags.

It is possible, even likely, that aiding the outflow of North Korean defectors and spreading the news of the outside world — thereby encouraging a mass exodus — would do far more to bring down the repugnant North Korean regime and resolve its nuclear threat permanently than any amount of futile diplomatic talk with the regime could achieve.

As for Cha and Ma, they are simply thankful to have their daughters back. Despite having been a victim of sexual slavery, Cha apologized to her dead husband — for living, in order to save her children. Cha’s final words were: “If I ever see my husband in the other side… I want to be his wife again. I want to pray for so many girls who suffered and wasted their lives in China and other countries.”

James J. Na, senior fellow in foreign policy at Discovery Institute, runs “Guns and Butter Blog,”, and “The Asianist,” He can be reached at