David Hawk Discusses North Korean Refugee Imprisonment

Human rights expert David Hawk described the restricted, elusive freedom for North Koreans refugees facing political imprisonment during his lecture Monday. Hawk focused on the situation and environment for individuals currently living in North Korea. He described how the North Korean political police have abducted nearly 200,000 North Koreans and deposited them in penal labor colonies where they spend their lives doing hard labor. North Korean prison camps subject three generations of a prisoner’s family to lifetime sentences in these camps for lifetime. According to Hawk, North Koreans flee across North Korea’s border with China in search of food and medicine in South Korea. If the Chinese police capture the runaways, they undergo interrogations about their contact with South Korean culture and are returned to North Korea. “It’s almost impossible not to be exposed to South Korean culture when North Koreans go to China. Even leaving the country is a political offense. Meeting a South Korean is a worse political offense. So North Koreans who are forcibly repatriated claim that they didn’t meet any South Koreans,” said Hawk. “Of course the North Korean police don’t believe this, so they literally try to beat the truth out of these people.” Depending on the extent of their exposure to South Korean culture, North Korean political police sometimes torture escaped citizens and subject them to forced labor. Hawk said that his career as a human rights activist began in college. He attended Cornell University, later studied social ethics at Columbia University and international affairs at Oxford University. As a college student, Hawk worked in the civil rights movement in Mississippi and Georgia. “I got interested in human rights decades prior to becoming interested in North Korea in particular,” said Hawk. He became interested in Asia and South Asia after taking seven years off from graduate school to trying to stop the war in Vietnam. He was hired to be the Executive Director of the American section by Amnesty International during its formative stage in the mid-1970s. Songwoo Hong ‘13 has worked to bring Hawk to campus since entering as a freshman. “I think Mr. Hawk did a really good job talking about the political prison camp systems in North Korea, the area that I am most interested in. I’m also glad that he covered other areas like China, the history of the political prison camps,” said Hong. “I have been interested in the North Korean political prison camp system since freshman year. The whole thing started when I researched on the Internet and found documentation on the political prison camp system called ‘The Hidden Gulag’ by Mr. Hawk. When I sent out an email to Mr. Hawk and asked him to visit PA, he was happy to come,” he added. Callie Davidson ’11 said, “I came because I knew there was a lot of repression in North Korea but I didn’t know a lot of the specifics about it. I thought Hawk was very knowledgeable in the field.” Jen Sluka ’13, a member of Students Taking Action Now for Darfur (STAND) said, “I thought it was very informative because I wasn’t very aware of all the human rights violations that are happening in North Korea so it was really interesting to hear about what’s going on there and to learn something new about that situation.” Susanne Torabi, International Student Coordinator, advised Hong while he tried to bring Hawk to campus. “I really have to thank Sungwoo because he’s the one who has been very passionate about this topic pertaining to human rights. I walked him through the whole process because I thought this would be a great learning experience not only for Sungwoo but also for the whole community,” she said.