Foreign Minister visits Strathfield to hear harrowing stories of N Korean rights violations

Foreign Affairs Minister Julie Bishop made a surprise visit to Strathfield today - and heard for herself of the hardships of two North Korean defectors.

Strathfield was chosen as the venue for the meeting, held during Human rights in North Korea Week,  because it is a centre for Korean Australians.

After hearing harrowing stories of human rights violations, the Minister sent a clear message to the Pyongyang regime that Australia will keep trying to reunite South and North Korea.

 “The human rights abuses in North Korea are to be utterly condemned internationally and that North Korea as a regime should cease it nuclear aspirations and stop its nuclear weapons testing,” she said.

The minister’s visit was organised by Federal MP for Reid Craig Laundy as part of a series of events hosted by the National Unification Advisory Council.

Ms Bishop said: “People in North Korea are in a position, not of their making. We are very conscious that there are people in North Korea that are suffering.

“The Australian Government has provided funding for food aid into North Korea, not into the hands of the regime, but to reach the people on the ground who are starving. I authorise $3 million in food aid as long as it is to go through the appropriate international channels.”

Ms Bishop was presented with the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, chaired by former judge Michael Kirby, at a morning tea.

 Defectors Young Soon Kim and Myung Chul Ahn shared their stories of escaping North Korea.

Through a translator,  Mrs Kim told Ms Bishop that she was named as an enemy of the state because of her friendship with deceased former leader Kim Jong Il’s former wife.

“I was declared an enemy of the state because I was a high school friend of Kim Jong Il’s wife. When I was thrown into the camp.  I did not know what I did wrong,” she said.

“My entire family was interned and because of the bad state of the prisons, my husband died. I used my bare hands to dig up the soil so I could bury him.”

Mr Laundy said the stories of Mrs Kim and Mr Ahn are important and should be spread throughout Australia.

“It is such a contrast to hear the stories of these two amazing people, compared to how lucky we are here in Australia,” he said.

“There are many people in my constituency who are of Korean background, and have raised this as a major issue with me and something needs to be done”.

Whi Jin Lee, the Consul General of the Republic of Korea, Susan Lee, the Chairwoman of the National Unification Advisory Council, Strathfield MP Charles Casuscelli, Deputy Mayors of Strathfield and Burwood Cr Sang Ok and Tony Doueihi as well as Councillors Gulian Vaccari and Stephanie Kokkolis attended the event.   

Mr Casuscelli , chair of the Korean Ministerial Consultative Committee, said: “the injustices are felt in the Korean community.”

He said he has watched the film The Apostle, based on the experiences of a small North Korean community, and been moved to tears.


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