Conversation with Ro Hee-Chang, Former North Korean Official
Ro described his experience supervising North Koreans laboring overseas for the regime, highlighting the abysmal conditions facing overseas workers.
Ro stressed that human rights in North Korea should be placed on the same pedestal as the denuclearization issue, arguing that the Korean Peninsula will naturally denuclearize when North Koreans enjoy basic human rights.
Calling the ongoing detente between North Korea, South Korea, and the U.S. a “sad show,” Ro said the only way to attain actual peace is by granting foreign visitors in North Korea unrestricted access to the country.
NYU Freedom for North Korea (FFNK), the International Relations Society, and PSCORE (People for Successful Corean Reunification) co-hosted a conversation with Mr. Ro Hee-Chang, a former North Korean official who had worked for the regime in the Middle East and Russia before escaping to South Korea. The conversation took place on Friday, Oct. 26, 2018, at the Silver Center.
Mr. Ro was a supervisor of North Korean overseas laborers, but sought asylum after his patron, Jang Song-Thaek, was executed by the regime. He spent much of the event describing the conditions facing North Koreans who are sent overseas to earn money for the regime. According to Ro, North Koreans are lured into working overseas, which is seen as an opportunity to bring money back to their families; however, most of their earnings ultimately end up in the hands of the North Korean government, which uses the money to fund construction projects and sustain itself.
Meanwhile, workers overseas endure long hours of work, excessive heat, overcrowded residential facilities and poor health. Ro recalls a time when he encountered a worker who wished to die so that the regime would compensate his family back home. The worker eventually died from self-inflicted poisoning, only to be declared too unproductive for his family to receive compensation.
Ro wrapped up his testimony by stressing the importance of raising public awareness about the human rights situation in North Korea. Noting the media’s focus on the topic, Ro said denuclearization in the Korean Peninsula will naturally occur when the North Korean people — whom he claims are also against Pyongyang’s nuclear arsenal — are allowed to freely express themselves.
During the Q&A, Ro was asked about his life in North Korea prior to working overseas and his thoughts on the ongoing detente between North Korea, South Korea, and the United States. Ro said that due to his privileged status as an official, he did not think about leaving North Korea before going overseas, as life in Pyongyang was satisfactory enough for him to not consider defecting or seeking asylum in another country. Dismissing optimism about the future of inter-Korean relations, Ro called the thaw between Kim Jong-Un, South Korean President Moon Jae-In, and U.S. President Donald Trump a “sad show” put on by the North Korean regime for the sole purpose of ensuring its own survival. Ro said true peace can only be reached in the Korean Peninsula when North Korea allows foreign visitors unrestricted access to the country, reiterating his belief that North Korea will denuclearize when human rights in the country improve.
This report was compiled by Jamin Chen on Oct. 26, 2018.