“So many people were victimized. It’s a gathering to commemorate not just those killed in North Korea but all victims [of communism] around the world so of course I had to come,” said Sang Hak Park, the President of the Fighters for Free North Korea Association who flew in from Seoul in time for the Eleventh Annual Roll Call of Nations Wreath Laying Ceremony in Washington, D.C. Friday.
The ceremony, hosted by the Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation, assembled 61 groups representatives from 17 embassies, to remember the lives of “more than 100 million victims of communism,” according to the Foundation.
One by one, each group paid respect to the victims they came to honor by laying wreath around the Goddess of Democracy statue, a replica of the statue carried by the students in China’s Tiananmen Square in 1989.
Nataly Pak/ABC NewsGrace Jo and Sang Hak Park wait in line for a wreath laying ceremony for victims of communism in Washington, June 8, 2018.
An estimated few hundred to several thousand university students were killed by the Chinese government troops in a pro-democracy protest at Tiananmen Square in Beijing 29 years ago.
Besides the embassies represented—including Armenia, Canada, Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland — there were several groups advocating for human rights improvement in North Korea.
“I think that North Korean human rights issue and North Korea as a state should not be seen separately,” said Grace Jo, a North Korean defector who has made the U.S. her new home. “North Korea is Kim Jong Un and Kim Jong Un is North Korea.”
Stressing that Trump must mention human rights issues directly, Jo said, “When [President Trump] is saying he will talk to Kim Jong Un, that is only helping North Korea as a state and maintain the dictator’s power and neglecting 2.5 million North Korean citizens.”
Both Park and Jo expressed their disappointment towards the lack of human rights issue mentioned leading up to the June 12 Trump-Kim summit.
Saul Loeb/AFP/Getty ImagesPresident Donald Trump applauds as US detainee Kim Dong-chul gestures upon his return with Kim Hak-song and Tony Kim after they were released by North Korea, at Joint Base Andrews in Maryland, May 10, 2018.
North Korea did release three American detainees it had held captive for over a year on May 9 but President Trump has made North Korea’s total denuclearization the key condition for the summit.
He has said he “probably” would bring up human rights issues at the meeting next Tuesday.
“Human rights should always be on the table when discussing anything with North Korea,” said Naphtali Rivkin, the Foundation’s communications manager. “North Korea continues to imprison its people not just in literal concentration camps in North Korea but in North Korea broadly speaking where people are not allowed to come abroad.”
North Korea holds 120,000 political prisoners captive in its labor camps not much known to the outside world, according to the George W. Bush Institute.
The Victims of Communism Memorial Foundation is a nonprofit organization authorized in 1993 by a unanimous Act of Congress by President Bill Clinton.
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