Kang Chol-hwan

North Korean defector, author, and journalist

Asia-Pacific and South Asia

Kang Chol-hwan is a journalist, author, and North Korean defector. He is the founder and president of the North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC), an organization that educates North Korean defectors and brings awareness to human rights abuses committed by the North Korean government. As a nine-year-old child, he and his entire family were imprisoned in the Yodok concentration camp by the government of dictator Kim Il Sung after Kang’s grandfather was accused of treason. For ten years, Kang was subjected to the brutal conditions of the camp, where he and his family endured starvation, beatings, and the threat of execution. After he was released from the camp, Kang bought an illegal radio receiver to listen to broadcasts from South Korea. He made the decision to defect and escaped North Korea by crossing the Yalu River into China, eventually immigrating to South Korea. In 2000, he published “The Aquariums of Pyongyang,” a description of his experiences and the very first survivor account of North Korea’s concentration camps. In 2012, renowned international human rights lawyer, Jared Genser, filed a petition to the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention on behalf of Kang and a fellow North Korean defector for the release of their family members thought to be arrested and imprisoned at Yodok concentration camp. Subsequently, the United Nations Human Rights Council adopted a resolution to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate North Korea’s widespread and systematic human rights abuses. In addition to his work with the NKSC, Kang is a contributor to the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo and continues to give interviews and speak publicly about his experiences.

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