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N. Korea Defectors Urge Switzerland to Freeze Leaders' Funds

  • Lisa Schlein

A group of 20 North Korean defectors urged Switzerland to immediately freeze all assets of the North Korean leadership, who it said are directly responsible for human rights crimes against their own people.

In an open letter to Swiss President Didier Burkhalter, the group argued a freeze of assets could help to reduce the gross, systematic and widespread violations that have been going on in their country for decades.

FILE - Ahn Myeong Chul, a prominent North Korean defector.

FILE - Ahn Myeong Chul, a prominent North Korean defector.

The defectors said legal precedents for freezing North Korean assets exist.

They noted such action has been taken in the past against several foreign leaders, including Syrian President Bashar al-Assad, Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak, Tunisian President Zine El Abidine Ben Ali and Libyan President Moammar Gadhafi.

However, the Swiss government is not swayed by their argument. While Burkhalter sympathizes with the content of the appeal, he said he could not freeze North Korean assets without explicit instructions from the U.N. Security Council.

Ahn Myeong Chul, a prominent North Korean defector, said he is disappointed by Burkhalter’s response.

Ahn, who was a prison camp guard in North Korea from 1987 to 1994, has first-hand experience of the brutal treatment meted out to political prisoners.

Human rights organization

He now is executive director of NK Watch, a nonprofit organization that aims to help end North Korea human rights violations. The organization is based in Seoul, South Korea.

Ahn said no one knows how much money North Korea Leader Kim Jong Un and other top members of the regime have stashed away in Swiss bank accounts. But, he said numerous sources allege North Korean assets could be as high as $4 billion.

“So, the North Korean assets in Switzerland is the blood money that they made, but they made through four routes," Ahn said through an interpreter.

"The first one is the North Korean overseas laborers and the second one is the North Korean restaurants in other countries. And thirdly are the corruptions that they made through selling drugs and stuff and the fourth one is selling illegal weapons to other countries," he said. "So ... the North Korean assets in Switzerland is really of black money.”

Ahn testified to the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on the human rights situation in North Korea in Geneva last year.

He said he emphasized the importance of sending the North Korean leader to the International Criminal Court to face justice.

Ahn said this would send a strong message to the people in North Korea that their leader is a criminal.

The U.N. General Assembly is expected to vote on a resolution Tuesday to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court.

The U.N. has sent a letter to Kim, warning him to take measures to improve repressive conditions in his country. Otherwise, he would be held accountable for past and present crimes.

Ahn told VOA he is sure the recent release of three Americans from prison camps in North Korea is part of a charm offensive by the government to persuade some countries not to vote for the General Assembly resolution.

“If Kim Jong Un, the leader of North Korea, becomes a criminal in the international community, then it can give really a bad effect to the country," Ahn said through an interpreter. "Because if North Korean people know about it, then it can be very hurtful to the North Korean regime to control their country. So, that is why the North Korean government is trying hard to remove that sentence out of the resolution.”

International pressure

Despite reports to the contrary, Ahn said the human rights situation in North Korea has not improved since the release of the Americans. He said the regime is just using this issue to improve its image.

Ahn said North Korea’s leaders are vulnerable to international pressure.

Therefore, it is critical that the General Assembly pass the resolution referring North Korea’s human rights situation to the ICC, he said, adding that freezing North Korean assets in Switzerland would be another pressure point that the leadership of his country could not ignore.

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