One of the most sensitive human rights issue concerning North Korea is the return of South Korean prisoners of war from 1953. However, it is fading from people's mind today. It has been 58 years since the Armistice. It is understood that there are 560 South Korean prisoners of war still alive in the DPRK, and their average age is 80 years old. There is not a single word spoken about this urgent human rights issue by North Korea and South Korean government’s attitude has been lukewarm at best.
There's still a voice for the remaining POWs who are only minutes away from being completely forgotten from modern Koreans’ minds, which persists in calling South Koreans and the international community to wake up to this important matter. It is the voice of Mr. Thomas Y. Chung, the chairman of Korean POW Affairs in LA. He has contributed greatly to the cause and is continuing the effort today, constantly on the move talking to whomever will listen.
Thomas Chung, is himself a war veteran. He was born in Kimhae of Kyongsang province in 1927, and had served in the War, until he was discharged due to his injuries. In 1958, he started his studies in Economics in U.S.. Chung was successful as a businessman and he had been the head of five companies and foundations. Nevertheless, the faces of his comrades, whom he had served with during the Korean War, had always held a special place in his heart.
The 1994 return of a South Korean prisoner of war led Chung to devote himself to the issue. Second Lieutenant Chang-ho Cho escaped and returned to South Korea on a wooden boat after 43-years in captivity. Filled with hope and pushed by a sense of duty Chung made a promise to himself to work for safe return of all POWs, even if it cost him everythng. Ever since, Chung has been leading movements in U.S. and Korea for the cause of safe return of all POWs. He is aflame with his devotion for the cause.
Since 2001, Chung has been a member of the Advisory Committee for the U.S.A. Western Region Department of the Korean Veterans Association. He founded the Korean POW Affairs in 2004, and he is the current director. In April 2005, Korean POW Affairs and Defense Forum, headed by Suzanne Scholte, co-hosted a forum at the United States Congress. This was the very first time the former POWs were invited to testify to the Congress of their experiences. Their testimonies and the forum directly led to a member of the House of Representative of the U.S. Congress to proposing a resolution against the DPRK in the following month. The House of Representatives and the Senate of the U.S. Congress passed the resolution in July of the same year.
Chung is also working to awaken South Korea as well. In May 2005, he called on South Korean government, through Geun-hye Park, then a Representative of the Grand National Party, to enact measures to repatriate POWs and to include the issue at South-North talks. June 21, 2006 was the very first time the POW issue was discussed at the ministerial level of two Koreas. Chung emphasizes that it is our bounded duty to secure freedom of all POWs, and he calls on the Lee Myung-bak administration to change its polices toward North Korea.
In February, 2011, Chung filed a petition with the UN Security Council and UN Commission on Human Rights stating that since the South Korean Army was under the banner of United Nations during the Korean War, therefore it was a constituted UN force. Thus this is an issue UN must address. Also in April of this year, Chung filed charges with the International Criminal Court (ICC) against Kim Jong-il for mistreatment of South Korean POWs.
For his contributions for the POW and other human rights issues concerning North Korea, Chung was awarded South Korean Order of Civil Merit Mogryeon Medal in 2009. Though he led a successful life for several decades as a businessman in U.S., his heart always wept for his comrade in arms, those who died in the battlefield, and POWs still being detained in North Korea. This year he turned 83. Though he is advanced in years, he never gets weary of his duty.
The academic seminar conducted on June 28th, "Emergence of 3rd hereditary succession system and the possibility of Jasmine Revolution in Pyongyang," was made possible by Mr. Chung. He invited Mr. Yun-keol Lee, the chairman of NKSIS, to Los Angeles to co-host the seminar with the Institute for Far Eastern Studies, where Mr. Chung is the Executive Director. The event was held at the Educational Center in LA.
Translation by Hoyeon Choi Supervised by Sunny Kang
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