Anti-war activists from CODEPINK and feminist leaders told lawmakers and Capitol Hill staffers that they "opened a new door" to peace during a May trip across the demilitarized zone in Korea, and called for unity in the region.
Grace Jo, a human rights activist and North Korea defector, was in the crowd on Tuesday evening, attentive and silently disagreeing. Her family fled from the communist regime to China in 1998, and she lost half of them to starvation, human trafficking, and torture during the trek.
"They’re working in favor of the North Korean regime," Jo said in an interview with the Free Beacon, referring to the activists."It is not for the people of North Korea. I don’t really agree with their opinion."
WomenCrossDMZ, the organizer of the march, held a briefing on Tuesday evening in which they urged congressional leaders to lift sanctions against dictator Kim-Jung Un. The group said that its proposals would generate peace between North and South Korea but did not address the countless abuses of human rights in the reclusive dictatorship.
"Their main purpose sounds very good, but if we look deeply, they don’t really care about the refugees," Jo said. "They are not trying to hear the refugees stories."
At the end of May, 30 women from CODEPINK and other groups traveled to Pyongyang, the North Korean capital, for a "peace symposium." They heard from women who lived through the Korean war, and in a symbolic gesture sewed together two quilts that each group crafted for the event, and sang a reunification song. After a sightseeing tour of the region arranged in part with help from the regime, and meetings with other activists, they crossed the two-mile long demilitarized zone to South Korea. They then held another women’s symposium in Seoul, South Korea, to conclude their trip.
Abigail Disney, a filmmaker and one of the women who crossed the DMZ, said the trip was symbolic.
"No one in our group thinks now that one trip would be enough to address either the enormous differences between North and South Korea. No single trip or a single group of people will,"Disney said. "What it takes no expert to know is that the naming and shaming, saber rattling, finger waging, the mockery, the school yard teasing, and the global ostracization, even when justified, have thus far only taken us further, rather than nearer, to anything resembling peace."
Dr. Peter Kang, president of the Korean Freedom Alliance, attended the briefing and said the activists were part of the problem when it comes to solving the region's problems.
"The U.S. needs to keep putting the pressure on North Korea. Right now we are not successful because we are going between pressure and easing up by trying to have a dialogue lead to something. We should keep pressing on," Kang said. "They keep talking about peace through unification, but where is it? These women are working on the other side too, we need to wake up and realize that pressure is the only way to solve the North Korean problem. Unification by freedom, not dictatorship."
CODEPINK was founded in 2002 to protest the Iraq war, and is known for its spontaneous interruptions of political speeches. Co-founder Jodie Evans told the Free Beacon that U.S. military intervention during the Korean War, a war started by the North Korean regime, has caused the North Koreans to be fearful. She hopes that introducing the people to American women will open up avenues to stop the regime.
"I work on the human rights abuses in my own country,"Evans said. "My efforts are going to affect my country. Am I going to be able to affect the human rights abuses in North Korea? The way I’m going to do that is by opening it up. Why do those people get to be oppressed? Because they are afraid, we made them afraid."
The group said they did not meet with top North Korean officials during the trip, but Henry Song, a D.C.-based North Korea human rights advocate, is skeptical and thinks they missed an opportunity to discuss human rights.
"I’m sure they had plenty of time and opportunities to talk to North Korean officials in private away from the cameras. I mean, they had to in order to organize this,"Song said. "In all the videos that came out of North Korea and the camera footage that captured their trip, there is nothing that captured the issue of human rights. If they really care about peace they should’ve marched towards China and marched for the well-being and safety of the women refugees there."
UPDATE 4:39 P.M.: An earlier version of this post misspelled the name of Henry Song. The error has been corrected.
UPDATE July 23 2:37 P.M.: An earlier version of this post incorrectly stated that WomenCrossDMZ is a CODEPINK project.