Suzanne Scholte awarded for her Western Sahara work
The Seoul Peace Prize Committee has today announced that this year's prize is awarded to the president of the US based Defense Forum Foundation, Ms. Suzanne Scholte, for her work on the peoples of Western Sahara and North Korea.
Suzanne Scholte and the Defense Forum Foundation has for a number of years worked for the Sahrawi people. Ms Scholte is also the chairman of the US-Western Sahara Association, and has visited the Sahrawi refugee camps a number of times.
The following press release was today issued by the Seoul Peace Prize Committee:
SEOUL PEACE PRIZE COMMITTEE Olympic Park 88-2, Bangi-dong, Songpa-gu, Seoul 138-050 Korea Tel: (02) 2203-4096/8 Fax: (02) 417-1982
Press Release Ms. Suzanne Scholte Wins Seoul Peace Prize 2008
(Seoul – September 3: Ms. Suzanne Scholte was named the recipient of the 2008 Seoul Peace Prize.
The Seoul Peace Prize Committee (President, Chul-Seung LEE) held the final screening committee meeting on September 3 at the Korea Press Center and announced that Ms. Suzanne Scholte, a human rights activist and the president of the Defense Forum Foundation, was selected as the 9th Seoul Peace Prize laureate in recognition of her contribution to world peace she has made while working to promote the freedom and human rights of the North Korean people and the status of the Sahrawi refugees in West Sahara.
President Lee said that the selection committee, comprised of 15 members from various fields in the nation, decided to award Ms. Scholte after a rigorous and careful screening process. The nominated candidates included incumbent and former presidents, politicians, international human rights and rescue organizations, and the leaders from the economic sector, religious groups, academia and the press.
After starting her career as the youngest-ever adviser to a U.S. legislator, Ms. Scholte, the mother of three children, has served as president and chairwoman of human rights organizations such as the Defense Forum Foundation and the North Korea Freedom Coalition and has shown special interests in the human rights situations in North Korea. In particular, when South Korea was intentionally neglecting the human rights issues of North Korea in consideration of political relations while studying the Chinese face, Ms. Scholte addressed the North Korean human rights issues in a decisive manner and focused on unveiling the realities facing North Korean refugees around the globe and working out measures to improve such realities.
Since 1996, Ms. Scholte has engaged in the efforts to improve human rights conditions in North Korea and such efforts finally led to the first hearing on the North Korean political prisoner camps in April of 1999 at the Senate Foreign Relations Committee’s subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs. She testified at the hearing. She also hosted the first appearance in the United States of survivors of North Korea’s brutal political prisoner camps, Chul-Hwan Kang, Myong-Chul Ahn, and Soon-Ok Lee. She has raised the international awareness of the human rights situations in North Korea by testifying on the realities of the human rights violations and political prisoner camps in North Korea and the sufferings of North Korean defectors hiding in China before the Senate Judiciary Committee and the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom. In 2003, she also hosted the appearance of Mr. Jang-Yop Hwang, North Korea’s highest ranking defector, on Capital Hill, playing a leading role in getting the realities of the Kim Jong-il regime across the United States and the rest of the world.
To help galvanize support for the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, Ms. Scholte chaired and organized the first North Korea Freedom Day in April 2004 in Washington, D.C. The program included a Capital Hill rally attended by over 1,000 people, Congressional hearing, and demonstration at the Holocaust Museum, building the momentum that led to the unanimous passage of the North Korea Human Rights Act.
Ms. Scholte has helped organize numerous Congressional hearings and briefings on North Korea. During North Korea Freedom Week 2006 and 2007, members of the U.S. Congress hosted hearings to expose North Korea’s illicit activities, the regime’s involvement with abducting citizens of Japan, and its continual holding of POWs from the Korean War. In addition, she hosted the largest delegation of defectors ever to visit the United States during North Korea Freedom Week in April 2008.
In an effort to protest against the repatriation of North Korean refugees hiding in China to North Korea, Ms. Scholte conducted a campaign to wear rubber bracelets with a slogan of ‘Freedom to North Koreans’ during the 2008 Summer Olympics Games in Beijing, playing a leading part in raising the international awareness of the North Korean human rights issues. In addition, she has promoted the adoption of orphans of North Korean refugees while revealing their miserable conditions to the world and working to help improve their human rights.
Prior to her engagement in the promotion of freedom and human rights for the people of North Korea, Ms. Scholte worked to promote the awareness of human rights violations in Cuba and the Soviet Union. Her work for the people of the two countries led her to recognize the serious human rights conditions in North Korea. In 1996, she first launched a program to bring defectors from North Korea to the United States to raise awareness of the human rights violations in North Korea through forums and seminars. The testimonies in the United States by the North Korean defectors in turn helped her make her mind again to work harder to disclose the miserable human rights situations in North Korea to the world.
Ms. Scholte’s human rights activities and concerns are not confined to North Korea and North Korean defectors. She also has been working to raise awareness of the issue of the Western Sahara and the plight of the Sahrawi people. Western Sahara is the only colony in Africa under the rule of Morocco. Ms. Scholte made a petition to the U.N. General Assembly so that the U.N. could address the issues of the Sahrawi refugees and a referendum on their self-determination. She has been advocating the need for a free and fair U.N.-sponsored referendum for the Sahrawi people and working on enhancing awareness of the seriousness nature of the Western Sahara across the international community.
As a human rights activist, Ms. Scholte has shown unlimited affection and interest in refugees across the globe whose human rights are not respected properly. Although she is interested in both the North Korean and Sahrawi refugees, it seems to her that the human rights situations facing North Koreans and North Korean refugees are more serious and severer. This has forced her to more concentrate on the North Korean issues even though she still believes that the Sahrawi people are also in desperate need, which leads us to imagine difficulties facing her as a human rights activist.
At a time when countries are purposely neglecting the human rights conditions in North Korea for their political interests, Ms. Scholte has taken the lead in raising awareness of the miserable plight of North Korean refugees and encouraged the refugees who are seeking freedom. Highly evaluating these activities as a rare courageous achievement, President Lee said that, for all these reasons, Ms. Scholte was finally selected as the winner of the 9th Seoul Peace Prize.
Upon hearing the news of her selection as the laureate, Ms. Scholte said, “I feel ashamed but also I feel honored. It is a great honor to receive this great prize even when I just did what I should do.” “Doing all that we can do for the promotion of the human rights for North Korea and North Korean refugees represents the conscience of the age,” she added.
Ms. Scholte will formally receive a diploma, a plaque and an honorarium of US$200,000 at an awarding ceremony to be held on October 7 in Seoul. From this year, a certificate of honorary Seoul citizenship will also be awarded to the laureate.
The previous winners of the Seoul Peace Prize, which has been awarded biennially from 1990, include former International Olympic Committee President Juan Antonio Samaranch, former U.S. Secretary of State George P. Shultz, Doctors Without Borders, former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan, former United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees Sadako Ogata, Oxfam, former President Vaclav Havel of the Czech Republic, and Dr. Muhammad Yunus of the Grameen Bank of Bangladesh. Of them, Doctors Without Borders, Secretary-General Annan and Dr. Yunus later became the recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, respectively.
September 3, 2008
Statement of Suzanne Scholte Regarding Acceptance of the Seoul Peace Prize
(Washington, DC) ..."I am deeply honored to have been selected by the Seoul Peace Prize Committee to receive the 2008 Seoul Peace Prize. To be recognized by such a distinguished group of Korean leaders who have been champions in academia, government service, journalism and other fields for this prestigious and internationally recognized award, is truly humbling. It is also humbling to join alongside the previous laureates and to reflect on what this award symbolizes in promoting peace and harmony as was symbolized by the Seoul Olympic Games of 1988, which brought together more nations than ever before to participate in the Olympics.
I wish to accept this great honor on behalf of the people for which I have devoted much of my life: the North Korean defectors who are valiantly working for freedom, democracy and human rights for their homeland, and the Sahrawi refugees of Western Sahara, who are seeking self-determination and the right to live as a free people through peaceful and democratic means.
By recognizing my work through this award, you also honor them for they have inspired me in all my efforts and given me the strength and endurance to continue this work despite many trials, setbacks and difficulties. Those, however, are nothing compared to the enormous challenges and suffering the people of North Korea and Western Sahara face in their daily lives.
You also honor all those activists for human rights who, rather than seek popularity, fame and fortune, devote their lives to seeking freedom and justice for those who are enslaved. We are all driven by a simple belief that every human being whether born in Pyongyang or Seoul or in a refugee camp in the Sahara desert has the God-given right to freedom, human rights and dignity. World peace and harmony is achievable when these God-given rights are secure and all men and women can pursue their dreams without being enslaved by dictators, military juntas, or kings.
I thank Chairman Chul Seung Lee and all the members of the Seoul Peace Prize Committee for this tremendous honor and look forward to being with you in October.
Suzanne Scholte President Defense Forum Foundation
Since 1975, three quarters of the territory of Western Sahara has been occupied by Morocco. A majority of the population is still living in refugee camps in Algeria. Those who remained in their homeland are subjected to serious harassment from the Moroccan occupiers. For more than 40 years the Sahrawis have been waiting for the fullfilment of their legitimate right to self-determination.
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