Kang Cheol-hwan is a journalist, author, and North Korean defector. 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 some members of his family endured starvation, torture, 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. In 1992, 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. Kang is a staff writer for the South Korean newspaper The Chosun Ilbo. In 2003, he was awarded the National Endowment of Democracy’s “Democracy Award” and in 2006, he was selected as one of Times’ “Asian Heroes”.
After several years of North Korean human rights activism, Kang Cheol Hwan came to the conclusion that expecting change from the DPRK government was not feasible. Without change and enlightenment of the North Korean people, without bridging the gap between the two Koreas, peaceful unification is not possible. Based on this belief, in 2007 Kang Cheol Hwan created the North Korea Strategy Center. The mission of the organization is to disseminate foreign information in North Korea, empower defectors to become advocates of democracy after unification and educate the South Korean youth on North Korean human rights issues.