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Toronto men in their 70s walk to Ottawa
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Toronto men in their 70s walk to Ottawa to highlight human rights abuses in North Korea

Hyon Ki Ha and Kyung Bok Lee are pushing for unification of North and South Korea

CBC News

September 5, 2016

Two elderly Toronto men have completed an epic trek to Ottawa to bring attention to human rights abuses in North Korea.

Hyon Ki (Harry) Ha, 78, and Kyung Bok Lee, 70, arrived in the capital on foot Monday after leaving their home ciy of Toronto on Aug. 15.

They said they walked the 400 kilometre journey to promote peace and the unification of North and South Korea, a move they believe will help liberate North Koreans.

"It's very sad that we are not united," said Ha. "I think it's time to stop that and be one country." Ha — who came to Canada in 1967 — said one way to bring democracy to North Koreans is to unite the two nations.

"It's time for North Korea to open its border to the free world...[and] to democratize. And this has to be done with the help of South Korea."

North Korea's troubling human rights record is one reason the men want to shine a light on the issue of unification. They hope to deliver a petition to the South Korean Embassy for president Park Geun-hye to push for a peaceful merger.

'Crimes against humanity in North Korea'

"I've been working for human rights in North Korea for many, many years," said Lee. "The international community, especially the UN Commission of Inquiry, they confirmed there exists crimes against humanity in North Korea. It has been committed. It is being committed at this moment."

Kyung Bok Lee said he made the 400 kilometre journey to Ottawa to promote the unification of North and South Korea and to shine a light on the human rights abuses in North Korea. (CBC)

While what happens in North Korea is tightly monitored and controlled by the country's leader Kim Jong-un and his government, Lee said human rights abuses — like the nation's prison camps — are well documented. 

"Due to the testimony of defectors it came to light," said Lee. "It is evident that they do have [prison camps] and that shouldn't be tolerated."

In June 2015, then-member of Parliament Irwin Cotler introduced a private member's bill calling on the Canadian government to create a Human Rights in North Korea Act so that a special envoy could be created to monitor and report on the human rights situation there. It didn't pass, but Lee said he would like Canada to create similar legislation so that abuses in the country do not continue to happen.