Americans are often familiar with the showcase country of Communist rule, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly referred to as, North Korea. The news often reports on the “axis of evil” with headlines of their escalating tensions with Seoul, Korea and Washington DC or the strange and lavish life style of the current dictator Kim Jong Un to the elaborate parades of power and uniformity. But too often, the media neglects the crisis that ensnares North Korea. It is only recently that the world gave notice to North Korea’s history of appalling Human Rights violations, thanks to the recent United Nations report. The ill treatment and oppression is not a new situation in North Korea, but one that has been perpetuated from the beginning of the country. It is almost as if this oppressive trait was passed down from the “Great Leader” Kim Il Sung, to his grandson Kim Jong Un.
Given the reoccurring circumstances of Human Rights abuses and oppressive dictatorships in North Korea, most if not all, can soundly agree that this atrocity that the UN so eloquently puts, “gravity, scale and nature of [human rights] violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. Many cite World War II as an atrocity that we must never allow to happen again. These words are said in vain while we allow for masses to be oppressed by their government. This situation in North Korea which has no parallel today should not be allowed to continue; but what is to be done? Does the international community step in and intervene on behalf of the people or issue more sanctions? Or should the change in government be brought about by only the people? The under lying question is, what is the best solution that will not be the result of bloodshed and violence?
This question creates a moral dilemma of what is the right thing to do. Naturally most might agree that a government dismantling organized by an international community would be beneficial. However, doing such would violate international laws as being unjustified acts of war. Does the international community, step in and protect the rights that we are ensured, or does it stand on the side lines waiting for the north Korean people to move? The best solution to this situation is to empower the people for their own revolution; one that is orchestrated and organized solely by the people but equipped by international communities. The international community can assist in aid and relief as well as imposing sanctions and put pressure on the North Korean regime. It is not in the authority of a country or even the United Nations to dismantle and violate another country’s sovereignty. Past communist overthrows such as the fall of Communist Romania as well as testimonies from North Korean defectors will be analyzed to support the claim of a citizen led revolution. The UN report of Human Rights violations will be looked at to further demonstrate the importance of change in North Korea.
Throughout this post the term “the international communities” is referred to, it means not only the United Nations and various countries but also the citizens of these countries and NGOs. The reason being is, Eleanor Roosevelt explains eloquently where human rights begins, “Where, after all do Human Rights begin? In small places close to home. So close and so small they cannot be seen on any maps of the world, yet they are the world of the individual person: the neighborhood he lives in, the school or college he attends, the factory, farm or office where he works…. Unless these rights have meaning there, they have little meaning anywhere” In other words, it starts with everyday people, not with governing bodies.
On February 7, 2014, the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. published a 400 page report of the Human Rights abuses in North Korea. The report outlines the human rights abuses in North Korea and states,
“These crimes against humanity entail extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation,”
Given the irrefutable evidence provided by the UN of human rights abuses committed by the North Korean government makes it all the more clear to take action against this atrocity. This has been known throughout the world for quite some time now, but it has taken years for a formal investigation to be conducted by the United Nations; this delay in action will hinder progress of change in North Korea.
They next question that needs to be asked is, are there signs of change or do NK citizens still hold to the regime? There are signs of change in North Korea; people are starting to not believe government propaganda and more citizens are fleeing the country. Chae Young-hee who is a North Korean citizen living in and working in China tells the Guardian reporter in North Korea: the new generation losing faith in the regime, of the change taking place in North Korea. Chae says,
“Before, people said a lot of really bad things about South Korea; they don’t any more. Also, you just see people disappear; it often means they have left North Korea. And if you are with people you are very, very close to, you might express your position; you might say ‘I’d like to leave if I could’ she continues to say, “[North Korean] People started knowing how the world was … People have been watching videos from overseas for a while and a lot of people have gone abroad and come back and talked about how life is [outside],” With more and more North Koreans gaining access to media or the outside world a desire for a different life grows stronger and greater. This is how change can happen. When they are shown the truth beyond the regime’s deceit.
These decisions should not be left to us who look in from the outside, but those who have experienced and seen what we have not. Furthermore we cannot make decisions for a future that does not belong to us. The best answers to this situation comes from detectors from North Korea. These defectors now reside in South Korea, the united States and various other parts of the world. The site NKnews.org published What should the intl. community do to help the people of North Korea?, a survey asking North Korean defectors this very same question—What should the international community do with North Korea? The world is familiar with the usual outcome or response of international condemnation of North Korea. Some would say it is pointless or futile to continue taking the legal and diplomatic route through imposed sanctions. One of the defectors in the survey named Nah Youngkoh, says otherwise. In the early 2000’s, pictures of executions in North korea surfaced and offered insight for the international community conditions in North Korea. Youngkoh says that,
“North Korea was severely criticized by the international community – and shortly afterwards there was a temporary halt to the practice of public capital punishment.”
Contrary to popular belief, the efforts of the international community to curb the rouge nation were not in vain, and so the must continue to put pressure on North Korea. This task is not set only upon the shoulders of governing bodies or NGOs but on everyday people. This does not mean quit your day job and cross the border into DPRK. If there is a large enough outcry, the UN or State governments, will be forced to act. There are numerous way to put pressure on organizations with influence. Petitions and protests are both effective ways to amass support and add weight to the pressure put on the North Korean government.
Another reason why the governments should not be soley responsible as Sung-Guk Choi, another North Korean defector that was surveyed explains,
“Humanitarian aid to North Korea should not come from governments. Humanitarian aid should instead come from North Korean defectors and NGOs. The aid should then go directly to the North Korean people, to help improve their financial well-being and general health.” In the past aid has been diverted to North Korea’s elite and is distributed unequally.
The route of diplomacy, that is negotions, is one that should not be abandoned. Madeleine Albright U.S. Secretary of State (1996-2000) was asked in an interview on Frontline, was asked about negotiations with Kim Jong Il and that some disagree to their effectiveness and that they shouldn’t be conducted. Albright responds by saying, ‘I completely disagree because I believe that it is essential to see whether there’s a way to have some agreements. We talked to Stalin, we talked to Mao, we talked to Khrushchev, and Brezhnev. We made agreements. I don’t consider talking appeasement. It depends on what it is you agree to, but I think it is very much worth having conversations and delivering a very tough message.’ She cites that negotiations have been made with past dictators and leaders, such as Stalin and Mao who ruled with an iron fist, which most would think would be a waste of time.
The world has seen Communist regimes rise and fall. There is one revolution that took place only 25 years ago that ended in a bloody resolve. Communist Romania fell after the leaders Nicolae and Elena Ceausescu were captured and executed after a botched trial. Donald G. McNeill Jr. writes for the New York Times in 1999, “The verdict, though not stated, was clear, since the firing squad traveled in the same helicopters with the judges.” It is emaparitive to promote justice and what is right instead of carrying out an act that attempts to correct injustice with injustice. Article seven of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights states, “All are equal before the law and are entitled without any discrimination to equal protection of the law. All are entitled to equal protection against any discrimination in violation of this Declaration and against any incitement to such discrimination.” This includes tyrants such as Kim Jong Un. Committing an act that is contrary to this article of the UDHR and infringing upon this right, will create an unstable foundation for a democratic country.
This issue has become important to me as I hope it will with you. It started when I was a freshman in high school, I was like any other kid. My life was radically changed as well as my perspective of the world around me after a watched National Geographic’s Inside Look in North Korea.
The way I saw people and the world around me has never been the same. I was shocked at how an atrocity like this in North Korea was happening and I didn’t have a clue about it. The crisis in North Korea was all I could think about, so much so that my first essay for freshman English was about North Korea. As I read my thesis statement to the class, everyone looked at me in shock. Some asked me, “How do you know about this?” I was shocked that my peers were so unaware of what was happening. That became the moment where I decided I needed to continue to inform people about what is happening because I knew at that young age, you have to learn to walk before you can run, and so to bring change or make a difference in any situation people have to know what the problem is.
In the documentary, Seoul Train, a camera crew documents the journey of a group of people who are defecting from North Korea. There was this women in the group, and what she said was so powerful and has stuck with me ever since. She said something along the lines of, the North Korean people have no voice, and that we have to be their voice. In such a powerful yet simple way she deputized those who heard her words with the responsibility to be the voice for the voiceless.
Right now the international community is not doing what it could be in handling this situation. As people who share in the rights granted to by being human, it is our duty to protect those whose same rights are infringed upon. It reads in the preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights,
“Whereas it is essential, if man is not to be compelled to have recourse, as a last resort, to rebellion against tyranny and oppression, that human rights should be protected by the rule of law.”
Unfortunately the international community has acted far too late and it appears as though a rebellion is the remedy for North Korea. This change in the future of North Koreans is not and should not be manipulated by the international community but instead should be equipped and strengthened by the international community.