By Eun Kyoung Kwon, Manager of International Team, Open North Korea
Thanks to Social Networking Services, the world can respond to human rights issues as one, even when they take place in North Korea. A good example is the latest North Korean defector repatriation. Korean society alongside international Human rights organizations in Washington D.C. responded simultaneously to the issue, and then those in Geneva, Switzerland and London, UK also began holding protests against the repatriation.
In addition, prominent international organizations such as Human Rights Watch, Amnesty International, Christian Solidarity Worldwide and others started to publicize their criticisms of the Chinese authorities immediately upon hearing the news that 41 defectors were repatriated to the North. In South Korea, protests and hunger strikes in front of the Chinese Embassy have been going on for almost a month. Even some Korean celebrities have participated. Seeing these worldwide and supranational movements, we can see that the repatriation of North Koreans has become a global problem.
However, these protests - despite the high level of participation at all levels of society – are not enough. What these demonstrations have been doing is, essentially, using a band aid on a bullet wound. That is to say, most of these protests and criticisms have focused only on pressuring the Chinese government. Yet, the fundamental genesis of the attempted defection - and subsequent repatriation - of North Korea’s citizens lies entirely at the feet of the North Korean authorities.
The number of lives lost in the process of attempting to flee the abhorrent regime in North Korea is incalculable. Refugees die of cold and starvation after crossing the border, they drown in the muddy waters of the Mekong attempting to enter Thailand. They must spend their time evading the ever watchful eye of the Chinese police, risking their lives every time they venture out in search of food. If caught, they are either executed or imprisoned in North Korea. Let us leave out the gruesome details of life in the kwanliso for the time being.
Where did such a terrible tragedy stem from? Is its starting point not the North Korean authorities, who are too incompetent to take care of people’s food problems, and too immoral and vicious to take care of people natural human rights?
The late Hwang Jang Yop, former Secretary of the Workers’ Party, said repeatedly that, “While China went forward into economic reform and opening policies, they tried for three decades to persuade Kim Jong Il to do the same alongside them. However, Kim Jong Il consistently rejected them. In consequence, in a very short time the gap between the countries has become enormous.” Hwang criticized Kim Jong Il, saying that he took away the people’s right to eat purely for his own absolute power.
Mere incompetence would not be that bad however the North Korean regime is vicious as well. Kenji Fujimoto, former private chef for Kim Jong Il, said, “At the time when millions were dying of starvation, I had to go around the whole world seeking rare and precious food ingredients for Kim Jong Il.” Moreover, during that starvation period when people had to take way dozens of dead bodies from train stations daily, Kim Jong Il spent 890 million dollars reconstructing the Mt. Keumsoo Memorial Palace and entombing his father’s body.
The worst example of their incompetence and viciousness combined is the currency redenomination of 2009. In order to make the jangmadang ineffective, the regime imposed the policy, rendering virtually all the people beggars with the new 100 to 1 exchange rate.
Yonhap News reported based on a source from China in May, 2010: “President Hu Jintao has frequently mentioned Kim Jong Il’s incompetence and extravagance saying that, ‘A leader who has the people starve to death does not deserve to lead a country.’”
Yes, that is exactly correct. Nevertheless, in the reality of North Korea, this undeserving dictator is celebrated as “Dear Leader” and the “Highest Dignity.”
Now, Kim Jong Eun, who is the third king of North Korea, has succeeded his father’s throne, power, and even his cruelty. The Daily NK reported that Kim Jong Eun commanded the harsh punishment: “Exterminate three generations of the family; just shoot them” for anyone who tries to escape during the mourning period for Kim Jong Il. Cheong Kwang Il, who was detained in the Yoduk Camp after repatriation, said “Without exception, those who attempted to go to the South will be sent to kwanliso.”
Incompetence and immorality of dictatorship is the very cause of the countless tragedies that befall defectors, which have been going on for over ten years.
It is certainly true that denouncing the Chinese government’s decision to send the defectors back to North Korea is a very valuable and significant action which can have various positive ramifications. However, what we should never neglect to consider is the fact that the North Korean authorities should bear the responsibility for and be the solution to this problem.
We should tell the regime: “If you don’t have the ability to foster an open, diverse and developing society, solve the problem by leaving the key to the granary in the people’s hand.”
We have to raise our collective voices to criticize not only the Chinese government, but also North Korean authorities hiding behind their ‘big brother’, simply watching the problems they have caused internally unfold internationally.