In proposing these six practical and achievable means to helping North Koreans, I look to history for guidance and encouragement. In the 1970s, the Soviet Union had persecuted Jews and prevented them from emigrating to other countries. In response, groups like the Student Struggle for Soviet Jewry took some of the following courses of action that proved to be quite effective that I think can be applied to the North Korean situation.
1. Form Protest Organizations
When Soviet performers visited the United States, whether they were a small string quartet or the world renowned Bolshoi Ballet, they were greeted by Jewish pickets demanding rights for Soviet Jews. These protest groups helped mobilize fellow Jews as well as popularized the plight of Soviet Jewry among non-Jews.
Likewise, whenever Chinese officials or performers visit the United States or South Korea, they can be greeted by protest groups demanding rights for North Korean refugees living in their borders. This will have the effect of popularizing the human rights abuses over and above the missile program of N. Korea and even above the abuses commonly associated with China alone. When NK delegations visit other countries, protesters can make known to them that the oppression of North Koreans is of international concern. One powerful example of this was shown in the recent visit by Kim Jong Il to Russia where a photograph of a Russian protester wearing a bandana “Democracy for North Korea” was printed in the Russian media as well as in media around the world. This is all the more significant as the Stalinist regime tries to gain international legitimacy.
2. Organize Letter Writing Campaigns
Suzanne Scholte of the Defense Forum Foundation has stated, “We underestimate the effect that our letters and phone calls have on our elected representatives, but these letters and phone calls have an impact. Most people do not take the time to do this basic action. One Congressional staff person told me that it takes just four individually written letters from the constituents to get an issue on their Congressman’s ‘radar screen.’”
Letter writing campaigns can be done more systematically headed by groups of people who go around sharing with churches, campus clubs, and community associations how and why letters should be written on North Koreans’ behalf. Besides advocating on behalf of the thousands of Korean “comfort women,” i.e., victims of Japanese rape camps in WWII, I cannot think of another issue more worthy of Korean associations and churches’ organizing efforts.
3. Lobby for Amendment
Simultaneous with public protests and marches, the Soviet Jewry groups lobbied actively in Washington. Their most prominent legislative victory was the congressionally sponsored Jackson-Vanik amendment, which linked trade with Russia to freedom of emigration for Soviet Jews.
Likewise, Korean-American associations, churches, and human rights groups can lobby for passage of an amendment linking aid to N. Korea (and perhaps trade with China) to independent monitoring of aid distribution, improvement in human rights conditions, and freedom of North Koreans to emigrate abroad.
4. Initiate Tours to northeast China
The various Soviet Jewry organizations encouraged tens of thousands of American and Western Jews to visit Russia as tourists and to spend time with Jewish dissidents.
NK advocacy groups can encourage tours to northeast China to support the hundreds of thousands of North Koreans being hunted down there. The more foreign witnesses, the less persecutions are likely to occur in their presence. Since churches in China may be attended by foreigners, I’m sure several churches which have recently been raided by NK agents to infiltrate refugees in attendance would appreciate the observance of foreign participants.
Further, in view of Kim Jung-eun’s award-winning video documentary “Whispers and Shadows”, more living stories need to be told by the oppressed who cannot leave their prison-country and may not live to bear witness of their plight for posterity. So we need more hidden cameras capturing children begging for their daily bread, young women being trafficked, parents giving their children up to orphanages, and guards imprisoning missionaries. This footage, shot by short term missionaries and journalists, would be shown to churches and NGOs to raise funds and t.v. news to raise awareness.
5. Fund Raising for Refugees
Most aid donated to North Korea has gone unmonitored. In fact, refugees and several NGO’s testify that most foreign aid has been diverted to the military. Consequently, any organizations or governments that continue to donate unmonitored aid to North Korea in fact perpetuate a regime that has caused starvation and repression to exist in the first place. Calling donations that end up with the NK military and Pyongyang elite “humanitarian aid” is no more humanitarian than providing the bullets and barbed wire to the soldiers that guard this prison-country with such brutality.
So foreign governments and NGOs should divert their aid from the NK regime directly to the North Koreans themselves. This can be done through funding organizations in northeast China today which feed, shelter, clothe, and sometimes smuggle out NK refugees. Such organizations are listed in the “Get Involved” section of this site.
6. Provide Accurate Information
A few months ago, a few NK defectors in China had emailed open appeals to various NGOs. As the internet becomes more widely available in China, we should grasp this opportunity to make available to them fast, accurate, and relevant information in Chinese, Korean, and English. The struggle with the NK regime is not merely socio-political or economic but also intellectual.