It has been one year since The Chosun Journal began “informing, provoking, mobilizing consciences for the sake of human rights in North Korea.” Some things have improved, other things have stayed the same.
From Dr. Norbert Vollertsen’s bold and sustained media blitzes since his ejection from N. Korea to the daring escape of Jang Gilsu’s family into the UN office to President George W. Bush’s “Axis of Evil” speech, worldwide interest in and pressure for N. Korean human rights (as opposed to merely food aid) has become more and more politically correct. Swedish PM Goeran Persson, who led the EU’s establishment of diplomatic ties with N. Korea, has publicly called for the downfall of Kim Jong Il’s regime. Even the lame-duck President Kim Dae Jung has acquiesced to Bush’s position, all but conceding the administration’s appeasement actions euphemestically named the “sunshine policy” to the trash heap of history. Our daily circulation has never been higher, more diverse, or more influential. The highly regarded Christian magazine “World” featured a haunting picture of a N. Korean boy in Holocaust-like garb on its cover. Churches, particularly Korean-American churches, appear to be opening their eyes to a cause bigger than themselves. Medicines Sans Frontiers distinguished itself among the international NGOs in pressing for strict monitoring of foreign aid distribution. Their much-criticized move (most notably by WFP director Catherine Bertini) was recently validated by UN Special Rapporteur Jean Ziegler. The prominent S. Korean NGO “Citizen’s Alliance” held its third international conference with more media attention and NGO participation than ever before.
The above are all advancements in the N. Korean human rights movement. For, as stated in our preamble: “The more people know about the human rights atrocities happening in North Korea, the more pressure the world will bring to bear on the Stalinist regime, resulting in less leeway for Kim Jong Il to continue abusing the 21 million NK people with impunity.” The still-alive defector Yu Tae Jun is one obvious case in point.
I have also improved. Henri Nouwen in his insightful book Reaching Out sums up this personal growth of mine best: “When only our minds and hands work together we quickly become dependent on the results of our actions and tend to give up when they do not materialize. In the solitude of the heart we can truly listen to the pains of the world because there we can recognize them not as strange and unfamiliar pains, but as pains that are indeed our own.” (p.58) I have been growing from working merely with mind and hands to working with heart. For some months, I and some of our staff have committed to fasting one meal a week as a showing of our “inner solidarity” with N. Koreans and have donated that money to Tim Peters’ excellent Ton-a-month club for N. Korean refugee relief.
Because of this God-given strength found in personal solitude, I have remained committed to advocating for N. Korean human rights even when several well-intentioned volunteers to our site have come and gone over the year. It is this strength that has given me persevering hope despite the following things that discouragingly, depressingly remain unchanged.
There is still no freedom of religion in N. Korea. The persecution of believers remains intense and the number of Christian martyrs remains high. There is no democracy in N. Korea. Kim Jong Il appears to be grooming his son to be heir to a cult of personality that began over 50 years ago with his father. There is no significant economic development in N. Korea. A recent satellite photo of the peninsula showing sources of heat and light conveys this tragedy poignantly. The regime remains propagated by unmonitored aid from S. Korea and the United States – N. Korea’s biggest donor; and these two countries remain held hostage to Pyongyang’s threats of extortion (i.e., “Feed and arm our military, or we will develop and proliferate weapons of mass destruction.”) N. Korean refugees remain unprotected by international law and remain vulnerable to the exploitations of pimps, corrupt law enforcement, and even S. Korean citizens.
As I reflect on the 17 editorials I have written over the past year, and consider my life before and after my involvement with N. Korean human rights through The Chosun Journal, I must confess that N. Korea has improved my life more than anything that I have done to improve N. Korea. With this realization, I take hope in and close with these words by Nouwen as TCJ embarks on its second year in trying to make a difference for 21 million people who do not yet have (but some day soon will have) the freedom to believe, work, and live.