Battling a system of starvation
Those who accept the regime's insidious lie that poverty or natural disasters are the causes for North Korea's perpetual famine and humanitarian catastrophe are dangerously misled.
Photographs of starving and emaciated North Korean children, published in October by Reuters Alertnet, confirm the testimonies of tens of thousands of North Korean refugees: Innumerable people are dying of starvation in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea. The UN reports that over six million North Koreans, almost a quarter of the population, are at risk. What is to be done?
Over four million have died of starvation in North Korea since 1995. While the world is apparently confused about the nature of this famine, survivors, victims of the DPRK system, and their relatives are not. Studies indicate that the refugees almost universally oppose food aid: A majority still have relatives and friends at risk, and yet adamantly warn that aid delivered via the regime will not benefit those who are in desperate need, but will only prop up a genocidal system that uses food as a means to wield absolute control over the populace.
The Committee for the Democratization of North Korea, one of the largest coalition movements spearheaded by North Korean refugee activists, has emphatically condemned unconditional aid to the country as unethical, and as appeasement, constantly warning that aid has never reached the starving North Koreans, but has been stealthily exploited by state authorities.
There is now overwhelming, verifiable evidence of North Korea's systematic diversion of billions in international humanitarian aid during the mid-1990s, when up to 3.5 million North Koreans died of starvation, during what is now recognized as one of the most devastating famines of the 20th century. At its height, the DPRK regime stopped commercial imports, diverting the money saved to strengthen the military and continue development of nuclear weapons.
During this period, the regime spent massive amounts of money on military purchases, in addition to billions for nuclear research and WMD programs.
Those who accept the regime's insidious lie that poverty or natural disasters are the causes for North Korea's perpetual famine and humanitarian catastrophe are dangerously misled. Vitit Muntarbhorn, the former UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, stated unequivocally in his final report to the General Assembly in 2010 that the DPRK, which has the largest per-capita army and highest military expenditures according to GDP in the world, was by no means poor. He found that North Korea was earning billions in export and trade, including sales of weapons technology to such nations as Syria and Iran, and export of products made through slave labor by political prisoners. Muntarbhorn made it clear that the North Korean regime has the means to feed the entire population, and that the real issue is not lack of resources but the military-first policy and misappropriation of funds by DPRK authorities.
Human rights organizations such as Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch have for years condemned North Korea's methodical diversion of humanitarian aid, and its practice of penalizing either by execution or imprisonment the very actions that are necessary for survival: freedom of movement and market activities.
In 2006, the law firm DLA Piper released a report, "Failure to Protect," which found that North Korea's discriminatory food policy constituted a crime against humanity as defined by the International Criminal Court. The report ended with an appeal for a UN Security Council resolution calling for unhindered access for humanitarian workers to the vulnerable populations and immediate release of political prisoners.
The most explicit example of the DPRK's use of food deprivation to repress and enslave the North Korean people is the prison camp system, in which perceived dissenters and their families have been systematically starved for over six decades.
In its campaign to exterminate hundreds-of-thousands of innocent North Koreans, one-third of them children, the DPRK security apparatus has employed every action defined as genocidal in Raphael Lemkin's Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide. These atrocities include but are not limited to: public executions, systematic torture, state-induced mass starvation, forced abortions, infanticide, and forcible transfer and imprisonment of children.
Furthermore, the DPRK is targeting for destruction every group protected under the Genocide Convention, through its decades-long policy of killing the half-Chinese babies of North Korean women forcibly repatriated by China (constituting genocide on national, ethnical and racial grounds ), and its systematic annihilation of the indigenous religious population (genocide on religious grounds ).
Through nuclear brinkmanship and, alternately, charm offensives, North Korea has managed to deter a decisive, robust international response that is exigent and long overdue. With hundreds-of-thousands of North Korean refugees outside of the country, evidence of crimes against humanity and genocide there is overwhelming and unequivocal.
The only hope for the common North Korean is for members of the international community to have the compassion, courage and integrity to invoke "Responsibility to Protect": This international norm, adopted by UN members at the World Summit in 2005, asserts that when a given state manifestly fails to protect its population from genocide, war crimes, ethnic cleansing and crimes against humanity, or perpetrates such crimes - it is incumbent upon the international community to intervene, if necessary, by force.
North Korea, as a genocidaire of the first order, is in the category of state perpetrator and is manifestly demonstrating the failure "to protect." It is high time for the international community to act in North Korea.
Robert Park is a Korean-American missionary and human rights activist, and member of the Stop Genocide in North Korea movement that is calling for international protests today, the 63rd anniversary of the UN Genocide Convention. For more information: firstname.lastname@example.org.