Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Georgetown University’s Newspaper of Record since 1920

The Hoya

Americans Must Extend Compassion to North Koreans

Shortly before Christmas, six North Korean refugees were incarcerated in Shenyang, China after they unsuccessfully applied for asylum at the U.S. consulate with the help of a humanitarian organization called Liberty in North Korea.

LiNK, is a national organization promoting “human rights, political and religious freedom, and humanitarian aid for North Korea,” according to the mission statement contained on the group’s Web site.

Chinese police arrested three LiNK members, including Executive Director Adrian Hong, for reportedly aiding the refugees. They were quickly deported back to the United States.

Two North Korean teenage boys and four women are still being held in a Chinese jail, hoping against hope that they will not be sent back to their homeland, where they could face starvation, prison camps and execution.

Last fall, a Georgetown University chapter of LiNK was founded and has since been growing its member base through events such as a documentary screening in November at which Hong was present.

Because of my personal involvement in LiNK on the Hilltop, the Shenyang incident hit close to home. It showed me that the lack of media attention paid to human rights violations in North Korea is both a cause and an indicator of the unfortunate compassion deficit that privileged Western nations, specifically the United States, have toward North Korea.

In reality, about 23 million people live in North Korea, and many of them are starving, inside and outside Kim Jong Il’s prison camps, because of the government’s ideology of isolation and totalitarianism. Every year, many would-be defectors drown or freeze to death trying to cross the Yalu River into northern China, where their greatest hope is

simply to survive in hiding and avoid repatriation.

During a LiNK event in November, we watched smuggled videotapes of starving North Korean villages. This remains the most moving video I have ever watched – children and adults barely able to stand, running their hands over muddy streets in search of spilled rice.

Defectors recount prison camps where rape, torture and systematic starvation are routine. The scale of the suffering in this country has been compared to the Holocaust, and it is tragically ironic that the North Koreans’ plight is similarly being avoided as “Korea’s problem,” or “East Asia’s problem.”

As a U.S. citizen, I am troubled by the marked disconnect between my country’s ideals and its actions. I see my country’s moral authority de-legitimized, especially in how differently we handle similar situations in the Middle East, where economic and national security interests are intertwined with humanitarian goals. In that region, those who fight wars are as mindful of the value of oil as they are the value of human life.

It may be easier on our conscience, as we engage in stalemate six-party talks, to define North Korea entirely by its military capabilities and thus rhetorically shuffle its suffering people behind Kim Jong Il’s Taepodong II missile, but that excuse does not suffice.

I do not presume to lay out a comprehensive plan to improve America’s political and social attitude towards North Korea, and fortunately more qualified people than I have already made admirable progress. Students like Hong and Paul Kim, who founded LinK, have worked hard to promote awareness of North Korean human rights issues. LiNK has become a shining example of committed students and others who devote their time and resources – and sometimes risk their lives – to promote awareness outside of North Korea’s borders and help the human situation within.

We Hoyas duly take pride in our rich tradition of international awareness and statecraft. It is fitting that we lead the field in educating people about the global humanitarian crisis in North Korea as well. One does not have to travel far to get involved. Look up information about North Korea and see what you can find. Sit in on a LiNK meeting on the Hilltop, show a quick documentary on North Korea to friends and family back home or write a letter to your favorite politician.

While I sincerely hope that the Shenyang Six will be able to reach safety as soon as possible, I also hope that their story focuses more global attention on the resolution of human rights issues in North Korea today.

Peter Kong is a freshman in the College and a member of Liberty in North Korea.

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