Some think the death of North Korean dictator Kim Jong-il has opened a window of opportunity for the international community to take a stand against the atrocities committed against the North Korean people, and well-known activist Robert Park is one of them.
Park, a Korean-American missionary and activist who endured torture after illegally entering North Korea two years ago, says genocide is occurring in the highly secretive nation, yet little is being done about it.
Genocide And Other Crimes Against Humanity
Some 250,000 prisoners have been forced into concentration camps in North Korea. Of those prisoners, about one-third of them are children, says Park. Many of the prisoners are Christians who are forced into slave labor, and are tortured and starved to the point of death because of their faith.
For the past 10 years, Open Doors USA has named North Korea the worst country in the world for Christian persecution. The organization says there are an estimated 400,000 believers in the country.
"This is a genocide that is absolutely on par with Rwanda, what happened in Darfur, but it's much worse actually...These aren't people with machetes, these are people with nuclear weapons. This is the fourth largest military in the world, and they know what they're doing,” Park told The Christian Post from South Korea.
According to Article 2 of the Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, which was adopted by the United Nations General Assembly in December 1948, genocide is defined as “acts committed with intent to destroy, in whole or in part, a national, ethnical, racial or religious group...,” which is something Christians in North Korea are experiencing now, Park asserts.
Park says the North Korean government is “brilliant” at genocide, and also at deceiving the outside world into believing things aren't as bad as they seem.
The government downplayed the great famine experienced by the nation between 1995 and 1998, he said, when millions of people died. He says the nation's leaders also hoard resources, or use them to support their nuclear program, rather than using them to feed citizens.
Window of Opportunity
The process to stop North Korea's inhumane treatment of its people should have started 10 years ago, Park maintains, because the more time they are given the more people they will kill.
With the death of the country's dictator, Kim Jong-il, the eyes of the world are on North Korea as Kim's successor, Kim Jong-un, takes over for his father’s position. But Park says Kim Jong-un's power is not yet consolidated and he has not yet fully established himself as the leader.
“In North Korea you're not just a political leader, you have to be essentially a god, and you have to show that you are greater than everything in this world,” said Park. “You are the one that defies the world, and no one can stop you and no one can intimidate you...And so we're in a time right now when it's a very volatile situation."
Responsibility to Protect
Although North Koreans are taught from birth that the outside world hates them, Park says the refugees he has spoken with say the people want freedom from such a harsh regime.
"Overwhelmingly, refugees, these people who are fresh out of North Korea who are in China right now, they dislike this regime. The living standard is terrible. People are dying. There's no freedom,” Park said.
While some people tend to romanticize martyrdom in North Korea, saying simply that the Christians there are brave in the face of death and are an example to be followed, Park says there are bigger spiritual implications that most people do not realize.
“They're killing children. They're killing the children and the grandchildren of believers. These children don't even know Christ,” he said. “Something we need to realize is that when these Christians are persecuted, they themselves are not only persecuted. Their whole family, three generations, even non-religious people...are dying without knowing Christ. Is that really God's highest will? I believe not."
Praying for change is a must, he says, but people must stop thinking that change will occur by chance, or by “supernatural deliverance,” and that the North Korean leaders will suddenly have a change of heart. It is up to outsiders, then, to take a stand and oppose the nation for the sake of justice.
"When you're in the West, when you're in the United States, and we're going to our job and when we're going to Disney Land or amusement parks or whatever, at that point your money's not an issue,” he said.
“You share the Gospel, you share a pamphlet, that's fine. But right now people are dying. Like it says in James and also in John, it's not enough to just say it without deeds...Do we love these people, or are they just like a dream to us? They have to become real to us. We have to feel their pain.”
Turning The Tide
If God wants His people to be a catalyst to change an entire nation, where should they begin?
There are many different ways organizations have tried to help the North Koreans over the years, but the best way, Park says, is to support them financially through North Korean defectors.
"If we can work through the refugees, that's the way to literally save lives. To empower them is the thing that the regime fears the most,” he said.
Money and food that comes through the government, he says, is distributed to the nation's elite and never reaches the people who need it most. North Koreans who have fled the country can get resources directly to their families, friends and other loved ones, however, thus subverting the government's plans to deny them food and using starvation as a control method.
There are approximately 20,000 defectors in South Korea right now, 10,000 of which send remittances back to North Korea through “underground” channels. Many of them live humble lives, however, and do not have the funds to make a major impact on those who still live in the North. About $1,000 can sustain 100 people for a month in North Korea, Park says, and can also help in bribing soldiers to ensure the safe passage of those who must travel back and forth.
Many of the North Korean refugees Park knows cannot be named because they still have family living in North Korea who could be punished if caught. One exception, however, is Ji Seong Ho, the president of Now, Action, Unity for Human Rights in North Korea (NAUH), who lost one of his arms and one of his legs in an accident while in North Korea, but still managed to escape through China.
Today, he works as a full-time activist on behalf of the North Korean cause. His ministry can be contacted at email@example.com.
Another activist, Shin Dong Hyuk, is the only known survivor of the “Total-Control” concentration camp, where those accused of political offenses, and their families, are enslaved for life. His ministry, North Korea Freedom Plexus (NKFP), aids those who currently live in North Korea and also those who have escaped. The ministry's website is www.nkfpglobal.com.
In addition to financially supporting defectors, Park says Christians need to get serious when it comes to speaking out against human rights offenses in North Korea. Christians should start their own grassroots movement, write op-ed pieces, use all types of media to get their message out, and push the world governments into taking a strong stand in opposition to North Korea's inhumane treatment of its people.
In order to make a difference, Park says, individuals will have to respond on a scale that is on par with the Civil Rights movement that occurred in the United States during the 1950s and '60s.
"Why do they always accuse us of being political, evangelical Christians? It's because it appears political, everything we're doing everything we're saying. If this is love then let's talk as if these are our children in North Korea, if they were our children in these camps being raped, being starved, being beaten for no reason, and not having any opportunity to listen to the Gospel, to sing a hymn, to have even the remotest freedom or comfort,” he said.
“Wouldn't we rise up for them? Wouldn't we speak up? Wouldn't we become visible for them? We have to speak out and we have to get mobilized. We have to move out of this complacency, this...spiritual void that many of us are in right now and then we need to move ourselves to compassion. These people need our love. These people need our help right now. They're not going to make it, unless there's some decisive action."