North Korea Human Rights, Hunger and Politics Related, Report States

International food aid does little to benefit those starving in North Korea and the systematic human rights abuses are exacerbating food shortages there, according to a new report released today by the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.

“The 1990’s famine need not have been North Korea’s fate, if its own citizens had not been denied the most basic human rights,” Vaclave Havel, a former president of the Czech Republic and former dissident, states in his preface to the report.

"Hunger and Human Rights: The Politics of Famine in North Korea," commissioned by the USCHRNK and written by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, analyzes the role politics plays in exacerbating the humanitarian crisis in the communist nation.

The report notes that over a million North Koreans died in the 1990s because of famine - partly because of severe floods but mostly because of governmental inaction. It specifically states that the government criminalized activities such as migration, and diverted most of the food and aid to the elite, military and other “non-deserving groups.”

The report also mentions that while generous foreign aid helped alleviate the situation, most North Koreans remain “food insecure” and highly vulnerable to severe shortages and widespread hunger.

“North Korea is taking advantage of the generosity of the donor countries. At the same time they have been accepting food aid to alleviate their man-made crisis. They have been cutting their commercial food imports drastically,” said Debra Liang-Fenton, executive director of the U.S. Committee on Human Rights in North Korea.

“Without the basic rights to food, to confront political leaders, to publicize the extent of the crisis, to organize in the face of injustice, and to even travel in search of food, the crisis will not be alleviated,” a press statement from the organization read.

The new report echoes concerns documented by dozens of humanitarian rights groups in the past months. In June, for example, a coalition of human-rights, social and civil leaders – including some top Christian speakers – released a “Statement of Principles regarding the Suffering People of North Korea and the Threats Posed by its Regime to World Security.”

“It is crucial that all civilized people of our planet do everything we can to ease the plight of North Korea’s beleaguered million,” said Barrett Duke, Vice President of the Ethics and Religious Liberties Commission – one of the organizations that signed onto the June statement.

“Everything” includes urging governments and inter-governmental organizations to change policies toward North Korea, giving prayers, and providing financial support for groups helping North Korean refugees, according to Duke.

The 60-page Hunger and Human Rights report also lists several things that must be done to improve the situation in North Korea.

“North Korea should lift its restrictions and impediments on the humanitarian aid community and abide by its international agreements. Basic human, civil and economic rights need to be instituted throughout the country.

“The world food program should continue to draw attention to the efforts of North Korea to impede the delivery of food to vulnerable groups; continue to uphold humanitarian principles; and explore technical solutions to improve monitoring.

“China and South Korea should channel future food assistance through the world food program.

“Government as well as the nongovernmental organization operating in North Korea should continue to focus not only on their humanitarian mission, but on the basic right necessary to ensure that famine does not strike again,” the report states.