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View more articles by Chad O'Carroll
Chad O'Carroll has written on North Korea since 2010 and writes between London and Seoul.
Engage or isolate? Praise or punish? Depending on who you talk to, suggested strategies and tactics to improve the lives of ordinary North Koreans will range significantly.
Although some seek to help North Korean citizens in a way that is 100% amenable to the Pyongyang government, others believe it’s better to do so in ways that explicitly undermine the Kim Jong Un leadership. Others, however, believe a middling approach is preferable, and that a “carrot and stick” approach can both improve the lives of North Koreans while simultaneously stimulating improvements in Pyongyang’s “behavior”.
But just what do North Koreans think about the issue? How best can the international community help in their eyes? To find out, we asked our panel of eleven defectors to share their thoughts on how the world can best help North Korea. The results, it seems, were among the most varied of all the questions asked in the NK News refugee insight interview survey to date.
Ordinary North Koreans are treated as slaves of the North Korean regime by being deprived of all basic human rights. These violations are often too horrific to be described, with North Koreans subjected to capital punishment, prison camps, and religious oppression.
In order for this situation to improve, the international community needs to actively engage – with South Korea at the forefront. But in order to be more effective, while engaging the whole of the international community needs to simultaneously criticize the DPRK about its human record.
In my experience – until early the early part of the last decade – capital punishment was commonly witnessed in North Korea and there were almost no criminal trials. However, some of these incidents and practices were photographed by cameras and satellites in the early 2000s and revealed to the world. When that happened, North Korea was severely criticized by the international community – and shortly afterwards there was a temporary halt to the practice of public capital punishment.
“North Korea was severely criticized by the international community – and shortly afterwards there was a temporary halt to the practice of public capital punishment”
The entire international community therefore needs to take an active interest in the North Korean human rights crisis in order to bring about a positive change. It is of utmost urgency that the South Korean government, NGOs and North Korean defectors in South Korea all take action.
The biggest help the international community can give is to be considerate and sympathetic while simultaneously taking a sustained interest in the North Korea situation.
Even if the international community isn’t continually taking direct action, they need to remain interested in North Korea in order to encourage it to open its doors to the outside world.
At the same time, it seems to me that the international community isn’t doing enough to ensure the implementation of human rights in North Korea, instead taking a greater interest in North Korea’s nuclear weapons than its human rights crisis.
Some in the international community also go too far as to use the human rights crisis to generate profit. They advertise and publicize it, but if they want to talk about the human rights crisis in North Korea, they need to be sympathetic. If they aren’t well aware of the suffering of North Koreans, they can’t correct the problems.
“Some in the international community also go too far as to use the human rights crisis to generate profit”
While it’s difficult to go to North Korea, it is possible to meet North Korean defectors in China, South Korea, Europe and America. This needs to happen more. Without understanding the past and present lives of North Korean defectors, it is very cruel to ask them to speak in public about life in North Korea.
As a result, I believe the international community needs to understand the real lives of defectors.
In my opinion, the greatest contribution the international community can make to North Korea will be in the form of economic aid and better quality education. You see, once North Korea opens up, the greatest priority will be in rebuilding the economy. Therefore, if the South Korean government and international community take steps to invest in North Korea now, it will help lead to the country’s economic revival.
Most people in North Korea will have never before directly experienced a capitalistic society. While they will learn through experience, that has its limits. Therefore what the people of North Korea really need is a transplant of the West’s educational environment into the DPRK.
North Korea needs talented individuals to lead the country into the future. I hope that the international community will educate North Koreans and send them back able to do so. The international community should help with the short-term economic revival of the country, but in the long-term future, North Korea’s recovery will need to be figured out by the people of the DPRK and its leaders. To catalyze things, we need therefore people that are well educated and have sufficient understanding of international affairs.
“The greatest contribution the international community can make to North Korea will be in the form of economic aid and better quality education”
In my opinion, the greatest help for North Korea will therefore be in the improvement of their educational environment. It will be an investment for the future, rather than for the present.
What frightens ordinary North Koreans the most is either starving or being beaten to death. In order to not starve to death, they need food. But in order to not be beaten to death, they need human rights. Human rights are therefore closely linked with the survival of human beings in North Korea.
Without humanitarian aid from the international community, North Koreans would not be able to feed themselves. Therefore, while human rights need to be enhanced, food supplies still need to be provided.
“It is important that those receiving aid should be informed where it comes from”
We also need to ensure that food aid goes to ordinary North Koreans, not the government. And it is important that those receiving aid should be informed where it comes from. Food aid should be provided as a means to change North Korean society; however, it should not be provided unconditionally.
The most important thing the international community can do is to speak out for the human rights of ordinary North Koreans. It is the only way to rescue them from the current dictatorship.
Also, the international community should impose additional sanctions on the North Korean government as well as do more to publicize the human rights issue.
Currently, a number of North Korean defectors are living in fear of being sent back to North Korea. To them, the biggest help the international community can give is to acknowledge North Korean defectors as refugees and protect them from the evil DPRK government.
The international community needs to let North Koreans know that it has a continuous and long-lasting interest in them. One method of achieving this is through humanitarian aid – though only under certain conditions.
The North Korean government doesn’t want its people to know that the international community is providing so much humanitarian assistance. As a result, I suggest that the United Nations and other organizations which provide humanitarian aid to the DPRK ask Pyongyang to ensure the people of the DPRK know the origin of all the aid going in.
Also, the international community needs to impose sanctions while informing Pyongyang of the many positive effects and consequences that would result from the DPRK making changes. Perhaps North Korea is well aware of the rewards for positive changes, but is only waiting for a pioneer to step forward to initiate them.
“Trade, cultural and academic exchanges should all be encouraged”
Finally, the international community needs to let North Korea know that there are many chances and opportunities to make positive changes. Therefore trade, cultural and academic exchanges should all be encouraged.
The DPRK’s leaders are obsessed with developing nuclear missiles, while the North Korean people live in agony.
The international community therefore needs to have stricter sanctions – both political and economic – as North Korea continues to violate the human rights of its people while maintaining its nuclear capabilities. This is the only way to make the North Korean regime collapse.
At the same time, the international community should help North Korean people rebel against the dictatorship by educating them through media sources such as radio, broadcasts, and books.
This is not an easy question, as the North Koreans need all the help they can get. At this point, however, the kind of help required can be divided into aid that is required now, and that which will be needed post-unification.
Currently, it is important to apply more pressure on North Korea’s human rights abuses. The North Korean regime should understand the necessity to improve the country’s human rights issues to develop the country.
“International assistance should not be made in a way in which only a few major party members receive the majority of inflowing aid money and assistance”
After unification, they will however need substantial international assistance. The most effective form would be based on experiences that international society and relevant organizations have got through so far. Above all, this international assistance should not be made in a way in which only a few major party members receive the majority of inflowing aid money and assistance.
The international community therefore needs to have heavy sanctions on the DPRK while it continues to violate the human rights of its own people and remains unwilling to give up nuclear weapons. That is the only way to make North Korea collapse.
At the same time, the international community also needs to help North Koreans speak up and rebel against the current dictatorship. In order to achieve this, it is necessary to take advantage of all kinds of media including broadcasting, publications, and video to raise public awareness.
Humanitarian aid to North Korea should not come from governments.
Humanitarian aid should instead come from North Korean defectors and NGOs.
The aid should then go directly to the North Korean people, to help improve their financial well-being and general health.
South Korea should also pass the North Korean Human rights bill in the National Assembly.
The international community should give more opportunities for ordinary North Koreans to know about the outside world.
In addition, the international community should impose more sanctions on the North Korean regime with regard to its human rights violations.
Main picture: E. Lafforgue