Putting a human face on North Korea

This January, in a packed Battell Chapel, students gathered to hear more about a topic that gets very little press. For many, the LiNK@YALE benefit concert (LiNK stands for Liberation in North Korea) was the first time they had ever heard about problems in North Korea that didn’t involve the words “nuclear weapons,” “six party talks” or “sunshine policy.” This time, North Korea had a human face. As students watched an orphaned North Korean girl wave to them from the video screen, the same North Korean girl whose life they were able to help with the price of their ticket, many saw for the first time what is really at stake in the fight for human rights for North Korea.

In North Korea, crisis doesn’t even begin to describe what one congressman has called a world not even Orwell could have imagined. For, it is in this place, so isolated from the world, that the worst of human rights violations occur. In this place, 200,000 people in a population of only 23 million are thought to be in prison camps, many of which resemble Auschwitz or Buchenwald. In this place, hunger is the norm for all those not of the favored faithful class, and starvation is the reward for the slightest dissent. In this place, the most horrid events — forced abortions, chemical experimentation, beatings, gas chambers — are not the stuff of nightmares, but are the horrors that haunt every action and every decision. But more than anything, it is the land of Kim Jung Il, a land where the intellect dies, filling that void with worship for its very abuser.

For a small group of people milling about during the benefit concert, the night meant so much more than just the culmination of months of hard work; for the LiNK board, this was the moment to share their hearts for the North Korean people with other Yale students. And why not? LiNK began at Yale during KASCON (a national Korean-American conference) last year. Now it is on over 70 campuses and in multiple countries — all this accomplished in only a year. For all the students who have been so captivated by this movement, it all boils down to one thing: these people need help, and no one is listening. For LiNK members, it is about giving the 200,000 refugees in China a voice and forcing people to look past the politics and see how dire the situation is.

The situation for refugees remains one of the most contentious. China, a signatory to the Convention and Protocol of the UN High Commission for Refugees (UNHCR), has blatantly broken its commitments to those treaties by repatriating North Korean refugees without confirming their status and without due process. The UNHCR exacerbates the situation by failing to apply pressure on the Chinese government to comply with its treaties and use the political tools at its disposal. At the same time, South Korea has begun to change its policy toward refugees from North Korea in an effort to not strain ties and to maintain its “sunshine policy.” North Koreans are now hard pressed to not only get out of North Korea, survive China and get out of China, but now they find that even South Korea doesn’t want them anymore — even though this shift runs contrary to South Korea’s constitution. Things just seem to go from bad to worse.

Here at Yale, the concert was a success. LiNK raised $3,600 (that is almost enough for two new orphanages, meaning a home for a dozen more children) and hundreds of Yalies now know more about what is going on in North Korea. But this isn’t a war won with just one battle. There is yet much to be done. One must look this world in the face, this world of terror and suffering, and see in it the people: hundreds of thousands in hiding in China, hundreds of thousands in prison camps and millions without the barest necessities of life. It is ours to consider what to do in response to the reality of suffering. It is ours to decide how to respond to the voices weeping, and crying out from the dark.



Cole Carnesecca is a junior in Silliman College and a member of LiNK.

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