It’s been two years since I began blogging about human rights in North Korea. As regular readers know, I believe North Korea to be the world’s greatest, and most underreported, humanitarian tragedy today. It is neither seriously disputed nor widely discussed that the North Korean regime deliberately chose to spend its resources on weapons and luxuries for its elites while 2 million of its people starved to death, knowing that it was happening, with malice aforethought. North Korea is also a grave proliferation danger to every nation that offends a client of its promiscuous intercourse in weapons of mass murder.
Often, readers write to ask, “What can I do for the people of North Korea?”
If you have a few bucks you can spare. If you’re one of those fortunate ones with enough money to be generous to a good cause, I’d first ask, “What kind of activity do you want to support?” If your intention is to support political activity and contribute to the building of a grand, nonpartisan human rights coalition in Washington, then your best choice is the North Korean Freedom Coalition, run by my friend, Suzanne Scholte. The NKFC is an activist group that lobbies influential policymakers in Washington and elsewhere. Better yet, if you pull any weight with the leader of your church or synagogue, ask that leader to involve the congregation, its members, or another worthy organization with which it works.
The U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea sponsors the best research on the subject. That research regularly finds its way into congressional hearings. HRNK recently produced the single best, most comprehensive study of human rights in North Korea anywhere. This study should have been written by the U.N. a decade ago; instead, it was commissioned by Elie Wiesel, Vaclav Havel, and Kjell Magne Bondevik and written on the donated pro-bono time of the California law firm DLA Piper.
If you want to give to a group that helps North Koreans escape to freedom along an “underground railroad” through China and other places, give to Helping Hands Korea, an affiliate of the Family Care Foundation established by the Rev. Tim Peters. Rev. Peters came to South Korea many years ago, and was once thrown out of the country for opposing its old right-wing dictatorship. HHK’s agenda is unapologetically and proudly Christian. Peters is a modern-day Harriet Tubman, a modest, gentle, Godly, and yet highly intrepid man. Read more about him here and here.
If you want to give to a group that is does direct activism, lobbying, and clandestine refugee assistance, then give to LiNK, Liberty in North Korea. LiNK is a nonpartisan coalition that can get meetings with senators and ambassadors. It’s a young organization that can put hundreds of protestors on a target. LiNK is also changing hearts and minds in South Korea, something it’s in a unique position to do because its membership contains so many Korean-Americans (as well as others of every conceiveable ethnic group). LiNK has also set up a series of clandestine shelters and orphanages in China that are saving North Korean kids from freezing and starving to death at this very moment. A reminder from LiNK:
All travel by the LiNK team is covered by special sponsorships and individual fundraising- no travel fees were taken from LiNK’s funds whatsoever. All donations to LiNK’s Safe Haven operations go straight to the field- in other words, there is no overhead.
They also remind us why they do it:
The LiNK team visited many of the shelters personally, and interviewed refugees in hiding under LiNK’s care, but not before purchasing large amounts of nae-bok, or long underwear, a crucial article of clothing in the below-freezing area, particularly in the mountains. The team also purchased enough thick ski/snow style pants for all refugees under LiNK’s care as well, and toys, crayons and dolls for the orphans.
Many of the refugees the team encountered had heartbreaking stories to share. One woman was sold for only a few hundred dollars, and spent three months essentially in sexual slavery, before she was rescued by a man who was able to purchase her freedom, and connect her with underground networks. Two orphaned young men, aged 21, also shared their stories- siblings and parents dying of hunger, relatives missing. At one point the team compared heights with a member of the LiNK team and the two refugees, all in similar age ranges. The difference was shocking, and tragic. They also spoke of witnessing public executions.
Some of the refugees the team met with have been captured while attempting to cross, or being close to the border. They tell us that standard policy is detention for about 6 months. They also told us that when the same individual was caught three times, they would summarily be executed. The two boys, as well as several others we met with, were at that stage. “I don’t want to be caught again. If I’m sent back, I will be killed.”
That is the reality there.
LiNK is perpetually in need of funds to carry out its activities. If you can help, please do.
If you have nothing to give but your hard work, LiNK is looking for help in its offices in Washington, D.C., and at its new branches, most of them on college campuses, all over the United States, South Korea, and elsewhere. It’s a rather unique position description:
LiNK is looking for a few good men and women to join us at the LiNK headquarters office in Washington, D.C., the first, full-time office outside of Seoul devoted solely to North Korean human rights. Staff will be selected based on the following criteria: passion for making the world a better place, willingness to make sacrifices, find common ground with near-anyone and persuade others for said cause, and the desire and ability to give up their own time and resources for strangers an ocean away. No prior experience or education required- simply a willing heart and open mind. There is no talent or skill that cannot be used to help others.
There will be no pay, no stipends, and probably, little recognition in the real world [ at least, until the movement has succeeded ]. In fact, most will likely scoff at such “youthful idealism” and wait for you to give up and move on. And frankly, at this point in time, the officers at HQ are paying to work- not something we do by choice, but a necessity until our operations and shelters get more stable funding. But do not misunderstand- you will be making a difference.
Volunteers to start branches in Europe and Japan are also strongly welcomed.
If you live in Seoul, LiNK is also looking for interns to work with Assemblyman Hwang Woo-Yea in Seoul, who stands alongside Kim Moon-Soo as a giant in the defense of human rights in North Korea. If Kim Moon-Soo is the movement’s populist, then Hwang, a former lawyer and judge, is its ambassador, having set up an international coalition of parliamentarians supporting human rights in North Korea. You must speak fluent English and Korean–please inquire with firstname.lastname@example.org.
Finally, if anything you see here causes you to believe that your government should be thinking about these things, too, then write to your parliamentarian or congressman. If you live in the United States, the House is here and the Senate is here.
Update: Brendan Brown, who lives in Seoul and teaches North Korean refugees, adds:
Joshua, Can I add that if there is anyone living in Seoul that can volunteer some time per week to teach North Korean defectors that would be highly appreciated? It could be a foreign language especially English or Chinese. Or for Korean speakers subjects like business, economics or information technology. Or on a Friday evening if you fancy yourself as a bit of a cook, a soup kitchen for the defectors can be an option. The soup kitchen could be say once a month.
I do ask that if you are interested in teaching it should be that you avail yourself for
at least a year. Unfortunately some (perhaps, perhaps not) well intentioned people teach for a few weeks and then leave. This has an unsettling effect on any student and so it would be better not to offer at all if you were merely curious in meeting North Koreans but not neccessarily in helping them.
You can contact Brendan (or any of the rest of these deserving organizations) through me. Just drop a comment.