Monday, June 30, 2008

A Call To Conscience In Free Korea


A Call To Conscience in Free Korea


Over a decade ago, the world watched as over a million North Koreans starved to death. Hundreds of thousands of North Koreans fled their country in search of food, and brought with them stories of a land very different from the South. A nation where freedoms of religion, speech, assembly, movement and dissent did not exist. Where listening to a foreign radio broadcast was grounds for treason. Where failing to honor the leader meant disloyalty. Where public executions were common. Where concentration camps reminiscent of Nazi Germany dotted the landscape.

Since our inception just over four years ago, our organization and our allies have worked to raise awareness of the plight of the forgotten North Korean people throughout the world. Today, thousands upon thousands of refugees remain in hiding throughout Asia, fearing forcible return to North Korea, where many would face torture or execution for leaving without permission. Today, at least 250,000 inmates guilty of no real crime live in a network of political prison camps, where survivors say unspeakable acts take place in inconceivable conditions. Recently, NGOs and experts have warned that in coming months perhaps several hundred thousand North Koreans will die of starvation.


Inmates at North Korea's Yoduk Concentration Camp

It was not long ago that the two Koreas were one. A great number of families on both sides of the DMZ have intimate family connections on the other side. And yet here today, in Seoul, awareness and interest in the plight of these people is painfully lacking. The average South Korean knows more about the uninhabited island of Dokdo or members of the latest Korean pop group than about their brothers and sisters to the North. And in past weeks, reports of a resurgent famine and painful stories of North Korean suffering have been drowned out by public protests against American beef.


The beef issue has complex roots. It is not as simple as an issue of food safety. Intertwined with concerns over mad cow disease are larger concerns about the power of the Blue House, the relationship between Korea and America, and concerns about the impact of free trade on Korea’s domestic industries.


At the same time, 25 million North Koreans today live in a nation that is, essentially, a prison-state. And despite over 13,000 North Koreans walking the streets among the citizens of the South, Free Korea has yet to use it’s voice on behalf of these voiceless. In a most succinct, perhaps insensitive summary – while South Koreans bicker over what they don’t wish to eat, North Koreans are dying for want of any food at all.


Many of us involved in this work are foreigners. Often, our voice is not always well-received in debates here in Korea. We long have worked to build local allies and work to politely, gently, but firmly raise the issue of North Korean human rights. Perhaps we have lost the urgency of this issue amidst a small sea of conferences, symposiums and petitions.

People are dying. We must do more.


This weekend, groups organizing protests in Seoul have pledged that one million will turn out to protest over the beef issue. Last week, protestors came brandishing steel pipes and bricks, toppling police vans and attacking the offices of several major newspapers. Right or wrong, we believe that violence is never an acceptable form of civic discourse in a democracy.


Throughout history, men and women have had moments where they came to believe that their lives meant something greater. Individuals have lived through eras where injustice reigned and suffering was widespread, and stood against it, often at great personal cost. This weekend, here in South Korea, we believe we must do our part. If politicians, academics, celebrities and others cannot raise the notion that there are perhaps more important and urgent matters deserving of Korea’s attention, then we will.

In the end, we will remember not the words of our enemies,
but the silence of our friends.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.


This weekend, we ask you to join us at Seoul City Hall. On July 5, protest organizers have pledged their largest and most aggressive protest yet. LiNK, in conjunction with No-No Demo, a group of South Korean students 30,000 strong, defector organizations, expatriate groups, Korean Americans, international students and many other sympathizers, will hold a public funeral for the dead and dying of North Korea. We will stand beside protestors and remind them that perhaps there are more pressing issues.

We are aware that we may face violent reactions to our message. Others bearing similar messages have faced beatings or threats of violence. If struck we will not strike back. We will be vastly outnumbered, highly unpopular and quite possibly offensive. But the fact remains – North Koreans are dying, and Free Korea has forgotten them. We have been warned repeatedly that any criticism of protests, perceived or real, will spark backlash. But what then shall we do? Remain silent? Shall we be content to read wire reports and news briefs of more lives lost? Shall we tell escapees of concentration camps and victims of sexual trafficking who share with us their stories, “I am sorry, but now is not the time to raise this issue.”?


Justice delayed is justice denied.

If you are willing to stand with us this Saturday, please contact for more information. Whether you are a student, a teacher, a professional or a tourist, this is a rare chance to stand for your convictions, and be a part of something greater. Perhaps we will make history. Perhaps we will see the beginnings of a sea change in the South Korean grassroots. Perhaps this will spark a moment of reflection and a call to conscience. Or, perhaps, we will fail, unnoticed, maybe bearing fresh wounds. But this is what is right, and sometimes that is all that matters. Free Korea must stand for her enslaved brothers and sisters.



WHO: You.
WHERE: Cheongyecheon towards Seoul City Hall (Shichong 시청)
WHEN: Saturday, July 5, 2008 @ 6 pm
WHY: To speak for 25 million voiceless North Koreans
ATTIRE: Black Funeral Attire


Our lives begin to end the day
we become silent about things that matter.

Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

1 comment:

CKAllie01 said...

I wish I were there with you guys! Good luck, everyone! Esther, Christine: make a sistah proud!! Love from the A...