[Letters] Responsibility to protect in the North

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[Letters] Responsibility to protect in the North

Kim Jong-il has died, but to date, over four million have died of starvation in North Korea since 1995. Photographs from Reuters AlertNet published in October confirm refugee testimonials of a continued famine. The United Nations reports that over six million North Koreans, particularly children and pregnant and breast-feeding women, are currently at risk of death due to starvation.

Interestingly, however, studies indicate that North Korean refugees almost universally oppose government-enforced food aid to North Korea. Despite having family and friends currently at risk, they adamantly warn that food aid via the regime will not benefit those who are in desperate need, but reinforce a genocidal system that leverages access to food as an unethical means of controlling the population.

Refugee Insights into North Korea, a study published this year based on interviews with over 1,600 North Korean refugees in China and South Korea by Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland, found that a substantial number of refugees had no knowledge of the over a decade of international humanitarian aid to North Korea, though it at one point purportedly fed more than a third of the North Korean population.

To address China’s unique complicity in the refugee crisis in particular, it is especially crucial for South Korea to take action. Though there are networks of South Korean and foreign NGOs attempting to smuggle defectors from China to safer countries, they are able to reach relatively few of the refugees, an estimated one out of 10 of whom is caught and repatriated to their peril during these “rescue” operations.

Still, the onus is on the international community at large to invoke its “Responsibility to Protect.” General mobilization and mass demonstrations are key to revealing and responding to the mass human rights violations taking place in North Korea today. In what is one of the most devastating genocides of the 20th and 21st centuries, strong, decisive and swift international commitment to action must replace granting further time and concessions to the North Korean regime.

Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor and human rights activist

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