Today's Sunday Times
is extremely depressing. One theme seems to dominate - suffice to say that people are butchering each other in various ways, everywhere.
I came across a very interesting article about the underground railroad from North Korea to China. Various private individuals are helping people flee the regime of Kim Jong-il. If any of these refugees are returned to North Korea, they face penalties ranging from beatings to torture and death.
North Korea’s politically determined classification system restricts nearly all aspects of education, labor, and health care. Membership in the Workers’ Party, which is imperative to an individual’s professional success, is restricted to people whose political background fits certain criteria. Although all North Korean children are required to attend school for eleven years, it is generally children of the elite who are allowed to advance to college and hold prominent occupations. Access to medical care is also strictly based on the classification system, as hospitals admit and treat patients depending on their social background.
-- Human Rights Watch report on North Korea
According to the Sunday Times
article, North Korean border guards have been known to feed wire under a prisoner's collarbone in order to move them as if on a leash. One woman tells of how, when she gave birth in a prison cell, she was made to kill her own child.
The Chinese authorities return any refugees, claiming that they are merely illegal immigrants. These wordgames allow China to evade her obligations to international conventions on refugees, which forbid their return.
The authorities in North Korea are known to run gulags for political prisoners. There is no freedom of speech, expression or religion. Forced labour, forced abortions, torture. Elections with 100% turnout and 100% approval of the status quo. Then, of course, there's famine.
To some extent, these issues are not up for debate - few would argue that the dictatorship in this 'democratic republic' is anything other than another vile blot on the history of our time.
The underground railroad shows that the situation is not hopeless. To those men and women who risk their lives operating this latter-day Schindler's ark, we currently offer only platitudes. Certainly the diplomacy is difficult. Chinese ambiguity on the issue is one of the problems. But difficult is not the same as impossible. Brutal, repressive regimes like Kim Jong-il's do not last forever.
We owe it to those individuals standing up for humanity and their consciences in helping fugitives escape (as well as those suffering in
North Korea, of course), to make yet greater efforts to free the population from the despotic, lunatic, depraved, degraded, barbaric and murderous grip of Kim Jong-il and those who collaborate with him. I'll admit that I'm not sure how it should be done. But one thing I do know is that restricting imports of iPods
won't change anything.The title of this post quotes the state motto of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea.