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The Real North Korean Crisis 07/06/2006

North Korean children

Millions of North Koreans are starving to death.

As Americans launched fireworks into the sky on the 4th of July, North Korea fired at least 7 missiles into the Sea of Japan, thrusting the closed communist society into headlines around the world. An explosion of debates immediately followed, as politicians and pundits argued about North Korea's true military capabilities and the proper response of the United States. But the real crisis in this country the size of Mississippi is not political; it is humanitarian.

In the last decade, an estimated 1 million people have died of hunger-related causes. The world responded to a famine in the mid 1990's with over $2 billion in food aid. The United States, notwithstanding a history of vilification by North Korean leaders, stood as the largest donor with over $600 million in relief. Despite the well-intentioned relief of the global community, about half of the aid never reached those who were suffering. Presumably, it was diverted to the military or sold on the black market to fund military build-up.

Kim Jong-il, the maniacal, cultic leader, is purported to consume fine wine and fresh, air-lifted lobster, even while half of the population suffers from malnourishment and abject poverty.

The list of reported human rights violations is long. A U.S. Committee for Human Rights report revealed unspeakable horrors in slave labor camps. Famine-orphaned children, referred to as "wandering sparrows," are sent to detention camps and exploited for cheap labor. An estimated 200,000 people languish in Holocaustic Gulags -- leftover relics of their Soviet benefactors -- where enemies of the state and their children and grandchildren are imprisoned. They are subject to public executions, forced abortions, infanticide, and human testing of chemical weapons.

Kang Chol Hwan, a former child prisoner, was locked up for 10 years because of accusations against his grandfather. After he was released, Kang escaped to South Korea and published his memoirs in 2003, recounting the "policy of horror" that enables the communists to maintain control. His shocking revelations confirmed the worst fears of outsiders: North Korea is the most abusive and repressive society since Nazi Germany.

For North Koreans, there are no human rights.

There is no freedom of speech. One woman was sent to prison for singing a South Korean pop song. There is no freedom of movement, even within the borders. Many people crossing into neighboring China to scrounge for food have been repatriated and sent to labor camps. (The Chinese preference for male children, combined with a widespread one-child policy, has led to a large male population which has, in turn, resulted in human trafficking and forced prostitution for many women escaping from North Korea.)

There is no freedom of religion. Though a few Christian churches and Buddhist temples exist in the capital of Pyongyang, they either sit empty or are attended only by foreigners. Most diplomats worship in the safety of their own buildings. Open Doors, a Christian organization supporting the persecuted church, reports that 50,000 to 75,000 of those in prison camps are Christians. Those who refuse to recant their faith are routinely tortured and executed. (In a bizarre twist this week, Rick Warren of The Purpose-Driven Life announced his invitation to speak to 15,000 Christians in North Korea, raising concerns that the communist government's publicity stunt may be an attempt to identify and arrest thousands of "enemies of the state.")

There is no freedom of the press; no freedom of expression; no freedom of thought. Citizens are subjected to daily propaganda regarding the glory of their homeland and the treachery of the rest of the world -- specifically the United States. The only worse scenario for the people would be if Kim Jong-il ordered his million-man army across the 38th parallel in an attempt to trigger another military conflict.

Though many humanitarian and charity organizations, including LIFE Outreach International, have tried to help those in desperate need, the tight governmental control and deception present a moral dilemma. Do our efforts to help starving North Koreans prolong the terrorist state? If the flow of food, water, and medicine ceased, would the short-term suffering justify the imminent collapse of Kim Jong-il's regime?

The world awaits the opportunity to alleviate the agony of North Korea, even as the masters of the misery attempt to blackmail us with the threat of war. As long as Kim Jong-il is in power, we would be wise to avoid the distractions of the desperate dictator and focus attention on the suffering of the people. They desperately need our help. We must be ready to render it as soon as the tyranny ends.

Author: James Robison               Randy Robison

Word Count: 760

About the author: James Robison is the founder and president of LIFE Outreach International, an international humanitarian aid ministry; host of the television program, Life Today; and author of The Absolutes: Freedom's Only Hope.

Media Contact: Randy Robison, editor at

Photo available upon request. Reprint rights granted with attribution for complete, unedited article. Revisions allowed only with approval.