By Christine Wang
On December 28th, 2011, the people of North Korea officially declared Kim Jong-un as the supreme leader of North Korea. Since his affirmation of power, Kim Jong-un has made dramatic changes in the country, magnifying the austere rule of his predecessors over the people of North Korea and replacing political confidants that were once close to his father. Julian Ryall, a Japanese correspondent for The Telegraph, explains that under Kim Jong-un, there has been expansion in all dimensions of the country and elaborates that of the “significant changes” that “Kim Jong-un has wrought…on his nation…Few of those changes have benefited his 24.76 million subjects”.
The tyrannical and despotic leader has implemented policies ranging from new and unique ways to violate human rights, to barbarous and ruthless methods to dispose of the people he abhors. For starters, a major violation of human rights is evident through the extensive labor camps that have increased in number since Kim Jong-un came to power; a report by The Committee for Human Rights writes that “detainees are relentlessly subjected to malnutrition, forced labor, and to other cruel and unusual punishment”. Aside from a compilation of 278 defector testimonies that prove the atrocities committed by the North Korean officials, North Korea refuses to acknowledge the fact that there may be around 200,000 prisoners suffering in labor camps with dehumanizing and bleak conditions. More and more labor camps are popping up on satellite images that continue to impose ruthless and demoniac labor unto its members.
In addition, North Korea inflicts its domineering rule by restricting its people from leaving the country, left to be forever caught in an endless cycle of undernourishment, poverty and desperation. Those defectors who try to escape from North Korea only find themselves either sent back or forced to publicly propagate North Korea for its luxurious qualities and thank the leader for bringing them home. Since Kim Jong-un came into power, the Christian Science Monitor comments that “far fewer North Korean defectors have made it to South Korea since Kim Jong-un took power in 2012”, dropping from 2,706 defectors in 2011 to 1,509 in 2012, expounding the fact that the constraints placed on North Korean citizens have reached a new zenith. One defector testifies that he would rather “live in China as [beggars because] even beggars in China do not go hungry”. Frustrated by helplessness and inability to do anything, a North Korean defector who managed to escape rebuked sorrowfully, “Hitler gassed people, [but Kim Jong-un has] sucked the life out of people through starvation and forced labor”. Bolstered enforcement of the border and propaganda falsified by the North Korean government coerce an impression unto the rest of the world that North Korea is “more desirable than the South”. The irony in this statement arises from the fact that North Korea has to prove its desirability in the first place; aside from the suppression, malnutrition, and human rights violations, North Korea embodies a paragon of a healthy, thriving society.
On the bright side, Kim Jong-un’s loathing doesn’t appear to be limited to just the people of North Korea; after coming into power in 2011, Kim Jong-un went through a “purging” process where he replaced former members of office that were close to his father. He dismantled the team of support that his father and grandfather structured and reinstituted new members, most likely as a result of age gaps between Kim Jong-un and the previous heads. Evidently, the most eminent and recent display of Kim Jong-un’s immediacy and agility to dispose of those closest to him is the execution of his uncle, Jang Sung Taek. While there has been controversy regarding the actual facts of the execution of Jang Sung-Taek, it can be inferred that Kim Jong-un was more than happy to throw him to the dogs, perhaps too literally. Allegedly, Jang Sung Taek and five of his close associates were thrown into a cage, stripped and naked, and “fed to 120 dogs that had not eaten for 3 days”. While the motivations behind Kim Jong-Un’s actions remain in question, conjectures suggest that Jang was a threat to Kim Jong-Un’s power and thus was eliminated. The controversy continues as evidence shows that Kim Jong-Un made “allegations heaped on claims that [Jang] tried “to overthrow the state by all sorts of intrigues and despicable methods with a wild ambition to grab the supreme power of [North Korea’s] party and state”, while other proof indicates that Kim Jong-un was “outraged by his uncle’s promiscuousness while in charge of the country’s ‘pleasure brigade’” – a personal hatred that Kim Jong-un harbors.
By Christine Wang
When debating whether or not to provide food aid to North Korea, a nation whose citizens suffer largely from famine, people intuitively argue that we should. The citizens should not be deprived of something as basic as food when they are working overtime just to keep their families alive. UCLA graduate Shimon Moshehai expresses that much of the hostility between North Korea and the rest of the world stems from chronic food shortages that plague the nation; thus, food aid to North Korea should be both desired and beneficial, right?
In the 1990s, North Korea suffered a severe famine that caused almost 1 million people to die because of starvation. Unable to recover on its own, North Korea implored for food aid from other countries, such as the US, China and South Korea, in order to recuperate. The Congressional Research Service states that “between 1995 and 2008, the United States provided North Korea with over $1.3 billion in assistance” with “more than 50% for food aid”, exemplifying the fact that North Korea depended significantly on the US for aid. Through history, food aid to North Korea has fluctuated, ranging from 1.5 metric tons to 2 metric tons. The fluctuation exists because they are multiple cases of mistrust and suspicion that cause the US to withdraw aid.
Currently, North Korea refuses to cooperate with monitoring programs that the US attempts to institute. As a benefactor of North Korea, the US should reserve the right to be able to see where the food is being allocated in order to ensure optimal aid. In 2011, President Obama signed a bill that mandated that “food assistance may only be provided if “adequate monitoring and controls” exist. The problems arise as “the U.S. [halts] food shipments to North Korea in 2009 after Pyongyang (the capital of North Korea) expelled U.S. officials overseeing aid distribution”; if the food aid is not being allocated to correct areas, then those in most dire need of it would not receive it. A survey conducted by the Global Post in May 2013 showed that 8 out of 10 North Koreans are still undernourished, causing the US to question the efficiency of our food aid. The Human Rights Watch hints that much “economic mismanagement” favors the “military and government officials” of the country; however without monitoring policies, this remains purely extrapolation. Regardless, the facts still stand that “20 percent of North Korean children under 5 are malnourished” and that the North Koreans struggle daily to provide for their families. Thus, the lack of monitoring explicitly links to the lack of improvement seen within the country.
The US prioritizes the security of the global community that North Korea potentially threatens if food aid is apportioned to areas with harmful outcomes. Historically, a negative correlation exists between North Korea’s nuclear program and the amount of food aid the US obligingly provides for the country. Since 1994, when previous President Bill Clinton signed an “Agreed Framework” with Korea in order to suspend nuclear programs in trade for aid, the US has inevitably remained linked by some way, shape or form to North Korea. Therefore, it is imperative that the US address both its humanitarian and security goals of North Korea while staying wary of North Korea’s nuclear growth. Constant alterations to set policies between the US and North Korea’s nuclear pact cause much distrust between the two nations. An article published in April of 2013 highlighted the fact that “North Korea signed a denuclearization-for-aid deal in 2005 but later backed out of that pact”, now claiming that “its nuclear arms are a treasured sword that it will never give up”. The dangers of North Korea’s nuclear weapons and threats of nuclear strikes relay the fact that a long-lasting diplomatic resolution, other than food aid, is necessary to relieve the tension.
Overall, North Korea’s lack of transparency is an incontrovertible fact as to why the US is hesitant to whole-heartedly give food aid. As long as North Korea only views more “efficient farming practices and greater loyalty to the revolution” as the sole solution to improving the system, these food shortages remain prominent and very urgent.