One of the nation’s unsung heroes died last week; Dr. Jae Nam spent the last two decades of his life fighting for freedom and human rights for North Korea’s citizens. Sadly, the humanitarian crisis in North Korea is a back-burner issue that has received little national or international attention. Nevertheless, Dr. Nam worked tirelessly for the droves of North Korea’s refugees fortunate enough to escape trying to encourage the neighboring countries to respond to the human rights crisis of North Korea by giving asylum to the defectors rather than returning them to the cruelty of the Kim regime.
A physician born to wealth and privilege, Dr. Nam was president of the Aegis Foundation, a human rights organization. He spent his personal fortune and gave the last measure of his devotion to the cause of freedom for fellow Koreans living under the terrible reign of Kim Jong Il whom he called Kim Jong Evil because of his crimes against humanity. The Washington Post called North Korea a “giant concentration camp of a country.” Others have likened it to a prison camp because of the food shortages which have caused even a discontinuation of food rationing and a subsequent black market of exorbitantly priced foodstuffs.
Dr. Nam often recounted the atrocities of North Korea’s so-called “Dear Leader”: Kim spent $1 billion to embalm his father and create a memorial to his memory. He spent $30 million on an armored train to take him to Russia in 2001. At the time of these exorbitant expenditures, 3 million North Koreans were starving or dying from diseases related to poor and inadequate food.
Dr. Nam also filled out the details of the genocidal atrocities eerily reminiscent of Hitler of the Kim Jong Il campaign for “race purification.” For instance, in the city of Pyongyang, there are no physically handicapped persons; they have been expelled and are routinely called “disgraceful.” If a pregnant refugee is captured and returned to North Korea, her baby is killed for fear it is “contaminated” by Chinese blood.
Hundreds of refugees are living in exile in South Korea or China where their treatment is as inhumane as in their own country. The exact number of refugees is not known because China will not allow the United Nations to send the High Commissioner for Refugees to visit the borders. Estimates, though, range from 50,000 to 300,000. Hundreds of orphaned children repeatedly cross the borders (they are protected by volunteers and are not supposed to be attacked, shot or jailed). These malnourished people, fleeing unbelievable atrocities, must hide in caves and live in terror of being discovered because there is a price on their heads; Chinese citizens who help them are penalized. If they get caught and returned to North Korea, they are imprisoned, tortured and some are killed.
This situation cannot continue; it is a humanitarian crisis. Dr. Nam, with single-minded determination, gave unstintingly of his time and energy, and his death leaves a huge vacuum in the efforts to help the refugees and change the regime in North Korea.
The atrocities within North Korea have been documented by human rights organizations. There are valid reports of chemical experimentation on human beings. To compound the tragedy, the situation is dire for the refugees as well. The Chinese government, for instance, actively represses the defectors and forces repatriation. Those who remain in China don’t fare well either. Over half of the women have been victims of some form of trafficking (sold as wives to Chinese farmers, sex slaves for brothels or for slave labor). Up to a quarter of the children, many of them orphaned, or their parents are seriously ill. Over a third of the children have a single parent incapable of caring for them.
Measures to change this situation must happen immediately.
First, the human rights of North Koreans must become a front-burner issue for the United States. We must use our leadership among nations to get asylum and refugee camps for North Koreans who escape to the neighboring countries of Japan, China and South Korea. We must call on China to stop repatriating refugees who seek asylum in that nation and we must back up the demand with economic sanctions.
Second, we must get a message of hope to those within North Korea calling for democratic elections, expanding Radio Free Asia broadcasts, and ensuring that humanitarian aid gets to those for whom it is meant instead of being used to maintain the evil regime.
Third, we should work to end the Kim regime by exposing the atrocities to international condemnation. It is time to end the regime that has enslaved a whole nation to the whims and plotting of an evil man.
Dr. Jae Nam was a quiet, but powerful, voice for those North Koreans who are voiceless. At his dignified memorial service, those in attendance overflowed into the lobby, singing the old hymns in the magnificent Korean language that Dr. Nam’s “labors and trials are o’er” and that “ready and faithful pilgrims” must take up the cause of this unsung hero’s campaign. I pray that it may be so!
Janice Shaw Crouse, Senior Fellow of Concerned Women for America’s Beverly LaHaye Institute, writes regularly on cultural, family and religious issues.