The ICAS Lectures

No. 2001-1011-DPH

Human Rights in North and South Korea:
Let the Sun Shine In

Dennis P. Halpin

ICAS Fall Symposium & ICAS Dinner
Asia's/Korea's Challenges Ahead
economic, international relations and security issues
October 11, 2001 1:00 PM - 5:00 PM.
U.S. Senate Dirksen Office Building Room 138
Capitol Hill
Washington, D. C.

Institute for Corean-American Studies, Inc.

965 Clover Court, Blue Bell, PA 19422

Tel : (610) 277-9989; (610) 277-0149
Fax: (610) 277-3992

Biographic Sketch & Links: Dennis P. Halpin

Human Rights in North and South Korea:
Let the Sun Shine In

Dennis P. Halpin
The following paper represents my own views, and NOT those of the House Committee on International Relations nor the Department of State:

Ladies and Gentlemen, I would like to thank the Institute of Corean-American Studies and Sang Joo in particular, for scheduling this session on the question of human rights and inviting me to address this issue. I have noted, in attending symposia on Asian issues here in Washington since my return from Beijing in 1998, that seminars dealing with China almost invariably include an in-depth discussion of human rights questions, while those dealing with North Korea almost invariably do not. Why is this? Why has the topic of human rights in North Korea become almost a policy taboo?

One immediate observation comes to mind, based, I admit, on only the limited experience of four days of visiting North Korea compared to four years of China experience, one in Taipei and three in Beijing. That observation is that China, for all of its human rights abuses, is a noticeably more survivable place than North Korea. That is not to say China is a paradise - far, far from it. But who on this panel, who in this room, if suddenly dropped from space on the Asian land mass, would prefer residing permanently in Pyongyang to Beijing?

"Sunshine" as a term for the engagement policy with North Korea has taken on the connotation of feelings of brightness and warmth - such as in the popular song "You are my sunshine." But the allusion to warm feeling is only the tertiary meaning of "sunshine." A quick check of the dictionary reveals that the original, literary meaning of the word is "the direct light of the sun" with implications of illumination, revelation, even enlightenment. This, rather than a warm and fuzzy coziness, will be the focus of my comments today. To me, the song from the counterculture Broadway play "Hair" - "Let the Sunshine In" seems the more appropriate anthem for a Sunshine policy.

The Koreans have an ancient proverb "Frog in a well." The Frog sits contentedly in its ignorance, unaware both of the bright world beyond the dank, dark well and equally blind to the more seamy, slimy contents of its pitch black home. So, it seems, is the human rights situation regarding North Korea. Let us begin to let the sun shine in upon the frog in its well.

The North Korea Advisory Group, a group of House staffers on the Majority side, submitted a report to the Speaker in the fall of 1999 where they drew the conclusion that North Korea has "the worst human rights record in the world." While one might point, after the events of September 11th, to the Taleban regime in Afghanistan as the world's premier human rights abuser, the Pyongyang regime certainly remains unsurpassed in duration - over fifty years since at least 1948 - in subjecting its people and those who fell into its control to the most horrendous forms of abuse. The 2000 State Department report, unlike some of its predecessors, gives detailed documentation of reports of the extensiveness and variety of these abuses.

One statistic, however, stands out. It is the report of approximately two hundred thousand North Korean political prisoners detained in labor camps. That, more or less, represents one percent of North Korea's population of twenty-two to twenty-four million people. Think about it. One out of one hundred, the equivalent of three million Americans interned. Locked in camps where, according to escapees, people are regularly starved, tortured and beaten, crushed with rocks, strung up on wire, shot in the head. Their only crime is upholding a political or religious belief that even slightly questions the unswerving, unthinking loyalty demanded by a megalomaniac regime. Has anyone of the world leaders now engaged in negotiating sessions or normalization talks with Pyongyang even raised the existence of these Korean gulags, these DPRK Dachaus - not to mention the need for their abolition? Australia and Canada are nations with roughly the same populations as North Korea. What if two hundred thousand Australians were interned in such camps? Would the world be so silent? When Chun Doo Hwan, labeled in Korean history as "the butcher of Kwangju," interned a few thousand students and intellectuals in "re-education camps" for a few months following the events of May, 1980, there was a hew and cry from human rights leaders in Korea, in Asia, and throughout the world. I remember. I was then living in Seoul. I had a Korean friend who was interned that summer. And I can tell you this - whatever Chun Doo Hwan did to his own people - and I do not in any way condone it - his actions cannot begin to compare with what the Kim Jong Il regime did and continues to do every day. Are we to wait, as silent spectators, as with the "Killing Fields of Cambodia," until regime collapse reveals the gruesome extent of the atrocities or are we to begin to speak up now as part of our dialogue with the North Koreans? Let the sun shine in.

A second issue, and one of equal, humanitarian concern, is the question of food assistance and verification of its distribution. Noted journalists, like Jasper Becker of the South China Morning Post, the author of the premier work on the post-Great Leap Forward famine in China "Hungry Ghosts," have gone to the Sino-North Korean border to interview refugees, or "food migrants" as the politically correct term goes. These refugees have told Jasper, as well as other journalists from major American newspapers, that "we heard there was food from America, but it went to the party cadres and the army." As you may well be aware North Korea, at least prior to September 11th,, has been the number one recipient in Asia of U.S. food assistance. The North Korea Advisory Group report noted in1999 that, while the level of total food assistance was expected to surpass one billion dollars, "more than 90% of food aid distribution sites in North Korea have never been visited by a food aid monitor. The North Koreans have never divulged a complete list of where aid is distributed." It reminds one of the old Korean proverb concerning the cat which purrs contentedly while closing its eyes in satisfaction - in English, we would say "the cat which swallowed the canary." North Korea has also limited the areas where NGOs can carry out their food assistance and other humanitarian operations, leading to the withdrawal of Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) among other NGOs. Pyongyang sought as well to block the placement of Korean speakers among those monitoring. Think about it. Who should be in control here - those giving or those receiving the assistance?

Former Ambassador Robert Gallucci, a chief broker of the Agreed Framework, when asked about the monitoring issue during a November 6, 1997 interview with Voice of America, gave this response: "I don't know that we can have confidence that food deliveries are always going to go just where they ought in humanitarian terms. I think we should make every effort to make sure that happens, but we should assume that food is fungible like money, in that people who carry weapons in a contingency, in a conflict will be better fed as a result of us attempting to feed starving children. I would be willing to stipulate that and not fight that fight." Imagine, along a similar vein, if large quantities of food assistance dropped by air into Afghanistan fall into the hands of Taleban fighters. Could we afford to be unconcerned about those consequences? Is it not disquieting to think that our thirty-seven thousand military personnel in South Korea may be facing potentially hostile troops across the heavily fortified DMZ energized by American rice in their bellies?

If the goal is to feed the hungry, is there not an imperative to verify that those truly in need are being fully assisted? Otherwise, food aid becomes just another example of buying Pyongyang off for its games of brinkmanship, responding to their "feed us or we'll blow you up" tactics and their "turn Seoul into a sea of fire" bluster with another pay-off. My grandparents lived in Chicago across the street from the Al Capone lieutenant Mops Volpe. People in Chicago in those years understood violence, gang wars, and paying protection money - and they also understood that protection money led inevitably to a never-ending cycle of blackmail. Food assistance should not be used for political strategy but neither, on the other hand, should it be used to buy protection from a rogue state. Ronald Reagan said "trust but verify." Let the sun shine in.

Some skeptics have indicated that the food assistance is actually intended to prop up a faltering regime - though no one can admit this - to postpone a sudden crisis in Northeast Asia arising immediately in the wake of a North Korean collapse. In other words, we are actually cynically feeding the prison guards in the world's largest, most abusive gulag so that they will actually keep the innocent inmates chained up inside and we can then get on with our lives. September 11th taught us that ignoring - or postponing - the requirement to deal with such critical, external issues simply does not work. They will come back to bite us when we least expect it.

South Korea's economic ability to deal with a North Korean crisis was actually much greater seven years ago, when Kim Il Sung died, than it is today, given first the Asian financial crisis and now the current slump. The same may prove true for America's military preparedness to handle a crisis in the near term in Northeast Asia as challenges elsewhere are confronted.

If politics should not be played with food assistance then, of equal importance, politics should not be played with refugee protection either. Congress is taking note. Mr. Royce recently introduced a resolution into the House, addressing the issue of the human rights of the North Korean refugees in China, which has been referred to the International Relations Committee. We have read the periodic press reports, going back to the middle nineteen nineties, regarding the plight of up to three hundred thousand North Korean refugees in China: the starving "swallow children" begging on the streets of China's Northeast, the young women being trafficked across the border as farmers' wives or prostitutes, people desperately on the run, including the relatives of American citizens, and the courageous underground railroad network that has sprung up to assist them. We have heard of the periodic round-ups and forced repatriations, most recently a part of China's "Strike Hard" anti-crime campaign. The experts advise that quiet diplomacy works best with the Communist regimes involved - they apparently have not heard of Lech Walesa, John Paul II, or Solidarity. Nor, perhaps, of the desperate family who sat in this summer at the UNHCR offices in Beijing, proving the old adage that the squeaky wheel gets the oil as they were flown first to the Philippines and then to South Korea.

These generalities do not, however, capture the poignancy of both the desperation and the heroism. These require individual stories. I was in Beijing, working at our Embassy, as this refugee story began to unfold following the death of Kim Il Sung in 1994 and the North Korean flooding of 1995. Being an old journalism student of Fred Friendly's from Columbia, I wanted to report the facts but encountered more roadblocks with political correctness in support of current policy than I could ever have imagined.

Just a few of the stories: An American citizen at home in New York contacted out of the blue by his twin brother in a phone call from a China border town. This brother, from whom he was suddenly separated as a child, first by the refugee flow out of Pyongyang and then by an impenetrable DMZ, wanted out of North Korea. He and his family were slowly starving and needed help. The American flew to Beijing, where he didn't know a soul and came, as one would expect a U.S. citizen overseas with a problem, to his Embassy. The American Embassy sent him to the South Korean Embassy, who in turn sent him to the same UNHCR office where the refugee family sat in last summer. The UNHCR, in turn, advised him of a big Catch-22: before they could provide any refugee assistance to his brother and family, they would have to register with the Chinese Ministry of Public Security.

I pointed this U.S. citizen in the direction of a visiting Congressional delegation, which included an old acquaintance, but the American concluded that all these bureaucratic routes were too long and complicated with no guarantee of saving his brother. He returned to the U.S., some how got together twenty thousand dollars, and brought it to his brother in China to arrange for a boat captain to take him and his family surreptitiously out of North Korea. I advised of the risks but agreed to at least pass on to the South Korean Embassy the notice that a refugee boat was coming with the close relatives of a U.S. citizen. Weeks passed. The American went home as we waited for a miracle to arise from this voyage of desperation. A phone call came from New York late one Sunday night. They had arrived off Inchon in a leaky, unseaworthy vessel, having joined a convoy of Chinese fishing boats as they headed down the coastline of the Yellow Sea. Were these refugees not worthy of international protection? Let the sun shine in.

A few other stories: a Chinese resident of North Korea (there are less than ten thousand left) who traveled back and forth on his Chinese passport but always returned there since he couldn't bring himself to leave his Korean girl friend behind and feared the risks of bringing her across the border. He brought a first-hand account of a public execution of dissident students at Kim Il Sung University.

An elderly Korean Christian educator, working on the border, speaking emotionally of a young North Korean student he assisted - a student on the run all the way across China, who saw the distant lights of British-administered Hong Kong when he was detained by Chinese border guards, then forcibly repatriated, and reportedly executed.

The niece of an elderly Korean-American, converted to Christianity from a Bible her uncle left on one visit, fearing persecution or execution if repatriated, on the move and in hiding in China for a number of years - presumably still in hiding.

Then there was the Pyongyang Seven - a refugee family group, including a thirteen year-old child, who crossed into China and then Russia almost two years ago. They were interviewed by UNHCR officials in Russia and determined to have a claim to refugee status before being unceremoniously sent by the Russians back across the Chinese border and then by the Chinese to North Korea. Reported Chinese assurances on their safety to the contrary, one of the Seven, who surfaced in Bangkok this summer, stated that they were tortured and imprisoned upon their return. This repeat refugee indicated that he could verify that only one other of the group of seven was still alive.

These are but a few of the many stories. Why is there so little concern, so little outcry in behalf of these desperate people? It does seem that political considerations and power politics have overtaken refugee protection in the case of the North Korean refugees. This need not be the case. Let the sun shine in.

The German people have faced the rightful criticism of history for their silence in the face of the Nazi-led Holocaust. But throughout the Cold War, and especially at its end, West Germany rose as a nation to meet its obligations to its countrymen to the East. Those East Germans who risked being shot crossing a dangerous frontier - the Berlin Wall - were embraced as brothers and sisters. When Czechoslovakia and other Eastern European nations granted East Germans the right of passage in 1989, and they flooded out in cars, on buses, even on foot, the West German people were there waiting with an open door. And East Germany was no more.

That is why the periodic press stories that trickle in on the refusal of official assistance to North Korean refugees in China, Mongolia -- even, in one case, Libya - are so disturbing. In an interview in the September 6th issue of the Far Eastern Economic Review, former North Korean soldier Yu Sang Ju , said he was rejected by the South Korean Embassy in Ulan Bator, Mongolia, when he crossed into that country with a group of twenty defectors last December. He said it was only after human rights activists protested against their imminent repatriation that the Embassy reversed its decision. "The Korean Embassy indicated to the Mongolian government that they didn't care about us," says Yu . "I thought I'd be saved if we reached a South Korean embassy. But I wasn't welcome." Certainly a North Korean soldier seeking to defect at a South Korean Embassy is a dead man if returned to North Korea? The arrest a few years ago of a former French Vichy official on charges that he turned over Jewish refugees to the Gestapo answers two important questions - first, that there is no statute of limitations on crimes against humanity, including the hunting down and execution of refugees, and second, those who assist in the apprehension and forced repatriation of refugees subject to persecution and death are also to be held accountable. Let us raise the question of international responsibility for protection of North Korean refugees with those nations directly involved, as suggested in Mr. Royce's resolution. Let the sun shine in.

The ability of families to communicate with and visit each other is a basic human right. It is not something to be bartered or traded or made the subject of political games. For a family-centered culture like that of Korea, family separation over more than half a century is an especially cruel reality. More than one million Koreans were suddenly divided as a result of the Korean War. Many of the separated families settled in Pusan, as far from the North Korean regime as they could get. I, during my four years as American Consul in that city, became aware of the continuing, extreme anguish that that separation has caused these families. There was some communication between East and West German families during the Cold War. Taiwan family members can visit their Mainland relatives. Vietnamese-Americans are in touch with their family members back home. North Korea is unique among present Communist nations in continuing to totally cut its citizens off from their overseas relatives and to play family reunification as a major trump card in political negotiations.

This is a major cloud over sunshine: the deliberate manipulation of genuine, strong family feelings. Only one hundred have been selected from the 105,300 applicants for the current round of extremely short, staged and controlled reunions. Over twelve thousand elderly family reunion applicants have died since last year without any visitation. The degree of desperation was symbolized by the suicide last week of 82 year-old South Korean retired police officer, Chung In-Kook, near the border at Imjingak, not too far from the aptly named Bridge of No Return. Mr. Chung carried a copy of the notice of his rejection for family reunion. He longed to see his eldest son, left behind in North Korea at the age of six, and in despair Mr. Chung flung himself off a bridge into a pond below. We all know that the North Korean regime - frog in a well as ever - fears genuine family communication as another means of true exposure of its people to the outside world. But why are these staged reunions - the scattering of a few bread crumbs - the cause of such press euphoria over a new, reasonable North Korea? It is time to seek large numbers of open, non-propaganda-oriented family reunions along the Chinese or Vietnamese model. There should be no more Chung In-Kooks. Let the sun shine in.

The question of a "new" North Korea raises the issue of the new press image given to Kim Jong Il in the aftermath of the 2000 Summit Meeting. Former National Assemblyman Lee Dong-bok pointed out in an article dealing with the Summit that all was not as it appeared to be. He noted, for example, that at the June 13th arrival ceremony for ROK President Kim Dae-Jung, as Korean People's Army (KPA) soldiers goose-stepped by, the North Korean military band played "the Song of the Valiant March" with words denouncing "U.S. imperialists" and their "South Korean puppets." Not quite bin Ladin's war cry of "kill all Americans" but close enough.

With all the press hoopla over the new reasonable, sophisticated, worldly, even glamorous Kim Jong Il during and after the 2000 Summit, a thoughtful article to the contrary drew little notice. It appeared in the Wolgan Chosun magazine that summer, a magazine owned by the Chosun Ilbo newspaper, one of the three major dailies whose publishers were, perhaps not coincidentally, recently arrested on corruption/tax embezzlement charges. It was an article by Lee Soon Ja, the widow of South Korea's most illustrious economic planner, Kim Jae Ik. Who exactly was Kim Jae Ik? He was an economist, called upon by Korean military presidents, first Park Chung Hee and then Chun Doo Hwan, to reshape a backward third world economy into one of the Tiger powerhouses of Asia. Every South Korean today owes Kim Jae Ik a debt of gratitude for the economic security they enjoy, for he was the architect of one of the greatest economic miracles of the twentieth century.

One might compare him to Alexander Hamilton, first Treasurer of the United States, who set up America's banking and financial system as the basis for economic prosperity. In gratitude, two hundred years later, Hamilton's face still graces the American ten-dollar bill. Hamilton, unfortunately, died violently at the hands of Aaron Burr. Like Hamillton, Kim Jae Ik also met a violent death.

Rangoon, October 9, 1983. Three officers in the North Korean military came off of a boat docked in the harbor and prepared for a terrorist attack on the South Korean President at the shrine honoring the memory of the Founder of modern Burma. Hearing a rehearsal of the Korean national anthem, they detonated the bomb early, missing the ROK President but killing seventeen South Korean officials, including four Cabinet members, and also four Burmese. The film of the atrocity was so gruesome that, in the pre-CNN age, Chun Doo Hwan forbid it to be shown on South Korean television, for fear that he could not control the reaction of his people. The Burmese tracked down two of the terrorists, the third dying in a shoot-out. There is no question of North Korean official involvement at the highest levels. The Burmese severed diplomatic relations with Pyongyang. Eighteen years later they are still waiting for an apology.

Kim Jae Ik was among the dead. So was Hahm Pyong-Choon, a scholar of Korean law and former Ambassador to the United States whom Ambassador Richard Walker described at a 1998 ICAS Symposium as being "one of Korea's great public servants." I knew him personally; he autographed his book "The Korean Political Tradition and Law" for me. Perhaps it was fitting that this scholar-official died on October 9th, the date when Koreans honor their scholar-king, Sejong the Great, who invented the Korean alphabet, hangul.

Kim Jae Ik's widow took the South Korean media to task in her article for projecting an image of a "phoney" new Kim Jong Il, regarded by many as the mastermind responsible for her husband's death. She wondered, as a university instructor of South Korean young people, how she could teach them loyalty, patriotism and service to country, when the sacrifice of her husband and the other officials was so easily forgotten. Does the passage of time erase such a crime or a widow's grief? Ms. Anwar Sadat, in a public condemnation of the September 11th attacks, indicated otherwise, stating those responsible for the terrorist attacks in the U.S. included some of those who carried out her husband's assassination two decades ago.

Certainly sponsorship of terrorist attacks counts as a major human rights violation. North Korean terrorist Kim Hyon Hee, who planted a bomb on Korean Air 858 in November 1987 killing 115 people and lived to tell about it, becoming a Christian and a best-selling author, points the finger squarely at Kim Jong Il. She has said the orders came from the very top; the goal in killing ordinary Korean construction and contract workers returning from the Middle East was to create an atmosphere of terror prior to the Seoul Olympics.

High profile North Korean defector Hwang Jang Yop, when asked by the Far East Economic Review on October 15, 1998, whether Kim Jong Il was personally responsible for the Rangoon and 858 bombings, responded as follows: "Absolutely. There is no doubt about it. Every single mission of every single spy has to be approved by him. So the major attacks definitely had his hand in them. This man is a terrorism genius."

Fast forward from Rangoon, October 9, 1983 to Washington, October 9, 2000. Seventeen years to the very day that the South Korean Cabinet was decimated in a horrific act of terrorism, Vice Marshall Jo Myong Rok, one of Kim Jong Il's highest-ranking military advisors, arrived in Washington for meetings with senior officials, including then President Clinton. Americans are known for lacking a sense of history , but for Asians, anniversary dates - the March 1st movement in Korea, June 4th (Tiananmen Square) in China -- bear great significance. Given Vice Marshall Jo's age, rank and personal and official ties to Kim Jong Il, one can only conclude that he was in the loop on the Rangoon operation. One wonders if, like Lady MacBeth, he sought to wipe his bloody hands before shaking those of Washington officials? One can understand why Kim Jae Ik's widow feels that her husband's murder and sacrifice have been left in the shade. Let the sun shine in.

But has the terrorism (and the counterfeiting and the drug dealing) stopped? A 1996 State Department Report on Global Terrorism indicates perhaps not. While asserting that there is no hard evidence of any North Korean terrorist operations since Korean Air 858 in 1987, the report continues by pointing out : "The ROK suspects North Korean agents were involved in the murder of a South Korean (Consulate) official (in Vladivostok) on October 1, 1996, shortly following a North Korean warning of retaliation if Seoul did not return the bodies of North Korean infiltrators killed in South Korea" --following the submarine incursion of September 1996.

That incursion came immediately after a UNDP-sponsored economic seminar in North Korea at Rajin/Sonbong's Free Economic and Trade Zone (FETZ) which I, along with several hundred other foreigners, attended. Plans for the FETZ fizzled out and its chief promoter, Kim Jong U, a reported relative of the Dear Leader by marriage, met the fate of all who fail in North Korea - he was purged and then mysteriously died. Not quite as bad as the fate of the Minister of Agriculture, however, during that period of flood and drought. This official was not only shot in the head, but the body of his predecessor, who had appointed him, was exhumed from its grave and posthumously shot as well.

North Korea's trigger happiness was a topic in Seoul just two weeks ago. In testimony at the National Assembly involving high-level defector Hwang Jang Yop and his desire to accept a U.S. Congressional invitation to visit Washington, the government side cited a terrorist incident as the reason for concern over Mr. Hwang's security. Ruling party members mentioned the assassination on the streets of Seoul in early 1997 of defector Lee Han Young, who reportedly screamed "spies" while being shot, gangland style, in both the head and the chest. Lee, a distant relative of Kim Jong Il and nephew of one of his female companions, was at the top of North Korea's hit list. The timing of Lee's death, which occurred simultaneously with Hwang's own defection in Beijing and visible North Korean attempts to break into the South Korean Consulate and kill Hwang there, was also an apparent attempt to scare off other potential defectors -- "kill the chicken to scare the monkey," as the Chinese say.

There are also, as mentioned in the State Department's 2000 human rights report, such instances as: the abductions of South Korean ministers working with refugees on the Chinese border and the holding of ethnic Korean U.S. citizens in North Korea on trumped up charges for ransom. There was also official concern over the appearance of Red Army veteran Yoshimi Tanaka, who was traveling on a North Korean diplomatic passport in Cambodia in 1995 and was arrested on counterfeiting charges. These all raise concerns over just how new the "new" Kim Jong Il really is. One would presume that the "new", more urbane and reasonable Kim Jong Il would not be plotting to assassinate Hwang Jang Yop if he travels to the United States. Certainly Mr. Hwang should be perfectly safe in Washington, since North Korea would presumably shy away, in light of recent events, from carrying out a terrorist attack on American soil in the very shadow of the Capitol. Hwang Jang Yop, as well as other defectors and refugees, should be able to provide that HUMIT - human intelligence - on North Korea which we claim is so lacking and which we now realize could be so necessary in an unforeseen crisis situation. They should be allowed to speak out, even at the risk of offending North Korean sensitivities. Let the sun shine in.

Getting into South Korea is apparently as difficult for some people as getting out is for Hwang. Freedom of travel should be guaranteed, of course, as a fundamental human right. The Far Eastern Economic Review reported at the beginning of this year on the trials and tribulations of Korean human rights activist Lee Young Hwa, a Korean resident of Japan and Professor at Kansai University in Osaka. Lee, following a 1991 visit to North Korea where he was disturbed by the obvious lack of human rights, founded an NGO titled "Rescue North Korean People." This organization has organized protests as well as prepared videos on starving North Korean children, so it is obviously not a favorite of the Pyongyang regime.

The Far Eastern Economic Review reported, however, that Lee's activities in defense of North Korean human rights may have created "a second enemy." The magazine noted that "paradoxically, this is the government of South Korean President Kim Dae Jung, an opposition leader for four decades and himself a champion of human rights." Lee, who was planning to attend an international meeting in Seoul at the beginning of this year on human rights in North Korea, reportedly said that a South Korean consular official advised him that "it wouldn't be good for me to attend." Lee took that to mean the South Korean Consulate would not issue the travel papers required for Korean residents of Japan, a strange set of circumstances given the past history of Japanese official discrimination against Korean residents with regard to residency documents. Let the sun shine in.

Which brings us to South Korean human rights, an issue that has already been examined extensively with regard to policies directed toward the North. Human rights issues in South Korea should be quite transparent since the country's President, Kim Dae Jung, won the Nobel Peace Prize last year, both for his Sunshine policy toward the North and his promotion of human rights as the "Nelson Mandela" of Asia.

I have followed Kim Dae Jung's career since I arrived in Korea as a Peace Corps volunteer in 1971. He was always a hero to us Peace Corps volunteers; one Peace Corps colleague was his English tutor. I happened to pass the first gigantic rally of support for him at Sajik Park on a spring Sunday before the Presidential election of 1971, when, against insurmountable odds, KDJ garnered forty-five percent of the popular vote against the iron-clad regime of General Park Chung Hee. We applauded him when he voiced principled opposition to the martial law and human rights violations of the Yushin Constitution. We were concerned when he was kidnapped by Park's agents in Japan and threatened with possible murder; we mourned with him at the massacre of Kwangju. I was in the courtroom, as a young Embassy officer in the fall of 1980 observing the martial law trial which sentenced him to death; we welcomed his reprieve, exile in the United States, triumphant return, election to the Presidency, and the awarding of the Nobel prize.

And yet, there is something missing: Some of the old fire; some of the unquenchable thirst for justice for the downtrodden, for the defector, for the refugee. There is an apparently limitless acceptance of things that Kim Jong Il does; things far more sinister than the abuses of a Park Chung Hee or even a Chun Doo Hwan. There is also a remembrance of things past, of Generals turned Presidents who sought to stifle press criticism by means of intimidation while citing irregularities and illegalities. It is too close to home. Too close to a past that South Korea has striven to leave behind. The old hero of the Peace Corps seems tarnished. One wants to ask: "Where have you gone Kim Dae Jung? A nation turns its lonely eyes to you."

And what is South Korea's greatest human rights challenge ahead? Tolerance for those who are to come. South Korea is a far more global place than the Hermit-like environment that I first experienced thirty years ago. That was a time when a Korean mother shaved her daughter's head and locked her up for weeks in a room to keep her from dating a Peace Corps colleague. An almost Taleban-like reaction of exclusion.

Koreans pride themselves on their "minchok" of racial purity; they see themselves as one people, all descended from Tanggun on Paektu Mountain; an ethnic group with a common, primordial past. Those minorities that have existed - Chinese residents, Vietnamese war brides, Amerasian children - have been viewed as too small to really count for much.

Yet the time is coming when the Korean people will have to stand up to meet a challenge as great as the Hideyoshi invasion or the Korean War. It will be the challenge of re-bonding with a people, once the same but now on the other side of one of the great ideological and psychological divides in the world. Four days in North Korea, where people spoke with reverence for their Kim Il-Sung/Kim Jong Il god-kings, perhaps on a par with a pre-war Hirohito, convinced me that they and South Koreans had almost nothing in common. A crisis will test whether the fanatic kamikaze-like devotion expressed by North Koreans for the Kim family and the juche philosophy are real or primarily feigned.

It is hard, in any case, to foresee the soft landing scenario for North Korea. God-kings, whether they be Caligula or Hitler, do not usually evolve or go quietly. And so implosion - whether in five, ten or twenty years - seems the most likely outcome for juche.

For South Korea and its people, that means an influx of aliens unprecedented in Korean history. Aliens who look like South Koreans but whose life experiences and ways of thinking will be totally different. Those small numbers of defectors already settled in the South have reported major economic and psychological adjustment problems. Multiply that by ten thousand fold. The temptation will be to herd the North Koreans into factories as a new source of cheap labor with which to raise Korea's comparative advantage. To look down on them as country bumpkins or juche-ravaged fools. To settle old scores as was done with the American South after the Civil War or Germany after the First World War. To claim that to the victor goes the spoils, as with my dentist in Pusan who still held a deed to ancestral lands in the North.

South Koreans will have to rise above these tendencies and an inevitable sense of both superiority and frustration with the ways and mindset of their Northern compatriots. South Koreans will have to remember the sting of prejudice which so angered them as they watched their compatriots suffer in Japan and vow to keep it at bay in their own country. Then Korea can enter the era of a Unified Korea where no challenge will seem insurmountable, no goal too great. Then, above the umbrella of universal human rights, will inevitably come the sunshine. Thank you.

This page last updated 10/13/2001 jdb

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