North Korea: Your Guide to Understanding a Humanitarian Crisis

When we hear about North Korea in the news, probably the next thing our minds most often jump to is “nukes.” It’s no secret that typically the only thing we ever hear on the nightly news about North Korea is in some way related to the issue of weapons of mass destruction that North Korea has been exploring. However, what is rarely spoken of yet potentially even more deserving of attention is the ever worsening humanitarian crisis going on in this secretive nation right now.

 Since the mid to late twentieth century, a strong military dictatorship has taken root in this nation, led for a long time by Kim Il-Sung and now led by his son, Kim Jong-Il. The government’s official position is that its socialist system was chosen by the people and serves them faithfully, and thus there is no humanitarian situation in North Korea. However, the reality is far from that.

North Korean society is strictly controlled by the government – the people are divided into three social classes: “hostile,” “wavering,” and “committed,” depending on how loyal the government feels they are. Those classified as hostile are routinely denied food aid. Media is also controlled by the government, and foreign media is strictly forbidden, so North Koreans have very little of an idea of what is going on in the outside world and what the world thinks of North Korea –which is that it is a Stalinist dictatorship.

The US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea estimates that about 200,000 North Koreans are currently being held as political prisoners in gulags and labor camps, where they are subject to extremely harsh treatment.

Furthermore, the average North Korean lives below the poverty line, and the primary method of feeding the people comes from a heavy reliance on international economic aid/relief work. But overall, accurately assessing the human rights situation in North Korea becomes complicated by the fact that North Korea is so shrouded in secrecy and closed off from much of the rest of the world. The government itself refuses to admit that there is any humanitarian crisis within the country.

In 2004, the US passed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which censured North Korea and offered steps the US should take to promote freedom and democracy. The country has also faced sharp criticism from human rights watch groups such as Amnesty International and the United Nations. However, it has been difficult for foreign nations to do much to intervene other than to send as much aid as possible. Even aid workers are subject to intense scrutiny and have a difficult time entering the country.

Today, while the North Korean government is getting its name out there and creating headlines for its nuclear programs, its people are quietly suffering and in dire need of help and attention from the rest of the world. But plenty of college students are beginning to take notice and say something about it. Many campuswide initiatives to promote awareness of North Korean issues have sprung up around the country, including LiNK (Liberation in North Korea) which has chapters at several dozen universities and distributes information about the human rights violations currently occurring in North Korea.

Awareness of the issues in North Korea among the general American public is still very low – but lots of politically savvy college students are getting the word out and beginning the movement, which is the first step in getting the rest of America to notice. Want to be at the forefront of this movement, learn more, and help raise awareness? You can start by checking out to learn more and be a part of the change. postamble()

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