What could a free man hope to accomplish by crossing without permission into North Korea, to ask its rulers to repent, close the prison camps and free the people? Robert Park, a young American of Korean descent made exactly that crossing on Christmas day, walking from China into North Korea across the frozen Tumen River. There are reports that as he crossed, he called out, ”I came here to proclaim God’s love.”
A manifesto attributed to Park, leader of a Christian group advocating human rights for North Koreans, includes the statement: “All we are asking is for all North Koreans to be free, safe and have life.”
Chances are nil that North Korea’s regime will receive Park in that spirit. North Korea-watcher Joshua Stanton, who includes the full text of the above manifesto on his well-informed One Free Korea blog, worries with good reason that Park will become yet another pawn in the endless extortion rackets and depravities of North Korean “diplomacy.” Park reportedly said before he went in to North Korea that he did not want to be ransomed by the U.S. government. But based on dismal experience — recall Bill Clinton’s Pyongyang trip in August to pick up the detained Laura Ling and Euna Lee – Stanton fears that already “junior and has-been diplomats all along the Eastern Seaboard are imagining themselves escorting Robert Park up the steps of a charter flight at Sunan Airport, having left behind enough ransom aid to run a small concentration camp for years.”
That sounds sadly accurate. And yet… there are powerful reasons why a man who cares deeply about human rights for North Koreans might feel impelled to set out across that frozen river. For years, the monstrous miseries inside North Korea have been known, detailed, attested to before congressional committees, documented by carefully cross-correlated reports, deplored by human rights groups and chronicled by defectors. For a sample, you can browse the atrocities documented by the Washington-based U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea — and if you want to look further, you can amass a large collection of books, movies, news reports and graphic findings about the brutalities North Korea’s government systematically inflicts on its people.