And yet, the horrors continue. And in the corridors of world officialdom — not least in Washington — human rights in North Korea chronically take a backseat to diplomatic deals with Kim Jong Il, feelers toward the Pyongyang regime, and endless schemes for “aid” — billions worth of aid over the years, which has served not to liberate North Korea, but chiefly to employ United Nations and other official aid workers, dish out goodies in fruitless western nuclear haggling, and shore up Kim’s regime.
For private individuals or groups trying either to help North Koreans escape, or bring some measure of freedom to North Korea, the experience is a constant struggle with grief, frustration and despair.
They get arrested in China, rebuffed, harrassed or sidelined in Washington and Seoul. The stories have stacked up over the years — champions of human rights for North Korea trying desperately to make any headway: speaking on the Washington Mall, holding protest posters in the streets of Seoul, doing time in the prisons of China, and trying to send into North Korea not only charity, but the precious gift of information. There have been high-risk campaigns for North Korean refugees to seek help and publicity for their cause by rushing into diplomatic compounds in China, or by approaching the shamefully unhelpful and cloistered offices of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Beijing. There have been cases of incredible courage, such as that of seven North Koreans who in 2003, despite the risk of arrest, tried openly approaching China’s foreign ministry in Beijing to ask for refugee status — and were promptly bundled into security vans and never heard from again (“So, Where is Ms. Cho?”).
What, then, must be done? Robert Park’s Christmas crossing into North Korea can be parsed as rash, foolhardy, or simply crazy. I read it an act of enormous courage, embodying a desperate question: What will it take?