Probably never, if you live in a western democratic country. You don’t meet North Korean refugees for the simple reason that there are hardly any among us. Most North Koreans who try to flee Kim Jong Il’s despotic realm never even make it through China — which in violation of its UN treaty obligations refuses to recognize any of them as refugees. The relatively few who have made it out have been largely shunted to South Korea, where Seoul’s “sunshine” policy of appeasing North Korea means that defectors from the North tend to be stifled or co-opted into silence about the horrors back home. So, unlike countries such as China or Iran, where bad as things are, there is at least an outspoken dissident diaspora, there are very few North Koreans in a position to tell the world firsthand and in detail about the hunger, labor camps, and brutal state security with which Kim Jong Il holds sway. Instead, it is officials of the North Korean regime who enjoy a place on the world stage — issuing threats and demands, occupying a member seat on the UN Disarmament Conference, strutting on the UN General Assembly stage, pocketing aid meant for hungry people, and dining in comfort in places such as Beijing and Geneva.
There are, however, a small number of intrepid souls who continue to delve into the atrocious realities inside North Korea, bringing defectors to speak in Washington, forming groups concerned with the utter lack of human rights inside North Korea, and in some cases helping North Koreans to escape via the Underground Railroad that for years has been doing the work the UN High Commissioner for Refugees is supposed to be doing — but won’t. Among those who have tried to spread the word is a young American, Edward Kim, who in 2001, as a student then in his 20s, working with a laptop and a couple of unpaid assistants, started a web site called Chosun Journal. At the time, there were few consolidated sources of information on the atrocities inside North Korea. Kim’s web site was a valuable resource (here, for instance, is his 2003 deck of cards on the North Korean leadership), all the more so for the sweet sense he displayed in asking questions such as why anti-war protesters do not turn out in equal numbers to protest genocide in North Korea — where state repression, still killing people there today, led to the deaths in the late 1990s of an estimated one to two million people. (Disclosure: Some of my own articles about North Korea have been posted on the Chosun Journal site).
About two years ago, Edward Kim had to take a break. The good news today is that he is back. Chosun Journal has just become active again, with a message worth reading. This is a good resource in the fight to explain that the only real solution to North Korea’s money-counterfeiting, missile-peddling, nuclear-testing escapades is not to dignify Kim Jong Il with “talks,” but to get rid of his regime. To that end, an avenue still miserably under-used amid all the complicated diplomatic debate is to support and amplify the truth, that in the mingled interests of both security and humanity, Kim Jong Il has got to go.