What can I do to help the situation in North Korea?
February 18, 2014 1:45 PM   Subscribe

The U.N. yesterday released a report detailing its findings on (the lack of) human rights in North Korea. Needless to say, they are horrific and appalling. Can we do anything about it?

Full report can be found here.

I haven't read the whole thing, I am seeing the headlines and news articles that have sprung up as a result, and can't bring myself to read the worst parts, they are so awful... It was this link that really hit me hard, I guess because pictures can be more powerful than words (yes, sorry it's a Gawker link). What can I do to help those in North Korea who are being tortured, raped, murdered, purposely starved to death? It seems like the world is watching this happen but useless at putting an end to it. Is there *anything* to be done, on an individual and group level? I'm in the US, if that makes any difference.
posted by hummingbird to Law & Government (12 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
An easy answer would be to support Amnesty International and similar human rights NGOs.

A more complex answer depends to a large extent on how you feel about the effectiveness of sanctions and to what extent you're willing to support aid donations that are often used to prop up the ruling government. For instance charities like Mercy Corps, to name one that's had some media buzz in the past, bring aid to N. Korea but because of the tight control the North Korea government exercises over the country they basically lose control of what is done with the aid supplies once they are off-loaded at the dock in N. Korea. The government is able to dole out that aid as it sees fit. It's a similar ethical quandry to what existed in pre-2003 Iraq under the US embargo - do you give something, hoping it helps but knowing that it props up an authoritarian government or do you support sanctions in the hope that depriving the government of support will ultimately weaken it? If you think Sanctions could be effective then lobby your congressperson to support harsher sanctions against N. Korea.

(If you're interested in learning more about sanctions one place to start is the reasonably lay-person accessible introduction to Gary Hufbauer's textbook on the subject. PDF here)
posted by Wretch729 at 2:10 PM on February 18, 2014

It's been pretty clear for a while that any "aid" making it into the DPRK is basically used by the regime to reward loyalty.

Being that the only thing keeping the regime in power is support by China, that may be a more productive avenue, albeit not much of one: they've already disavowed the UN report and are incredibly resistant to external pressure. If you (somehow) managed to get a large American company (say, Apple or Microsoft) to pull production from Chinese factories in protest, that might work, but it would be a hell of an accomplishment.
posted by Oktober at 2:21 PM on February 18, 2014 [2 favorites]

Sorry, there isn't a damned thing you can do about it.

Life sucks sometimes. And it really sucks badly for the people of North Korea. The problem is that anything that destabilizes the regime there leads to war, in which not only the people of North Korea, but also South Korea, China, probably Japan, and definitely the US, would also suffer greatly.

Are you willing to sacrifice a million dead (including 30-50 thousand Americans) in a new Korean War in order to bring about change? I assume not. Short of that, there isn't anything that will alter the situation.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 2:57 PM on February 18, 2014

I'm not sure as an American what I can do. There are some aid agencies that help North Koreans who've escaped the country, I think pretty much all operating in South Korea. What I have done is try to learn more about North Korea, read the few books that are out and follow the news. And speak up when yet another "hurf durf North Korea is hilarious" discussion breaks out to remind people what a horror show it really is there.

Here's a few links I have for ongoing North Korean news coverage. Some of these sites may have opportunities for you to get involved, or at least places to donate some money. NK News, North Korea tech, North Korea economy watch.
posted by Nelson at 3:36 PM on February 18, 2014 [1 favorite]

North Korea gets much of its foreign currency from drug trafficking. If you occasionally (or even regularly) consume illicit substances and you don't know where they originate, you could perhaps consider that your consumption is helping prop up the regime, and make decisions accordingly.

If you believe that opening up the country to capitalism is likely to change the behaviour of the regime, you may wish to buy products that are maufactured on one of the special economic zones. You'll have to do some digging to find out where the products manufactured there end up. Conversely, if you believe that starving North Korea of foreign currency will hasten the end of the regime, you may wish to not support any company that manufactures in that zone.
posted by girlgenius at 7:06 PM on February 18, 2014

Depending on your religious beliefs you may want to pray for the people there.
posted by lharmon at 7:18 PM on February 18, 2014

I have a friend who helped sponsor a North Korean refugee. I'll ask him what organization he went through. (Commenting now so I remember to follow up.)
posted by Jacqueline at 12:04 AM on February 19, 2014

Wow, he got back to me quick. Here's how he sponsored a refugee:

Apparently the refugees have already escaped to China, but are in hiding and at high risk for being deported back to North Korea. It costs the organization about ~$2500 per refugee to get them out of China and resettled somewhere safe.

I don't know anything about the organization so I can't attest to their efficacy except to say that my friend is a pretty savvy guy and thus I assumed he checked them out first. But you should do your own research as well, of course.
posted by Jacqueline at 12:13 AM on February 19, 2014 [4 favorites]

In response to Oktober's comment, and the general feeling that aid is hopeless, here's a 2011 article "A case for humanitarian aid to North Korea." In the extended interview, a Mercy Corps program director challenges the paranoia and political assumptions that aid is useless. Mercy Corps has been working in NK since the famine (1996) and would be a good choice for people wanting to support humanitarian efforts.
We were told by some South Korean political leaders, “We don’t doubt that you can get the food to the people, but even once they get the food, then the North Koreans come and take it away, and they don’t get to eat it. We’ve heard reports that the army will come and take the food away.”

My colleagues said, “You want us to watch all the people who eat it?” And they said, “Yes, we do.”

I said, “Hold on a minute.” We know that they eat the food because we are able to visibly see the difference in children in these orphanages, children’s homes and schools where the food is distributed, because children who get enough food have enough energy to play.
There's also a collaboration between Stanford University and North Korea focused on finding a solution for multi-drug-resistant Tuberculosis. (found via)

I'm hesitant to recommend LINK (the sponsor a refugee group mentioned above) because I'm uncomfortable with their war hawk associations, but don't actually have knowledge of their operations to say anything.

Helping the people currently imprisoned in the camps, however, is very unlikely. If you are interested, I could come up with some nonprofits working within South Korea on refugee issues (mostly resettlement/adjustment issues), but most of the refugees were not political prisoners who suffered the extremes of repression, but rather starving people who had seen how households who traded across the river with the Chinese and Korean Chinese could prosper.
posted by spamandkimchi at 2:11 AM on February 19, 2014

I donate monthly to Link because I met the founder and like their low-key approach to getting people out in practical and effective means. I could not find when I started donating to them about 5-6 years ago, and last year when I looked again, another organisation doing the same kind of work that wasn't religious. I would very much like to donate to a religious group that is working on the underground railway directly inside North Korea, but my understanding is that they have funding and that publicity from public fundraising is not helpful.

I looked into an organisation helping the North Korean women trafficked into China, but for legal/political reasons, there is no straightforward way for someone outside of China to assist them as they a) don't exist on paper and b) organisations working with them have to be discreet.

Buying the books of North Koreans who have escaped and sharing them with friends and family is something important to do.
posted by viggorlijah at 2:50 AM on February 19, 2014 [1 favorite]

This editorial in the WSJ ends with a series of suggestions for things that should be done.

And none of the would make the least bit of difference.
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 12:32 PM on February 19, 2014

...none of THEM would make...
posted by Chocolate Pickle at 1:31 PM on February 19, 2014

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