North Korea, Human Rights and Liberation

North Korea, Human Rights and Liberation

Soldiers stand guard in the Demilitarized Zone between North and South Korea (Photo by David Eerdmans, Wikimedia Commons)

Stories out of North Korea tell the tale of an oppressive, Stalinist regime. It is not only a danger to our world, but to its own citizens. Is there hope for North Korea?

It was Monday, June 13, 2005, when 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington opened its doors to an unusual guest: A gaunt Korean man, Kang Chol-hwan, was ushered in for an unexpected audience with President George W. Bush.

Mr. Kang was the author of a then little-known book titled The Aquariums of Pyongyang, in which he detailed the circumstances of his and his family’s detention in one of North Korea’s brutal internment and concentration camps. The book explains the circumstances that led to the detention of three generations of a Korean family that returned from Japan to North Korea, only to suffer the miserable and dehumanizing conditions that characterize the North Korean camps. The book had been on Mr. Bush’s reading list that summer and reportedly moved him greatly.

Brief history of North Korea

North Korea, with a population of nearly 25 million, is still technically at war with its capitalist counterpart in the South. The bloody Korean War ended in 1953 with an armistice, but no peace treaty.

From that point forward, the two Koreas developed very differently. The North morphed into the last remaining Stalinist state, while the South moved rapidly toward a Western-style, two-party, capitalist democracy.

For a while, it almost seemed that the North’s communist-style command economy was thriving. Through the 1960s, it seemed to keep up with, or even outdo, that of the South. Yet all that collapsed dramatically in the early 1990s with the implosion of the Soviet Union and consequent loss of economic support. Factories closed; poverty spread; food ran out; and famines took the lives of between 2.5 and 3.7 million North Koreans. Worse still, those who dared breathe a word of criticism against the ruling Kim dynasty usually ended up in one of the many internment camps dotted around the country.

The dark reality of life in North Korea

The DPRK (Democratic People’s Republic of Korea) officially denies the existence of the camps, but they are now well documented. In fact, recently the head of the United Nations Human Rights Council on North Korea, Michael Kirby, described the stories of abuse and torture as “very distressing and you have to just distance yourself from it so that you don’t allow emotion to contaminate your assessments and judgment.”

Another book published recently provides more information about the abuses perpetrated in the camps. Escape From Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey From North Korea to Freedom in the West, by Blaine Harden, details the life of Shin Dong-hyuk, who is believed to be the only person born in a North Korean concentration camp to escape from North Korea. The book is horrific, describing forced abortions, severe hunger, torture, unspeakable abuse, sudden executions, inhuman living conditions and early death for the unfortunates in these camps. Estimates of the numbers interned in the camps vary, but some suggest there could be as many as 200,000 suffering in what is surely the worst human rights abuse in the world today.

Sadly, the assumption of power by Kim Jong Eun, the grandson of the founder of the Kim dynasty, has done little to end the suffering of the North Korean people who don’t live in the camps. The country allows nearly no freedoms, while a network of informers continues to watch and report on those deemed disloyal. Radio sets may only tune into North Korean propaganda radio. And famine still stalks the land, with ordinary citizens desperate for adequate nutrition. Prisoners in the camps reportedly survive on rats, worms, frogs and anything that moves. Even then, life expectancy in the camps normally doesn’t exceed 50.

The conditions in North Korea are just a part of the “beginning of sorrows” that Jesus Christ spoke about in the Olivet Prophecy (Matthew 24:8). Students of Bible prophecy know that conditions around the world will get much worse.

Hope for the people of North Korea

In spite of all this misery, there is hope. Sooner or later, the people of North Korea will be emancipated! The bleakness and suffering of life in this 21st-century totalitarian holdout will ultimately end. No, there’s no certainty that somehow that misery will end by human political initiative; but end it will.

Some day—soon!—the suffering of North Korea, along with all other human rights abuses, will come to an end. Not by political action, but by divine intervention! Jesus Christ will return to earth, put an end to the abuses, and usher in a time of peace and beauty that is beyond our imagination. The Bible describes a world that will be in stark contrast to present conditions in North Korea: “They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore. But everyone shall sit under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid; for the mouth of the LORD of hosts has spoken” (Micah 4:3-4).

And that is very good news. For the suffering and imprisoned North Korean people—and for the whole world!

About the Author

Ralph Levy

Ralph Levy

Ralph Levy is a native of London, England, and now a naturalized citizen of the United States. He works primarily as a professor of theology at Foundation Institute, Center for Biblical Education, in Texas. Foundation Institute is the educational institution of the Church of God, a Worldwide Association.

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