North Korean defector calls on Europe for help | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 14.01.2013
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North Korean defector calls on Europe for help

UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay has called for a 'long overdue' investigation into North Korea's rights situation, the improvement of which defector Kim Joo Il says can only happen with Europe's help.

The North Korean regime rules through fear, oppression, control of food supplies, an institutionalized system of labor camps, total control of the media and an education and social system that requires utter obedience and loyalty to the leader. Failure to adhere to rules laid down by Kim Il Sung after he was put into power in the northern half of the peninsula by the Soviet Union at the end of World War II means execution or a more lingering death in a gulag for the perpetrator and his or her immediate family.

In 2005, the injustice of the system and the barbarity inflicted upon the ordinary people by a government that can afford to develop nuclear weapons yet declines to put a stop to malnutrition and starvation was too much for Kim Joo Il.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Un claps his hands as he attends a national memorial service on the eve of the anniversary of Kim Jong Il's death in Pyongyang, North Korea (AP Photo/Kyodo News)

Navi Pillay says little has changed since Kim Jong Un became leader a year ago

Kim was a captain in the North Korean People's Army when he swam across the heavily patrolled Duman River one night in 2005 and escaped into China, where he earned sufficient money working in a restaurant to fund the rest of his journey and arrived in the UK in 2007. After settling in London, he started a campaign to enlist the support of European nations to bring about the downfall of the world's only hereditary communist state responsible for the deaths of millions of his countrymen and to replace it with a genuine democracy.

Kim, 39, has testified before the British Parliament about human rights abuses in his homeland and has recently completed a 12,000-word report, to be released soon by the Parliament Street think-tank, on how Europe should assist the starving and repressed people of North Korea.

The power of Europe speaking with one voice on the issue of human rights abuses, Kim believes, could prove to be the catalyst to major changes in North Korea.

Recommendations for change

In the conclusion to his study, Kim has laid out what he believes are four key recommendations that could help bring about regime change in North Korea and prepare its people for an entirely new way of life.

"The UK and other European countries must actively lead an international initiative to expose the reality of human rights violations, persuade the regime to address these problems and plant the seeds of democracy in North Korea," Kim says.

More Europeans are aware of the human rights situation in Burma, where there are around 2,000 political prisoners, he points out. In comparison, there are as many as 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea.

Kim's second proposal is for aid policies to be related to progress in human rights in North Korea and that it be completely transparent.

"Although the international community has provided aid to North Korea for more than 15 years, residents of North Korea are still starving while being continuously brainwashed about the dictators," he said. "The current aid mechanism will only extend the term of the current dictatorial regime while not improving the lives of the people.

"The international bias of humanitarianism ignores human rights violations that are threatening the lives of the people in the entire nation."

A video grab from KCNA shows the Unha-3 (Milky Way 3) rocket launching at the North Korea's West Sea Satellite Launch Site, December 13, 2012. (Photo: REUTERS KCNA)

Pyongyang has been criticized for investing in military technology while North Koreans starve

And Kim believes this must come from Europe as the US, South Korea and Japan are considered "enemy states" by Pyongyang.

"If the UK and other European countries made these requests, North Korea would consider them differently," he said.

Concept of freedom

A third measure to be taken in parallel would be to promote the concept of freedom of the people of North Korea by getting information into the country, through radio broadcasts and written news, but, more importantly, in the form of information on computer discs and flash drives that are more easy to smuggle into the country.

"The feelings and reactions of North Korean citizens when they receive these news releases are also important," Kim said. "Ordinary North Korean citizens will disapprove of the news sent through the US, South Korea or Japan, no matter how accurate and truthful it may be.

"This is because they have been indoctrinated against these countries all their lives, believing only what the government tells them," he said. "If the news arrives through British or European media, it is more likely to be accepted."

Kim's final proposal is for the states of Europe to nurture the future leaders of a free North Korea, drawn from the ranks of defectors.

"Special curriculums, such as 'leadership in bringing democracy to North Korea,' must be devised to include teachings on politics, economy, culture, religion and diplomacy," he said. "In addition, the UK and European countries should help North Korean defectors build more permanent organizations for the democratization of the country. They have experienced democracy themselves, and should be able to lead the way forward to democratize the country."

Kim's manifesto for change has been broadly welcomed by analysts monitoring changes in North Korea, although Marcus Noland, a senior fellow at the Washington-based Peterson Institute for International Economics, fears that North Korea may simply be too far away from Europe to become an immediate priority.

Europe's strategic interest

"I have my doubts that Europe will ever have the strategic interest in North Korea that the US and the Asians do," Noland, the joint author with Stephan Haggard of "Famine in North Korea," told DW. "Whatever Europe does, it should coordinate with others.

"One thing that Haggard and I found is that the North Koreans were adept at seeking aid from new sources as it dried up from others," he said. "There was one period when things were tense with the US and others, and Europe filled the gap, meaning the overall level of assistance did not decline."

Noland also agrees on the need to train future leaders of a post-Kim North Korea, and proposed a possible tactic in another book, "Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea."

Kim Joo-Il (Photo: DW/Berning)

Kim is confident Europe can play a leading role in pressuring Pyongyang to change its ways

"A country like Norway, for example, could train refugees, while its neighbor Sweden engaged with the regime," he suggests. "There is a tendency within governments to not do anything that might offend the North Koreans for fear of putting engagement at risk.

"A good cop-bad cop strategy would turn the tables on the North Koreans," he said. "Instead of them playing foreign governments off each other, the foreign governments would cooperatively play distinct roles."

Kim remains confident that Europe, which has the second-highest number of North Korean refugees in the world, will be able to play the key role in improving human rights and bringing democracy to his homeland.

"North Korean refugees who live in the UK hope to see a welfare system and democracy, similar to that they have witnessed in the UK, in North Korea one day," he said. "North Korean refugees in the UK can play a crucial mediating role to promote democracy in North Korea as they have not only found safety but have been taught the value of democracy.

"However there will only ever be change if the countries of the world recommend it."

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