What Can Korean-Americans Do About Human Rights Issues in North Korea?

Shin Dong-hyuk is a 29-year old Korean male making the activist rounds across the world. His message: raising awareness about North Korean gulags. His edge? He was born into one. And lived there his entire life – until he escaped in 2005 – a lifetime in a North Korean prison.

I first heard this story on NPR, in an interview with Blaine Harden, co-author of Shin’s memoirs, Escape From Camp 14. It was heart-wrenching to listen to. From that brief excerpt I got the general arc of the story; from the beginnings of his life in the camp, the constant, non-stop hunger that saw his mother as competition for food, the culture of snitching that led to Shin tipping off the authorities that would lead to his mother and brother’s executions – right in front of him… to his fateful encounter with the political dissident that introduced him to a larger world outside of the camp – a world that was round, not flat; a world that didn’t reward snitching and punish your relatives to the third generation; a world of cooked food and roasted meats – that would drive Shin to do the unthinkable – escape. He was driven by his stomach.

So it came to me as a surprise when, after a few days of hearing this broadcast, I received a package in the mail addressed to me at the (Korean-American) church where I serve as senior pastor of the English-speaking congregation. I opened it and found a hardcover copy of the book sent to me directly from Penguin publishing group:

Now, other than read it, what did Penguin expect me to do with the book personally, in response to what I would be reading here? Just because I am a distant cousin to less-than-fortunate North Koreans, a Korean-American community leader, no doubt discovered via google or directory search, what could I possibly do effectively about North Korean gulag-prison camps?

I read the book.

and in the end I have my opinions – not about the book itself, which was finely reported – but about the state of North Korea and its human rights abuses. Their blood is my blood, and I reflect on those things here. But do tell me if you can – what can we – Korean-American churchgoers – possibly do to address, curtail human-rights issues in North Korea?

Published by Wayne Park

Asian-American clergyman thinking about issues of faith, place, race and culture-making in the vast city of Houston, TX

8 thoughts on “What Can Korean-Americans Do About Human Rights Issues in North Korea?

  1. Let me give the softball overly simplistic answer: pray.

    Overly simplistic, but important. I suppose they are hoping that as a community leader you would be a political advocate and shine a light on the abuses?

  2. yes. we pray — advocating at the highest level possible.

    we educate and make ourselves aware; the awareness informing our prayers and leading to advocacy.

    some of us then echo isaiah — here i am… send me — and get as close as we can.

    and we keep praying.

  3. Hi wayne, I have thought a lot about this as well. This situation just devastates me.. Have you read Michael Kim’s book? (escaping north korea). We support LiNK which I think is involved in pretty great work. I think advocating for the north korean adoption act is also pretty important.
    … One of the things I’ve been thinking about lately is how can we as non-politicians actively engage injustices around us.. injustices well outside of our immediate communities. It is challenging and I’d love to continue to hear other people’s ideas as to how to respond. Obviously we are all feeling the HS move in our hearts in regards to this horrible awful unthinkable situation in NK, and it’s comforting to me to see other christians wrestling with these same struggles.

    1. hey Steph – long time no see!
      yeah; I watched Seoul Train for the first time the other night; once again that same feeling of crippling. Not much I feel I can do on the larger scale of geopolitics. Yes, prayer continues, but the feeling lingers.

  4. I got this book today and read a bit tonight. It is so heartbreaking. Particularly convicting was the part where they said – how could we in the west who could see in such great detail, the camps from google earth… not do anything!! (my inaccurate paraphrasing.. very badly written paraphrasing, even for an attorney)…
    this feeling is there for a reason.

  5. i just finished the book. i thought it was interesting that blaine brought up the issue of south korean’s seeming & general indifference to the situation. (yes, a very broad and unfair generalization but true in many situations nonetheless) I think that is a starting point for kor-ams to address and begin to rectify the situation in NK. I have been really surprised by family members’ non-reaction and indifference to this issue.. it just doesn’t feel relevant to many of them. very sad, but that is a place to start.

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