I myself had hope in 2008 that the Obama administration would have been able to do some good on behalf of the North Korean people. This is in spite of the fact that as Senator of Illinois, Obama had already reneged on an important promise concerning North Korea, and to the heartbreak of one Korean-American family from the small town of Skokie.
The promise was concerning Rev. Kim Dong-shik, a U.S. permanent resident whose wife and two children are U.S. citizens. Mr. Kim was abducted in January 2000 by North Korean agents while assisting North Korean refugees in China, whose brutal and unlawful policy of blanket repatriation for all North Korean refugees found within their borders has led to countless deaths and separated Korean families. Mr. Kim was operating nine shelters for these refugees in Yanji, providing for their material needs and helping defectors come to South Korea, before being forcibly taken to North Korea where he eventually died from the effects of torture and malnutrition suffered during his imprisonment.
Responding to pleas from Rev. Kim’s wife and fellow church members for help, in 2005 then-Senator Obama and other Illinois lawmakers co-signed a letter to North Korea’s UN Mission in which they called Mr. Kim a hero and compared him to Ms. Harriet Tubman, the great abolitionist who established the underground railroard before Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, and Raoul Wallenberg, a Swedish diplomat and humanitarian who rescued tens of thousands of Jews in Nazi-occupied Hungary during the Second World War.
The comparisons then-Senator Obama and his Congressional Delegation drew were accurate: North Korea is a “slave state” that has murdered several million innocents and which runs a concentration camp system where political prisoners, including children, have been systematically starved, tortured, raped, publicly executed, gassed and experimented on. These are crimes against humanity. Genocide occurs on a daily basis in North Korea and, it is true, Mr. Kim was and is a real hero. The question then must be asked how Mr. Obama could so easily change positions on such a pressing matter.
In that same letter, the signatories pledged that they would oppose the removal of the North Korean government from the State Department list of State Sponsors of Terrorism “until such time, among other reasons, as a full accounting is provided to the Kim family regarding the fate of Reverend Kim Dong-shik.” Yet in 2008, when the Bush administration had decided to go forward on an ill-conceived attempt to negotiate a deal with Pyongyang to end its nuclear program, agreeing to the removal of North Korea from the Sponsors of State Terrorism list in exchange for a declaration on its nuclear activities, the Democratic nominee had decided not to “stand in the way of the agreement by focusing on one individual,” according to the Washington Post.
This was a horrible decision, not only from a moral standpoint but also from a strategic one, no doubt. Today, North Korea is the number one proliferator of nuclear weapons technology in the world and, according to an August 16 report from The Institute for Science and International Security, is on course to possess up to 48 nuclear weapons by 2015. Astonishingly, the DPRK has still not been placed back on the State Department list since the Bush administration’s unprincipled and catastrophic mistake.
To date, the Obama administration has not taken any meaningful action to address the humanitarian and human rights emergency in North Korea, focusing instead, like its predecessors, entirely on the security threat, but without any success, having presided over a DPRK nuclear test in 2009 and a ballistic missile test as recent as April of this year.
Precious time has been and continues to be wasted while masses of North Korean innocents toil in hellish conditions, suffer brutality, and die. What is long overdue is for the United States to bring the matter of crimes against humanity and genocide in North Korea before the UN Security Council and, in all bilateral or multilateral discussions and initiatives on North Korea to now prioritize the fundamental freedoms, rights and lives of the North Korean people.
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