[I have known the Ven. Pomnyun for more than a dozen years. We meet infrequently on my trips to Seoul. He is one of the rare people who has made the transition from human rights struggles in South Korea to human rights struggles for the North Korean people. He is also one of the rare examples of a human rights-minded activist who sees human rights as much more than civil and political rights. For Pomnyun and the “Good Friends” organization that he founded, the current price of rice in North Korea’s markets is as important as the current number of prisoners in North Korea’s labour camps. Economic, social and cultural rights occupy a large part of his agenda, which also means that Pomnyun has tirelessly promoted humanitarian assistance to North Korea, despite concerns about monitoring its distribution. Although the information collected by his organization is not always the most reliable, it does provide informal and localized indicators of change, for example in the food supply of villages and counties outside urban areas. We were pleased to see this article about Pomnyun, authored by Choe Sang-Hun, in the New York Times on 27 April 2012, and offer it here for our readers. –EW, CanKor]
South Korean Buddhist monk Venerable Pomnyun in his office at Peace Foundation in Seoul. (Photo by Woohae Cho, The International Herald Tribune)
In August 1996, the Venerable Pomnyun, a Buddhist monk from South Korea, was cruising down the Yalu River between China and North Korea when he saw a boy squatting alone at the North Korean edge of the water. The boy was in rags, his gaunt face covered in dirt.
Pomnyun shouted to him, but the boy did not respond. Pomnyun’s Chinese companion explained that North Korean children were instructed never to beg from foreigners. And when Pomnyun asked if the boat could be steered closer to the child to bring help, he was reminded that they could not enter North Korean territory.
“Never before had I realized the meaning of a border so painfully until that day,” said Pomnyun, 59. “Never before had I felt so acutely that Korea is a divided nation.” Read the rest of this entry »