Reconciling the Human Factor, by Erich Weingartner

[This article, first published on our partner-website 38North on Tuesday, 28 May 2013, is based on presentations given at Glendon College, York University in Toronto in April, and at UCLA, Los Angeles in May. It represents CanKor’s attempt to provide a framework for rational discussion among conflicting policy alternatives aimed at relieving the suffering of North Korean people. CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner has been involved with Korea since 1978, spending half his career working on human rights and the other half dealing with humanitarian assistance. –CanKor]

Understanding the North Korean Human Rights/Humanitarian Divide

Author Erich Weingartner at the UCLA conference on Ending the Korean War (Photo by Kil Sang Yoon)

Author Erich Weingartner at UCLA conference on Ending the Korean War (Photo by Kil Sang Yoon)

With political leaders and the media perpetually focused on the behavior of a young hereditary leader and his nuclear-armed military, does anybody really care what happens to ordinary people in North Korea? There are two major constituencies internationally that do care: the humanitarian community and the human rights community.

When widespread starvation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) became evident in the mid to late 1990s, humanitarian agencies launched a massive and largely successful rescue effort to stem the famine. Human rights organizations have meanwhile played a pivotal role in exposing North Korea’s dismal record of abuses, culminating in the recent appointment by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

Since both claim that their objective is to ease the plight of suffering North Koreans, you might think these communities would be natural allies. But sadly, those working on North Korean human rights do not seem to get along very well with those providing humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. Not only do their goals and methods often contradict each other, their practitioners sometimes engage in verbal battles and mutual recrimination. This conflict is likely to intensify now that the three-member CoI has begun its one-year assignment. Read the rest of this entry »

Advertisements

Has starvation become a foreign diplomacy tool?

[The Oregonian journalist Richard Read speaks to relief managers from Mercy Corps and Samaritan’s Purse, who claim that the Obama administration has abandoned Ronald Reagan’s “hungry-child policy” that separated food aid from politics. Read’s article, reproduced below, first appeared in OregonLive.com on 13 April 2013. –CanKor]

Relief managers from Portland-based Mercy Corps say U.S. let North Koreans starve as retribution for missile launch

By Richard Read, The Oregonian, updated April 13, 2013 at 10:55 PM
A North Korean mother lies with her acutely malnourished son, plagued by sores, at a county hospital in September 2011. (Photo by Jim White, Mercy Corps)

A North Korean mother lies with her acutely malnourished son, plagued by sores, at a county hospital in September 2011. (Photo by Jim White, Mercy Corps)

A 3-year-old girl weighed less than 16 pounds, surviving on saline solution and ground rice. Babies lay passively, too weak to cry. Relief workers saw stunted and wasted children languishing in unheated hospitals amid floods and reduced rations during an unusually harsh winter.

That was two years ago. Portland-based Mercy Corps and four other humanitarian organizations given rare access to North Korea warned: “a catastrophic situation is developing.” After a year of prodding, the U.S. Agency for International Development announced 120,000 metric tons of food for North Korea.

But food never reached hungry Koreans. The Obama administration let political distrust, instead of need, dictate food policy.

Communication and good will broke down, leaving White House officials little to draw on today as Pyongyang ratchets up threats of nuclear attack. Read the rest of this entry »

Feed vulnerable North Koreans say Brookings’ Cohen and Abramowitz

Brookings’ Roberta Cohen and Morton Abramowitz wrote a piece urging the US to increase food aid to North Korea. Although critics contend that increased aid would empower the North Korean regime, Cohen and Abramowitz write that history has shown otherwise. An excerpt below:

The American government has worked hard to be in lockstep with South Korea, but it should not extend that to changing its deeply held values. United States policy should be guided by its own traditions embodied in the doctrine enunciated by Ronald Reagan that hunger knows no politics. This policy served to justify food aid to starving Ethiopians under the thumb of a brutal communist and stridently anti-American regime. At the time, the same arguments against aid for North Korea were put forward, but the humanitarian imperative prevailed and it contributed to the eventual overthrow of Mengistu’s government.

Read the full article on the Brookings site.

%d bloggers like this: