Instead of war, offer North Korea an amnesty in exchange for Kim

opinion May 17, 2017 01:00

By Robert Park

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In an April 27 interview, US Secretary of State Rex Tillerson made plain that a denuclearised Korean Peninsula was the Trump administration’s only goal. Tillerson also clarified that Trump isn’t interested in human rights, nor the anguished yearning of millions of Koreans for a reunified peninsula. 



He declared, “We have been very clear as to what our objectives are. And equally clear what our objectives are not. And we do not seek regime change, we do not seek a collapse of the regime, we do not seek an accelerated reunification of the peninsula. We seek a denuclearised Korean Peninsula.”

Unification is a humanitarian imperative – a matter of justice of the gravest and most fundamental urgency. Consider the hundreds of thousands of innocents and child slaves subject to unspeakable brutality, mass atrocities and state-enforced starvation in the North’s prison camps. Or the countless thousands of Korean refugees trafficked for sex in China without legal protection of any kind, and the perils their stateless children are confronted by daily. On top of that, there are the millions of separated families who have for decades been tearfully awaiting a “miracle” of reconciliation.

Moreover, the division of Korea was an international crime. 

“It is hard to think of a more homogeneous national or cultural entity anywhere than the Korean Peninsula; no other has been divided with a more mindless artificiality by purely external powers; in none are communications so utterly ruptured or conflict positions more implacable,” Gregory Henderson noted in “Conflict in World Politics” (1970).

Speaking to State Department staff recently, Tillerson stressed, “Our values around freedom, human dignity, the way people are treated – those are not our policies.” 

As the JoongAng Ilbo daily observed, Tillerson was “suggesting that the US could compromise with states or leaders accused of violating human rights and freedom if they help US national interests”.

The courageous testimony of former North Korean prison camp guard Lim Hye-jin was published recently. She disclosed that guards were “manipulated not to feel any sympathy for prisoners”, although today she knows those routinely tortured, raped and murdered were normal people, and feels profound remorse.

Among the ferociously oppressed were North Korean officials who lost their genocidal leader’s favour. She spoke of two brothers who escaped the camp but were captured and publicly beheaded to stop others starved and enslaved from daring to attempt to leave. “The other prisoners then had to throw stones at them,” she said, recalling being unable to eat for days after witnessing the atrocity.

Lim, who defected 15 years ago after becoming the victim of egregious human rights crimes herself, confessed, “I feel so betrayed by leaders who lied to us. We were told not to see these people as humans. Now I feel traumatised.”

The guards themselves have virtually no freedom of decision, no access to factual information about the world or humanitarian principles and are subjugated by some of the world’s most savage and unfeeling indoctrination methods from birth. They suffer murderous violence themselves if they attempt to resist.

Thus the primary guilt for all crimes against humanity committed in the North lies with the Kim dynasty – the architects and sole beneficiaries of a system where none can claim freedom.

In an April 6 commentary for US News and World Report, Bruce Bennett, a senior defence analyst at the RAND Corporation, outlined five “dead-ends for American diplomacy” alongside an “opportunity worth pursuing” – amnesty for North Korea’s elites and unification.

The “dead-ends” were the common proposals to curb Kim Jong-un’s nuclear weapons programme – sanctions, pressuring China, etc.

The “opportunity worth pursuing” was for Trump to “encourage Seoul to propose favourable terms for Korean reunification ... negotiating a peaceful end to the 60-year-standoff on the peninsula. Most North Korean elites would not face poverty, prison or severe marginalisation along the lines of the disastrous US de-Baathification of Iraq, but rather be promised a generous, East-German-style reunification deal. ... For Trump, proposing a deal that gives the North Korean elite an alternative to its murderous and unstable leader could be the safest and most realistic way to sheath North Korean nuclear weapons and safeguard the American people.”

Such an amnesty would be the “safest” and “most realistic” route not only for the security of the American people but also for the suffering North Koreans. We could dismantle the camps and preserve the lives of political prisoners by making amnesty contingent upon the verifiable freeing of all political prisoners and cessation of human rights violations – side-by-side with the prerequisite opposition to the person of Kim Jong-un.

South Korea and the world should propose amnesty and a fresh start within a reunified Korea. This overture should be conveyed via leaflets throughout North Korea – including over every prison camp – dropped by drones and balloons, proclaimed through radio broadcast, cellphone communications, smuggled literature and media, to North Korean diplomats and “employees” internationally and through every available channel.

Ousting this single creature, Kim Jong-un – against the backdrop of peaceful reunification – would be an appealing outcome for the vast majority within North Korea. It also wouldn’t be as difficult as many may be inclined to believe. – The Korea Herald/ANN

Robert Park is a founding member of the non-partisan Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, and a former prisoner of conscience in North Korea.