Unification minister should focus on North Korean human rights

In 2019, North Korea released a collection of short stories called “Blessed Future.” The book features 17 short stories, all of which praise Kim Jong Un’s achievements. 

Among all the stories, I was particularly drawn to one entitled “Sandra’s Letter.” The story has Kim Jong Un reading a letter that was sent by a child named Eun Ok. She is introduced as a child who gave flowers to Kim Jong Un during the eight competition held by the Korean Children’s Union. The story is set at the Song Do International Camping Centre, and we learn through the letter about the main character’s experience with members of the International Children’s Union from Syria. 

“This place is filled with the Great Leader’s love and it seems that it is not from this earth. What impressed me the most is that a Syrian girl sincerely told me that she wanted to call the Great Leader ‘father’ just as we do,” Eun Ok says in her letter. The Song Do International Camping Centre is portrayed as even more of a paradise than the “Garden of Eden.” In the letter, Eun Ok says that Sandra, the Syrian girl, even boasts about Song Do International Camping Centre and Kim Jong Un in a letter to her parents back in her home country. 

As I was reading the stories in this book and pondering whether children in North Korea live in such a blessed land, I suddenly began to think about the one year anniversary of the Panmunjom Joint Declaration. There has been a lot of self-congratulatory commentary in South Korea about the declaration. But, I have to wonder what the basis is for celebrating “peace in our time” and the elimination of military tensions? Who can even talk about peace on the Korean Peninsula these days? 

The current head of South Korea’s Ministry of Unification was dishonest and abandoned his principles early on his tenure. He sent his children to the US for a better future, but he does not care about the human rights abuse suffered by North Korean children. I expected this from him after watching his servile manner during his confirmation hearing. After becoming the head of the unification ministry, the only thing he has done is to attend all sorts of events and read remarks saying that peace has come to the Korean Peninsula. 

The minister only offered a word of apology for failing to make family reunions happen for Chuseok (Korean Thanksgiving) and did not even offer a word of condolence to Han Sung-ok and her son after their deaths. It is a shame that the minister, with the backing of those in power, only cares about keeping his job and not the more serious issues of human rights. 

In times like this, I think about a former vice-minister at the unification ministry, Lee Bong Jo, who has now passed away. While we were climbing Mt. Kumgang together, he said to me, misty-eyed, that “Many members of the ministry created the path to this place with their tears and sweat.” He made a big impression on me because he did not boast about his contributions and only worked towards the goal of unification. The current minister of unification should take a page from Lee’s book and base his work on firm principles and beliefs focused on human rights.  

Professor Kang’s previous column can be found here.

*Translated by Yongmin Lee

Views expressed in Commentaries do not necessarily reflect those of Daily NK.