Countless North Koreans are starving to death now, while the international community focuses on a potential nuclear threat that may be decades removed.
When North Korea launched its nuclear test last October, the world took a collective gasp while waiting to hear what was already known -- that the tests, while troublesome under a Communist regime thumbing its nose at the authority of the U.N. Security Council, could invoke little serious pain. Except to Korea's own citizens.
Atrocities being committed by North Korea's government upon its own people are outlined in a report commissioned by former Czech President Vaclav Havel, former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Elie Wiesel. The report finds that:
The North Korean government imposes a classification system upon its people and implements a discriminatory food policy. Those categorized as "hostile" are denied food and other necessities such as medical care or education.
North Korea has allowed as many as 1 million people to die during the country's current famine. More than 37 percent of children are chronically malnourished.
North Korea runs a vast system of political prison camps, imprisoning upwards of 200,000 people without due process. Reasons for imprisonment can include singing a South Korean pop song. Political prisoners are subjected to brutal work regimens, starvation-level rations and torture or execution. Four hundred thousand people have died over the past 30 years. What is more, a system of "guilt by association" permits the imprisonment of family members, including grandparents and children of a presumed offender, without warning.
As author Jared Genser said, this is a level of depravity that demands response. But North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il has decoupled the nuclear and humanitarian issues, making clear he will do as he pleases, regardless of the consequences.
The report recommends that the Security Council urge North Korea's leaders to grant access throughout the country to humanitarian organizations, release all political prisoners and allow visits by the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights. The major push for that should come from regional and more directly affected powers, primarily China.
But it's a position that also should be supported by the New York congressional delegation, and the international community should take action on a parallel track to seek ways to intervene in an isolated but major humanitarian disaster.