Public Eye Turning Away from North Korea’s Abuses

Translated From a Recent Issue of the LFNKR Newsletter

Tragedy Awaits Withdrawal from Activities for Human Rights in North Korea

By Ken Kato — ICNK Affiliate-Director, Human Rights in Asia


Milgram’s Experiment

TO~ everyone dedicated to maintaining human rights activities for the North Korean people:

It is extremely difficult to measure the effects of our philanthropic endeavors in addition to the number of people affected by the withdrawal of human rights activists.

A brief look into Yale University psychologist Stanley Milgram’s famous 1963 psychological experiment provides valuable insight. Volunteers were recruited and told that they were participating in a “study of memory.” The volunteers were told they would be a “teacher” and made to believe that they were in charge of administering increasingly intense electric shocks each time a “learner” subject gave a wrong answer. This was carried out under the command of an authoritative figure. At a certain level of electric shock, the learner subject began to cry out in pain, begging them to stop, and the cries became louder with each rise in voltage. (The “learner” subject and authoritative figure were both actors. No real electric shock was administered to any of the “learners.”)

Prior to the actual experiment, it was originally hypothesized that nearly all of the volunteers would stop giving electric shocks sometime before reaching the maximum shock voltage. Actual results, however, revealed that more than 60% of the participants continued on, eventually administering what they believed was the maximum voltage. This study demonstrates that, under the command of an authority figure, ordinary people can seemingly become “agents in a terribly destructive process.” (Milgram, 1974, “The Perils of Obedience”) The subjects/volunteers, in this case, were American.

The Power and Influence of Human Rights Groups

The other day, I had the opportunity to listen in on a talk hosted by social psychologist Prof. Mori Tsutako. A follow-up experiment (comprised of a control group and an experimental group) revisited the original Milgram study, but the conditions were adjusted somewhat, and this new experiment yielded highly thought-provoking results. The control group was led through the same exact Milgram experiment, with the same exact conditions. In this group, 65 percent of the participants (26 people out of 40) administered the final massive electric shock. Under the adjusted conditions for the experimental group, where an additional person was allowed to directly raise objections to the subjects administering electric shocks, none of the original volunteers were able to go all the way to the maximum electric shock.

Such objective data illustrates the effectiveness of our role as a charity and NGO. It is obvious that there will be a positive impact when we raise our voices in protest against North Korea’s oppressive dictatorship.

The new study demonstrates that when no outside voice intervenes, there is no mediating influence to moderate the extreme treatment of citizens without power. Similarly, in the case of those volunteering to help North Korea, putting limits upon outside efforts to mitigate harsh living conditions in North Korea could prove disastrous for the lives of tens of thousands of North Koreans.

The Consequences of Abandoning North Korea

While our activities as a nonprofit do not technically fall under the jurisdiction of a government agency, we bear direct responsibility for all the effects of our work.

It goes without saying that none of us has even the slightest intention of diminishing our efforts nor our focus on North Korea. Speaking hypothetically, if we were to completely halt all protest regarding crimes against humanity in North Korea (for any reason), we would bear not only the responsibility for potentially tens of thousands of civilian deaths, but also the burden of sending the wrong moral message to future generations. We would hope that in the future, when our descendants learn about our commitment and resolve under the COI to resolve the crisis in North Korea, they will be justifiably proud of what we have done. For these reasons, the mere idea of halting our activities on behalf of the North Korean people is unthinkable.

Public Awareness of Crimes against Humanity by North Korea

Following World War Two, criticisms were raised against the United States’ decision to refrain from bombing the railroad tracks leading to Auschwitz and other concentration camps. To urge the establishment of COI (UN Commission of Inquiry on human rights in DPRK), the pro bono counsel for ICNK, Jared Genser refers to this phenomenon specifically in his article “Ignoring North Korea’s Gulags”, posted in the January 20, 2013 edition of the Washington Post. Such sentiment has become commonplace throughout America, and has come to symbolize an important factor in peoples’ attitudes towards atrocities against humanity.

The 1944 Red Cross delegation visit to the Nazi concentration camp of Terezin (in what is now the Czech Republic) has been the subject of both public ridicule and harsh criticism. Prior to allowing the filming, the Nazis took extraordinary efforts to beautify the camp and to stage elaborate cultural and social events. It was, of course, a complete hoax aimed towards projecting a completely false image of the concentration camp to the public. A short segment on the issue was broadcast recently on BBC. A Jewish man, directed by the Nazis to deliberately act cheerful on camera, was immediately afterwards sent to his death in the gas chambers. The Red Cross, however, cannot be blamed for filming such fabricated scenes. At the time there was a complete absence of public awareness of the Jewish genocide being carried out in the camps. Further, this was before modern resources such as satellite imagery, COI public reports, media broadcasts, United Nations assemblies, and gas chamber survivors.

This is not the case, however, for North Korea. Thanks to today’s technological advantages and frequent media reports via CNN and BBC, the world is well aware of the grim situation happening within North Korean borders. Relinquishing the quest for freedom in North Korea equates to supporting a dictatorship with no regard whatsoever for fundamental human rights – a message that we, at all costs, must avoid sending.