Wednesday, December 18, 2013

North South Dilemma in Korea

In Korea as in the West, there is hesitation on how much we should see the negative along with the positive. Seeing the positive is healthy, they say, and the negative not so much. Those who see "the fly in the ointment" are not always seen affectionately, and yet it is necessary at times to see what is there even if it may hurt.  In Korea, there are many who want to help the North because they are our brothers and sisters. But at times those with authority make this difficult. The truth should not be overlooked, however, regardless of troubling circumstances, even if it may not be good for our public and private 'health'.

Writing a series of articles in the Catholic Times on the state of human rights up North, the head of the Database Center of North Korean Human  Rights reports on the three churches in the North: Protestant, Russian Orthodox and Catholic. The Buddhists have a temple that speaks to their cultural history in Korea. The churches, he says, were built by and run by the  government, and they decide who may attend. There are no priests or sisters in the North. There have always been doubts about the sincerity of the Christians attending these Churches, he makes clear.

Refugees who have left the North almost all say there is no religious freedom there. Most say you are punished for practicing your faith when you are found out. He has in his database 1,152 incidents of religious persecution, involving 700 people. Many have been publicly executed, and large numbers are considered political prisoners and kept in concentration camps, punished with a life of hard labor. 

He asks what is the reason the government continues to say there is religious freedom in the North and yet severely punishes those want to practice their faith?  The center has for ten years documented the human rights violations of the North, and can document instances of government deception. 

The silence of the South concerning the cruel treatment of religious believers in the North is hard for the columnist to understand; this includes, he says, religious believers in the South. Though they pray for them and for an improved religious climate, and support humanitarian aid to the North, religious believers here, he regretfully notes, have made no concrete effort to support ending the persecution of religion and the cruel treatment of prisoners in the North, not to mention raising their voices in protest over those who have died as martyrs fighting for religious liberty in the North.

Those suffering because of religious persecution in the North, and those who are in the concentration camps as political prisoners, are waiting for someone to help them. Not only the religious people but all who are threatened with death are waiting for deliverance, he said. He wants the whole world to know the situation up North, so that something can be done about it.

Each year the Center publishes a White Paper. The first White Paper was sponsored by the Bishops Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People. He knows they are not able to free those who are suffering in the North, but they are able to make known to the world the plight of those who are suffering by publicizing the atrocities committed. This is the hope that he has, and he wants the rest of us to participate.

In the global village we live in, we often see this kind of  dilemma. In Korea, the same divisions exist. There are those who do not want to alienate the North by continuing to point out what they are doing, because it will have a negative effect on inter-Korean relations. Though an undeniable fact, what is to be done when others want to make the situation known, hoping it will help relieve the suffering up North? Because both approaches hold out the promise of finally achieving the stated goal, it's difficult to persuade adherents of either approach to support the others position and relinquish their own. 



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