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The Olympic Spotlight is on Korea, So Why Are the North Korean People Forgotten?
North Korea’s people are missing from the story when it comes to the Olympic Games in PyeongChang. They are the most oppressed people in the world, but it’s striking how irrelevant they seem given the lack of media coverage on their plight.
Understandably, North and South Korea fielding a unified team generates intrigue; it stirs hope for easing tensions on the Korean peninsula. There’s also been an inexplicable inclination by some media outlets to elevate Kim Jong-Un’s sister to a pop culture icon. It’s odd though, with Korea under the Olympic spotlight the Kim regime’s gross human rights abuses attract relatively less attention.
Most of us would question someone for omitting Nazi death camps from any discussion of the Third Reich. Yet, the Kim Regime’s comparable crimes against humanity as documented by the United Nations and most recently the International Bar Association remain an afterthought in our discourse.
As my colleague Lindsay Lloyd noted in The Diplomat, the Olympics should be an “unmatched platform to champion human rights.” Sadly, North Koreans aren’t benefitting from that platform. As a people who can’t advocate for themselves (as they’d face torture, imprisonment, or death), they need the free world to raise their profile in the global consciousness and find ways to offer support.
The George W. Bush Institute has studied the intersection of North Korean human rights and U.S. national security. An unmistakable takeaway has been how the regime’s treatment of its people impacts Americans and our allies.
Foremost, a nuclear-armed North Korea threatens the safety of every American; recall how the recent missile scare in Hawaii brought to life the terror of a nuclear strike on our homeland. Did you know the Kim regime exports its own people as slave labor to fund its illicit weapons program? Their suffering generates revenue for a nuclear arsenal that poses a clear and present danger to Americans.
There’s also a sense of community we share with North Korean refugees who’ve come to the United States in search of better lives. Nationally, they are our neighbors and become productive members of American society like Susie Seo in Indiana, Grace Jo in Virginia, or Justin Seo in New York.
Moreover, this growing community represents another avenue for transforming North Korean society and making the world safer. Refugees empower family back in North Korea by sending them money and information directly. This enhances North Koreans’ ability to engage in their country’s underground markets and pursue individual interests.
So whether it be the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang or just another day of the week, don’t let the North Korean people be forgotten. Their basic human rights and our security are linked more closely than you might realize.
Christopher Walsh serves as Senior Program Manager for the Human Freedom and Women's Initiative at the George W. Bush Institute. In this role, Christopher manages communications, evaluation, and public policy research projects that advance freedom and democracy in the world. He also develops and implements efforts to make the Bush Institute a welcoming place for today’s generation of dissidents and democracy advocates, overseeing visits for training, inspiration, and insight.
Prior to joining the Bush Institute, Christopher worked with the International Republican Institute in Washington, D.C. As IRI’s program officer for Central and Eastern Europe, he coordinated political party building and civic advocacy programs in the Balkans and Turkey.
A native of Cape Cod, Massachusetts, Christopher is a graduate of American University with a B.A. in International Studies. He currently lives in Dallas with his wife and three young children.Full Bio
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