Newswise — Movies and television shows are often blamed for exacerbating society’s evils, but in the case of North Korea, programming that depicts life outside the oppressive regime is a good thing for the North Korean people and Kim Jong-un knows it, said Andrew Natsios, a Texas A&M University professor and co-chair of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea.
Natsios, an executive professor at the Bush School of Government & Public Service and director of the Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs, testified before Congress on the current state of the impoverished nation, including the regime’s desperate attempts to maintain control as Western culture continues to penetrate, opening the eyes of North Koreans to the realities of their oppression.
Headlines about North Korea’s authoritarian leader surged when trailers for the new Seth Rogan/James Franco movie “The Interview,” a comedy poking fun at the regime, began circulating, drawing the leader’s ire and threats of war.
The blow to his ego notwithstanding, Natsios said movies that poke holes in the leader’s mythical façade as well as portrayals of life outside North Korea, such as South Korean soap operas, are indispensable to those fighting to free North Koreans from the iron grip of the Kim family.
He told Congress in June that the widespread use of cell phones, radio broadcasts from South Korea and the U.S., and South Korean soap operas, all of which are illegal in North Korea, are nevertheless widely available. “These soap operas indirectly describe middle class life in South Korea which is in stark contrast to the oppressive, impoverished lives lived by most North Koreans,” Natsios told Congress.
He went on to call North Korea “the most repressive, most brutal, and most severe violator of human rights in the world,” blaming the government of crimes against its own people including the shielding of Pyongyang (city of government headquarters) from a massive famine that claimed the lives of 2.5 million people in the mid-90s.
The Committee on Human Rights in North Korea undertakes in-depth research by experts and publishes carefully documented reports on human rights in North Korea, said Natsios, who co-chairs the committee with Roberta Cohen, now retired, formerly of the Brookings Institution, a non-profit public policy organization based in Washington, D.C.
In addition to external infiltration through media and information technology, Natsios said the Kim regime is showing other signs of cracks in its totalitarian control including the North Korean peoples’ growing willingness to protest, the collapse of the public food distribution system in favor of a limited free market system, and increasingly, stories of defectors detailing the horrors of life inside the country.
Natsios noted the vital role the U.S. Congress has had and can continue to play in pushing for human rights in North Korea. He said legislation such as the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004 (H.R. 4011), which made North Koreans eligible for political asylum in the U.S. and established the office of the Special Envoy to specialize in improving human rights in North Korea, was a vital step in the process. The act, originally signed by President George W. Bush, was reauthorized in August 2012, signed by President Obama, and included revisions urging China to stop repatriating North Koreans back to their country.
“The Congress observed that the number of North Korean refugees resettling in the U.S. has increased since the adoption of the act…,” Natsios told Congress. He reports that the U.S. has resettled 128 North Koreans since passage of the 2004 act.
Natsios added that Congress is in the process of enacting the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013 (H.R. 1771), which outlines specific measures to impose critical sanctions on the North Korean government because of its human rights violations, while ensuring that the measure would not harm the North Korean people by reducing humanitarian assistance programs. “This act will be the first time the U.S. government actually took action to impose sanctions for human rights violations in the DPRK, as until now the U.S. government has not gone beyond the public condemnation of North Korea’s crimes against its own people,” Natsios reported.
He urged the U.S. government to continue to press China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors, to raise the issue of human rights abuses in every forum available and with any direct talks with the North Korean government and to support UN Security Council efforts to take action against the North Korean government. He also encouraged the Congress to press for the shutdown of the North Korean political prison campus and the release of prisoners; failing that he pressed for regular inspection of the camps by the International Committee of the Red Cross or another international body.
He also laid out 10 policies he said would reduce the diversion or manipulation by North Korean authorities of food aid for their own political purposes. Among the policies, Natsios recommended no food aid be distributed through the Public Distribution System; rice – the preferred food – should not be distributed because it invites diversion by the elites (maize and bulgar wheat should be distributed instead); food aid should be delivered in small amounts to the eastern ports as the west coast ports are the most food secure; and food aid should be targeted at unemployed factory workers and miners and their families who are destitute and to any group the nutritional surveys show to be food insecure and malnourished.
To read Natsios’ full Congressional testimony, go to http://www.hrnk.org/events/congressional-hearings-view.php?id=10.
Go to http://foreignaffairs.house.gov/hearing/subcommittee-briefing-and-hearing-human-rights-abuses-and-crimes-against-humanity-north to view video of the hearings.
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