TOKYO, Japan — North Korea has been the target of much criticism by the United States and other countries for its nuclear program and aggressive behavior against South Korea. The North Korean population is now faced with a serious food shortage. Its people are starving. And I believe it is our duty to help.
I have visited North Korea a number of times, and will be returning there in May on a mission to distribute food, medications and medical equipment. My commitment to extending a helping hand to the North Koreans is grounded in my experience as a journalist in the Far East, first as a correspondent for Newsweek and then Fortune magazine, and in my current role as publisher of The Cambodia Daily.
Following a trip to North Korea in the mid-'90s to see firsthand the devastation and hunger caused by massive flooding, I arranged to donate tons of rice, medications and clothing. I have created a website (www.northkorea.org), which explains my continuing efforts to provide humanitarian assistance to the people in North Korea. I have posted stories from The Washington Post and BBC describing efforts of the world community to provide food aid and the view of critics who say Pyongyang spends most of what little hard currency it earns maintaining a million-strong army and developing nuclear weapons and missiles instead of feeding its millions of malnourished people. Consequently, the regime's appeals for massive food aid have gone largely unanswered by a skeptical international community.
For example, only 30 percent of a United Nations food-aid target for North Korea has been met. The United States and South Korea, the two biggest donors before sanctions were imposed against North Korea in 2010, have said they won't resume aid until they are satisfied the military-led Communist regime won't continue to divert the aid for its own uses and until progress is made on disarmament talks.
The recent announcement by Kim Jong Un’s government that it would suspend its nuclear weapons tests and uranium enrichment and allow international inspectors to monitor nuclear activities has opened the possibility that the United States would, in exchange, ship tons of food aid to North Korea.
In this new environment of hope, my planned return to North Korea in May has taken on a greater purpose. I believe the citizens of North Korea should not be made to suffer because the policies of their government give preference to paying for national defense at the expense of feeding its people.
My passion for helping others emerged during my life in Cambodia, where I founded and became chairman of American Assistance for Cambodia, a non-profit organization that gave hope to the Cambodian people following the extermination of 2 million Cambodians during the Khmer Rouge regime. I know from this experience that the generosity of people around the world can make an enormous difference.
I am an American citizen who respects the laws of the land in which I was raised. Still, I am compelled to say that our shared humanitarian instincts require action to provide aid to North Korean citizens in the face of any obstacles posed by the laws of the United States or South Korea. To me, the choice is to follow the purpose of a higher law that calls for humanitarian assistance. I hope you will join me in this cause.
Bernard Krisher, a veteran foreign correspondent, is publisher of The Cambodia Daily in Phnom Penh and is chairman of World Assistance for Cambodia. Information about his campaign to help feed North Koreans can be found at www.northkorea.org.