July 17th 2004

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Articles from this issue:

COVER STORY: Indonesian elections ... and Australia

CANBERRA OBSERVED: Latham affair lifts election temperature

AGRICULTURE: Rural unrest spreads

QUARANTINE BREACH: Exotic disease outbreak threatens Qld citrus industry

INDUSTRY: Singapore recovers on back of manufacturing

FAMILY: Child care - in whose interests?

ARTS & MEDIA: 'The next program contains...'

FILM: AFA calls for ban on 'arthouse smut'

MIDDLE EAST: Can Iraq's interim government end the insurgency?

NUCLEAR WEAPONS: Terrorism marks the end of deterrence

UNITED STATES: Curtains on Camelot

STRAWS IN THE WIND: Skimming administrative fat / What about Uganda? / 17 years of war

Premier Beattie's ethanol 'mania' (letter)

Sugar Package (letter)

Mondragon (letter)

Journalists and Iraq (letter)

BOOKS: George Santayana, by Noël O'Sullivan

BOOKS: Tilting the Playing Field, by Jessica Gavora

OPINION: Time to act on North Korean tyranny

Books promotion page

Time to act on North Korean tyranny

by Vaclav Havel

News Weekly, July 17, 2004
Witnesses have exposed Kim Jong-il's evil, but democracies would rather appease than confront, writes Vaclav Havel.

It is 60 years since the world first heard of Rudolf Vrba and Alfred Wetzler's successful escape from Auschwitz, an escape that brought to light accounts of Hitler's extermination camps. The testimony given by Vrba and Wetzler forced representatives of the democratic world to face facts that many did not want to believe even after the end of the war.

Thanks to Vrba, Wetzler and countless other witnesses, the horrors and extent of the Nazi final solution are universally known. Like the Nazi Holocaust, the crimes and brutal reality of Soviet communism were also outlined and understood, thanks to the writings of Arthur Koestler, Jiri Weil and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.


Fortunately, people who use eyewitness testimony in attempts to expose the greatest crimes against humanity can be found in each era and all over the world.

Rithy Panh described the terror of the Khmer Rouge, Kanan Makiya detailed the brutal prisons of Saddam Hussein and Harry Wu has tried to show the perversion of the Laogai system of Chinese forced labour camps.

Today, the testimony of thousands of North Korean refugees, who survived the miserable journey through China to South Korea, tell of the criminal nature of the North Korean dictatorship.

Accounts of repression are supported and verified by modern satellite images, and clearly illustrate that North Korea has a functioning system of concentration camps.

The Kwan-li-so, or the "political penal labour colony", holds as many as 200,000 prisoners who are barely surviving day-to-day or are dying in the same conditions as the millions of prisoners in the Soviet gulag system did in the past.

The northern part of the Korean peninsula is governed by the world's worst totalitarian dictator, who is responsible for the taking of millions of human lives. Kim Jong-il inherited the extensive communist regime following the death of his father Kim Il-sung, and has shamelessly continued to strengthen the cult of personality.

He sustains one of the largest armies in the world, is producing weapons of mass destruction and the centrally planned economy and the state ideology of juche have led the country into famine. The victims of the North Korean regime number in the millions.

Despite the ever-present army and police, tens of thousands of desperate North Koreans have escaped to China. In defiance of international treaties, the Chinese Government does not recognise the status of these people as refugees and Chinese officials have prevented the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees from having access to any North Korean in China. Beijing hunts the refugees in the woods along the border and deports them back to North Korea, where the journey ends in the Kwan-li-so.

All of this is happening right now, and the world is standing idly by.

Some refugees are fortunate enough to make it to South Korea. But their existence in South Korea flies in the face of that country's official "Sunshine Policy", which, however well-intentioned, is based on constant concessions and appeasement.

The policy costs South Korea hundreds of millions of dollars, but it is not helping to reach a solution to the overall problem or saving innocent lives. In the end, the policy only keeps the leader of Pyongyang in power.

Liquidate opponents

Kim Jong-il wants to be respected and feared abroad, and he wants to be recognised as one of the most powerful leaders in today's world. He is willing to let his people die of hunger, and uses famine to liquidate any sign of wavering loyalty to his rule.

Through blackmail Kim receives food and oil, which he distributes among those loyal to him (first in line being the army), while the international community has no way to ascertain who is receiving aid inside North Korea.

Now is the time for the democratic countries of the world - the European Union, the United States, Japan and last but not least South Korea - to unify under a common position.

These countries must make it clear that they will not make concessions to a totalitarian dictator. They must state that respect for basic human rights is an integral part of any future discussions with Pyongyang. Decisiveness, perseverance and negotiations from a position of strength are the only things that Kim Jong-il and those similar to him understand.

It is hoped this is something that the world does not need any more horrifying testimony to realise.

  • Vaclav Havel is the former President of the Czech Republic.

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