The silence of the international community to the plight of millions of North Koreans facing starvation and severe malnutrition was of deep concern to the members of an ecumenical forum for peace and reunification of the Korean Peninsula, which met last week, 16 to 19 June, in Nanjing, China.
The group, the steering committee of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reconciliation, Reunification and Development in the Korean Peninsula (EFK), called on churches and the ecumenical community to advocate and lobby governments, the United Nations and the European Union to end the current strategy of using food as a political weapon to isolate the North Korean government and cause its downfall.
Despite being the major donors of food aid to North Korea during the severe food crises following the famine of the 1990s, the United States and South Korea have both withdrawn their food aid to North Korea and imposed sanctions in response to North Korea’s policy of developing nuclear weapons and its recent military activities.
There was also concern among the EFK that the lack of the international response to the food crisis in North Korea could threaten peace and security on the peninsula.
“Christians in South Korea are firmly committed to support food aid to our brothers and sisters in the North who are faced with starvation,” said Rev Kim Young Ju, general secretary of the National Council of Churches in Korea (NCCK). “The NCCK will mobilize financial resources to extend more support to the starving people in North Korea”.
Recently the NCCK sent a shipment of 172 tons of food to North Korea with the financial support of the EFK and South Korean churches, despite a South Korean government order prohibiting any civil society and religious organizations from supporting people in North Korea.
The EFK, which is coordinated by the Commission of the Churches on International Affairs (CCIA) of the World Council of Churches (WCC), is composed of representatives from WCC member churches, constituencies and partners from Europe, North America and Asia. It also includes representatives from churches in North and South Korea.
In a statement about the NCCK shipment, the South Korean government criticized the NCCK saying, “it was not right for the church organization to contact the North Koreans and go ahead with the aid shipment without getting South Korean government approval, and the government will take necessary measures.”
“Even though the South Korean government is prohibiting us from sending food aid to North Korea, we will follow only the order of Jesus Christ, who taught us to love our suffering neighbours,” said Ju.
“While some countries and policy makers see a food blockade as an effective tool to discipline ‘recalcitrant countries’, in North Korean it has become a weapon to punish poor and voiceless victims,” said Dr Mathews George Chunakara, CCIA director and chair of the Ecumenical Forum for Peace, Reconciliation and Reunification of the Korean Peninsula.
“Lifting the food blockade will be the best strategy for negotiating towards a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, and confrontation will not be the ultimate solution to bring the DPRK to the negotiating table,” he said.
In a written message, Rev Kang Yong Soap, chairman of the Korean Christian Federation (KCF) of North Korea, expressed appreciation for the efforts of support and solidarity by the ecumenical family members from around the globe through the coordination of the WCC. The letter was shared with the EFK by Ri Jong Ra, director of International Affairs for the KCF.
“The NCC Korea will continue to arrange shipment of food to North Korea, and the South Korean churches are committed to continue their support and solidarity with the suffering North Korean people. This will also be our prophetic witness,” Ju said.
The World Council of Churches promotes Christian unity in faith, witness and service for a just and peaceful world. An ecumenical fellowship of churches founded in 1948, today the WCC brings together 349 Protestant, Orthodox, Anglican and other churches representing more than 560 million Christians in over 110 countries, and works cooperatively with the Roman Catholic Church. The WCC general secretary is Rev Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, from the [Lutheran] Church of Norway.