Social and Pastoral Bulletin_No. 84 Jun. 15, 1998


Shibata Yukinori ( Jesuit Social Center )

Last April 25, about 130 people gathered in Aoyama`s Baisooin Buddhist temple (Tokyo) to hold a day of fasting to provide food assistance to North Korea. This was done in answer to a call from South Korean citizens groups and religious leaders. The same event, namely an international day of fasting for North Korean fellow countrymen, that took place in Tokyo, was also conducted in 97 cities of 36 countries on April 24-25. In Japan, Osaka also held the event with 100 people participating.
Our Jesuit social center which had performed last year a national campaign to ban antipersonnel landmines together with landmine victim, T. Channareth, was invited by member groups of that campaign to become part of the executive committee in the “one-day-fast campaign”. Since we were the smallest member group and with regard to North Korea, we are just amateurs, our participation in the committee was, practically, that of an observer. Here is an account of how the campaign was conducted.
Organization of the Campaign

The origin of the “one-day-fasting campaign” was a fax communique from South Korea. The sender was the South Korean Committee for an International Day of Fasting. The fax, sent on 8 January 1998, read like this: "A day of fast will be conducted on March 27-28 in 70 cities, from around the world, including 25 South Korean cities and 20 American ones. As a result,
  1. - this action will sweep away the impression that South Koreans are negative towards assisting North Koreans
  2. -an international network of assistance to North Korea wll be established
  3. -fund raising can be promoted in South Korea
  4. -the campaign will urge the South Korean government to become positively involved
The members affiliated in the campaign were Catholic, Protestant and Buddhist leaders, Labor Unionists and other power groups involved in democratization activities. It was a full-scale movement.
In North America the Korean community is strong and they were able to start soon the campaign by drawing into it different Christian denominations. The Japanese executive committee got off the ground on February 6 of this year, but at the end of 1997 several NGOs and religious groups had come together to establish a network to provide assistance to North Korea.
At the second meeting of the Executive Committee, held at the end of February, the date of the international fast day was moved to April 25, due to a request from the American committee which demanded that the South Koreans postpone for a month the day of fast in order to prepare themselves better. The organizing Tokyo committee had already 20 different groups, including Koreans living in Japan. They formed a single organization out of religious leaders, NGOs and 3 different Korean groups. The liaison office was established at the National Christian Conference of Japan(NCCJ). The program of the Tokyo public gathering was planned in two stages. Part 1: A panel discussion with representatives of organizations giving assistance to North Korea. Part 2: A music concert.
Expansion of the Campaign

As the preparations were coming to a close during March and April, the International fast-day campaign was getting bigger. The initiator country, South Korea, had fixed a target of collecting money to buy 50,000 tons of maize (worth about 1,300 million yen), and from April on, started a street and telephone public fund-raising national campaign. Representatives of business and South Korean political parties became members of the Executive Committee for the one-day-fast campaign, and the Korean mass media co-sponsored it. The day of the event, financial and political representatives, famous stars and athletes participated in a 6-hour magnificent program which attracted 10,000 people.
Korean communities of North America, Russia, Brazil and many other countries had started the preparations of the campaign which was, finally, co-sponsored by groups of more than 30 countries from all over the world. A characteristic of the campaign was that everywhere Christians, Buddhists and other religions actively participated in its organization. Pope John Paul II himself gave his consent to the campaign, also.
While Tokyo was going ahead with the preparations, it was decided to hold also a public gathering in the city of Osaka.
There, different from the too serious Tokyo program, they decided for lively program with relay speeches, street performance and provisions of corn soup samples.

Tokyo Public Gathering and Future Plans

On April 25, in spite of the rain, 130 people followed with interest the whole 4-hour program. After the opening greetings, a video on the threat of famine in North Korea was shown. The video vividly portrayed scenes of the floods which caused much of the lack of food, patients in North Korean hospitals, the distribution of food and even the exodus of families smuggling into China, because of unbearable famine.
After the video show followed a panel discussion played by Morita Akihiko of Japan Committee for UNICEF, Japan International Volunteer Center`s representative, Kumaoka Michiya, Chung Kapsu, chairman of the organizing committee of One Korea Festival and Sato Kazuaki of Japan`s Office of UN World Food Programme (WFP), The panelists spoke about the situation of famine in North Korea and how to deal with it, under the chairmanship of Miss Shin Sugok.

According to WFP, the shortage of food in North Korea was in the vicinity of 2 million tons by the end of 1997, and the storage of food there will hit the botton by May 1998. The United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF) estimates that, children will be badly affected by diseases and impediments of growth due to low levels of immunity, and although this is a problem that could be solved inexpensively, to let it alone will cause the death of many children. UNICEF has already provided direct assistance to about 5 million children under the age of 12, and by doing that Korean children have somehow escaped from a nightmare health situation, but if one takes an overall view, with the adult population included, things have turned even worst.
To face the situation as it is now, WFP has made an appeal to the international community for 657,972 metric tons of food assistance. Nevertheless, up to last May, only 1/3 could be gathered. Japanese NGOs have visited North Korea bringing food assistance, but the programs meet with difficulties due to cultural and political obstacles. WFP has doubled its international monitoring staff in North Korea to 46 members, and among them there is a liaison officer for contacting NGOs working there. The panelists stressed the need of placing Japanese NGOs staff in North Korea, at least for a few months.

During the question period, following the panel discussions, people put straight questions: “When there is famine in Africa the world reacts immediately, but why do people show little interest in North Korea? Besides food aid are there any other possible ways of assistance? How will assistance to North Korea affect the diplomatic relations with South Korea?” Mr. Chung Kapsu, a Korean living in Japan who holds North Korean citizenship stressed: “The secrecy atmosphere of North Korea obstructs international assistance, and thus there is need to press the North Korean government to be positive in publishing information on the situation of the country.”
With regard to other ways of assistance besides aid food, the panelists were in favor, not only of giving guidance on rural development techniques or on medical cooperation and educational assistance, but they opted for building up public opinion, through the present international campaign and the international NGO Conference which took place in Geneva at the end of May.
Considering the field of diplomatic equilibrium, private humanistic assistance provided freely by NGOs was strongly advised, against the egoistic official assistance linked to national aims and the aid of international bodies obliged to be neutral. NGOs are able to become intermediaries between people, even in cases of tense relationships among different countries.
Korean youth living in Japan performed ethnic music, followed by live enthusiastic music played by the band of Korean musician Pak Poe. The public gathering ended with the adoption of a "Common Message for the International Day of Fast". The main resolutions adopted were:
  1. -appeal for emergency aid
  2. -demands to the North Korean government to give public information on the situation
  1. -promote dialogue between North and South Korean governments
  2. - furtherance of private exchanges between North and South
  3. -continuation of the movement for aid.
These were common resolutions adopted everywhere by the international campaign.
Considering the worries of the executive committee: “the place can only hold 200 persons, but what will happen if more people come?” my frank impression was that, after all, there were not so many participants.
Besides the people who attended related to the sponsoring bodies, I have my doubts about how far, really, the public appeals had reached the ordinary indifferent people. In spite of that, it was a very happy experience to realize that religious bodies and citizens` groups found a common ground for involvement, following last year's campaign to ban land mines. It was a pity that the Catholic presence (our Center and Caritas Japan) was weak, but if the occasion comes again I would like to continue participating.