From 1995 to 1997, famine raged in North Korea. According to a report by North Korea’s Public Security Ministry, up to 3 million lost their lives (source). As this isn’t the most neutral observer, real numbers are probably much higher. (See an older post here about not trusting governments with the job of human rights measurement). Still today, the country is in such a state that it won’t take much for famine to return.
It was Kim Il Sung who used to say, “Communism is rice,” meaning the system would succeed by giving the people enough to eat. The famine was caused by mismanagement and the inability to adapt to the collapse of the Soviet Union and the economic transformation of China.
All that said, Kim Jong Il acted with callous disregard to the suffering of his people. Rather than lose face, the North Koreans denied the food crisis for years and then kept humanitarian aid out of the places it was most needed. The regime executed people who tried to adapt by engaging in private business.
By the way, Kim Jong Il is famous for being one of the biggest foodies in Asia. Throughout the nineteen-eighties and well into the famine, he flew couriers around the world to procure delicacies for his own palate — fresh fish from Tokyo for his sushi, cheese from France, caviar from Uzbekistan and Iran, mangoes and papaya from Thailand. (source, source)
There’s always something absurd about famines in a world where there’s plenty of food, too much even in some areas. But this one was particularly surreal. More on North Korea. More on famine. More absurd human rights violations.