Libertas is a student organization of North Korean human rights in Korea University (KU). Its members include all kinds of students–North Korean students, South Korean students, and foreign students. Libertas engages in several projects together with these different members of KU to create practical change for North Korea and North Korean defectors.
Libertas, the KU student organization of North Korean human rights, was founded in 2012 by Jung Young-Ji (’08, Law), its first president, and several other students. They were motivated to start this organization because they believed that the human rights of North Koreans must be protected, and they thought they should achieve it by basing their actions on North Korean human rights laws that were passed in South Korea and America.
Today’s Libertas, while keeping to the basic mindsets of those who started the organization, has undergone some changes. In the past, Libertas more resembled an academic society, focusing on gaining information about North Korea. The current Libertas feels that, as they gained enough theoretical knowledge, it is time they participate in practical activities in order to produce actual results; thus, they proclaim themselves as more of a school club than an academic society.
To Have Everyone Live Freely
As one could guess from its name, Libertas takes “living freely” as their vision; the phrase holds three interpretations. The first is the most obvious–to free the North Koreans oppressed by Kim Jong-un. The subject of “living freely” can also be North Korean defectors who, even after settling in South Korea, suffer many difficulties in their everyday lives. Prejudice stemming from cultural differences is common and they are not free from discrimination. “Living freely” in this case is freeing the North Koreans who live in South Korea from such problems. The subject of the last interpretation expands to include Libertas members and Korean citizens in general–they must be freed from the prejudices and wrong information they have about North Korea.
Libertas holds that there exists an important stepping stone, a mission, which must be achieved in order to reach their vision in all three ways. “The mission of Libertas is to have everyone participate in making a difference,” said Jang Minho (’11, Political Science and International Relations), the current president of Libertas. That is to say, the North Korean students, the South Korean students, and foreign students must come together to create change.
The events and activities that Libertas holds are all important and enjoyable steps that lead to accomplishing their goals. Libertas usually hosts a fundraiser in the first semester and a photo exhibition in the second. The fundraiser is a means to support North Korean defectors, as the money from the fundraiser is donated to alternative schools for North Korean students who live in South Korea. Schools are not the only things Libertas offers a helping hand to–it also makes donations to support the rescuing of North Korean refugees. The photo exhibition selects a different theme every year; usually the themes are associated with the cruel reality of North Korean lives and North Korean defectors’ integration into Korean society.
▲ Jang Minho, current president of Libertas. Photographed by Kim Jeong Ho.
Libertas actively seeks to create change by taking matters into their own hands. Last semester, the members of Libertas completed several projects; one of their most important projects was the one in which Libertas worked with North Korearelated non-governmental organizations (NGO). The members of Libertas had a chance to interview those who worked in the NGOs and learn realistic details of what actually happens in the field. “When we only engage in activities within the boundaries of the school, we might have a fancy cause and a great slogan, but we have only a limited idea of what’s really happening in North Korea,” said Jang. “We wanted to overcome such limitations–that is why we were interested in collaborating with NGOs. We needed to hear voices from those who were in action.”
From the projects that Libertas has accomplished, it can be seen that it is not merely just a group that merely discusses theories. It is an organization that, based on its years as an academic society, is making a difference in reality.
▲ Volunteer work at the National Cemetery. Provided by Liberatas.
An Important Request
As of this moment, there are many students from North Korea that are having a strenuous time coping with university life. “Many North Korean students do not eagerly engage in social events within their college departments because they feel uncomfortable with the attention and the curiosity they get from their peers due to their cultural differences,” explained Jang. Thus, it is difficult for them to have access to the information they need for a proper school life.
Libertas wishes to actively help the North Korean students of KU, but it is unable to offer specific aid unless North Korean students seek them out. Refusing to let this obstacle stand, Libertas “requested several times that the schools at least notify the North Korean students of Libertas,” according to Jang. The students would need to know that the organization can provide assistance in adjusting and coping with university life. Jang emphasized that foreign students are already receiving help from Korean University Buddy Assistance (KUBA) and Korean University International Student Assistance (KUISA). As for helping North Korean students, “the school refused all of our requests,” he stated.
Libertas finds this response from KU very problematic. North Korean students are no different from students of foreign countries–they have every right to receive help and have a satisfying school life. They hope that, in the near future, the school will recognize their motives and support them in their plans.
Libertas is an organization that is irreplaceable in KU, as they provide necessary assistance to North Korean students. However, that is not the only activity that it focuses on. From the first few years when it was more of an academic society, Libertas perceived the importance of gaining correct information on North Korea. Based on that knowledge, the members are now creating changes one step at a time by engaging in practical activities that can actually benefit both the defectors and those who remain in North Korea. Libertas' actions and activities show how dedicated its members are to the cause— their steadfast support in the face of the school's objection only emphasizes this. With such dedication, Libertas will surely make their goals into a reality.
(South Korean Students) The first two weeks of a semester