"North Korea is truly the most repressive regime in the world, bar none." - Stephen Solarz
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Articles by Board Members, Fellows and Staff

Human Rights in North Korea: Addressing the Challenges

Roberta Cohen, HRNK Co-Chair
Dec 31, 2013

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An international response to North Korea’s egregious human rights record has begun to take shape. Building on the work of NGOs and UN human rights experts, the United Nations Human Rights Council in 2013 set up a Commission of Inquiry to investigate whether North Korea’s systematic, widespread and grave violations constitute crimes against humanity for which DPRK officials could be held accountable. Although the COI was denied access to North Korea, this article argues that its findings and report are based on persuasive evidence and can have impact if a broad range of actors — governments, international organizations, NGOs and civil society — are mobilized. The author puts forward an array of strategies to more fully engage the world community and argues that the proactive carrying out of such initiatives may work to promote human rights in North Korea.

Key Words: North Korea, Human Rights, Humanitarian, United Nations, Commission of Inquiry

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

A Voice from the North Korean Gulag

Carl Gershman
Apr 01, 2013

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“The message of this searing camp memoir, and of everything else that we have come to know about the North Korean dictatorship, is that there is no greater evil in the world today,” writes NED President Carl Gershman in his review essay of Blaine Harden’s Escape from Camp 14: One Man’s Remarkable Odyssey from North Korea to Freedom in the West.

The article will appear in the April issue of the Journal of Democracy.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny

Roberta Cohen, HRNK Co-Chair
Mar 21, 2013

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On March 21, 2013 the United Nations Human Rights Council, a body of 47 states, adopted by consensus a resolution to establish a commission of inquiry (COI) into North Korea’s “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights.”[1] The commission is to be composed of three experts who will intensively investigate for a period of one year the human rights violations perpetrated by North Korea’s government with a view to ensuring “full accountability, in particular where these violations may amount to crimes against humanity” [emphasis added].

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Milken Review

Marcus Noland and Stephan Haggard
Jan 01, 2013

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The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

[세계초대석] 美 NGO 북한인권위원회 그레그 스칼라튜 사무총장

박희준
Dec 18, 2012

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한국 새정부, 北 열악한 인권상황 대북정책에 포함시켜야”
The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

North Korean Human Rights and Korea’s “Global Destiny”

Greg Scarlatoiu
Dec 18, 2012

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Regardless of the outcome of the upcoming December 19 presidential elections in South Korea, there will likely be changes in Seoul’s approach to North Korea. Since the shooting of South Korean tourist Park Wang-ja at Mount Kumgang in July 2008, inter-Korean exchanges have subsided, and inter-Korean tensions have been further exacerbated by the sinking of the ROKS Cheonan on March 26, 2010, the shelling of Yeonpyeong Island by North Korean artillery on November 23 of the same year, North Korea’s dispatching agents to assassinate North Korean defectors including the late Hwang Jang-yeop and “balloon launch activist” Park Sang-hak or high-ranking South Korean officials such as Defense Minister Kim Kwan-jin, and North Korea’s long-range missile tests. Undoubtedly, the thawing of inter-Korean relations would depend, first and foremost, on an attitudinal change on the part of the Kim Jong-un regime, which appears keen, however, on continuing the development of its long-range missile and nuclear capabilities.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

North Koreans in China in Need of International Protection

Roberta Cohen
Dec 05, 2012

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In the face of continuing persecution of North Koreans who are forcibly returned to their country of origin by China, the international community needs to reconsider how it might better work towards securing protection for North Koreans. Some may be political refugees, others ‘refugees sur place’; they may not have been refugees when they left their country but become refugees because they have a valid fear of persecution upon return.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Exporting North Korean Gulag Must Not Be Permitted at Future Olympics

Katrina Lantos Swett
Aug 20, 2012

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After 17 amazing days, the London Olympics are over. For millions of people around the world who were transfixed by this unique celebration of sport and the human spirit, the afterglow of these inspiring days of competition will linger for many days to come. What stays with us are the unforgettable personal stories of courage, hope, and endurance; indeed, with the Olympics, it is often as much about the stories as the competition. However, we would do well to realize that one of the most telling stories of these Games is one we were not permitted to hear at all. Namely, the hidden, suppressed, and undeniably grim story of the athletes of North Korea.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

North Korea, Human Rights and Chen Guangcheng

Roberta Cohen, HRNK Co-Chair of the Board
May 16, 2012

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The bold escape from house arrest of Chinese human rights dissident Chen Guangcheng captured world attention and became a principal item on the US-China agenda. Is there anything to be learned from this experience for dealing with human rights in North Korea?

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

Kangsong Taeguk and Political Succession: Problems and Prospects

Greg Scarlatoiu
May 15, 2012

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To celebrate the 100th anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday, the North Korean regime announced its goal of achieving “Kangsong Taeguk,” a “powerful and prosperous state,” by April 15, 2012.  After the death of Kim Jong-il on December 17, 2011, the North Korean regime confirmed his son, Kim Jong-un, as leader of the country. North Korea’s 2012 New Year editorial mentioned the term “Kangsong Taeguk“ only five times, while mention of Songun, North Korea’s “military first policy,” introduced by Kim Jong-il, was used fourteen.  This article explores the meaning and likelihood of North Korea’s achieving its declared goal of achieving a “powerful and prosperous state,” under circumstances defined by a highly unpredictable hereditary transmission of power.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).
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The views expressed in these articles are those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK).

In Illicit: North Korea’s Evolving Operations to Earn Hard Curre­­ncy, Sheena Chestnut Greitens provides a detailed and thoroughly researched account of the role of illicit activities in the North Korean economy. A central conclusion of Chestnut Greitens’ analysis is that in the context of eroding state control over the licit aspects of the economy, illicit activities are also being “privatized” by North Korea’s elite.  As HRNK Co-chair and for

David Hawk interprets reports of changes in North Korea's political prison camps in his most recent report, North Korea's Hidden Gulag: Interpreting Reports of Changes in the Prison Camps. Please view the press release here. 

The newest version of Coercion, Control, Surveillance, and Punishment: An Examination of the North Korea Police State by Ken Gause, updated on May 24, 2013. 

North Korea's Camp No. 25
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Feb 25, 2013

For this report, DigitalGlobe Analytics examined eleven images collected from 2003 to 2013 of the North Korean political prison facility known as Camp 25 (a.k.a. Kwan-liso No. 25, Political Prison Facility No. 25, No. 25 Chongjin Political Concentration Camp, Susŏng Correctional Center) in Susŏng-dong, Ch’ŏngjin-si, Hamgyŏng-bukto, on the northeast coast of the nation. In this analysis, imagery was compared to identify changes in the organization of the camp, including variations in:

North Korea's Camp No. 22 - Update
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Dec 11, 2012

As a follow-up to the October 2012 joint HRNK- DigitalGlobe imagery analysis of North Korea’s Camp 22 (Kwan-li-so No. 22, Korean People’s Security Guard Unit 2209), DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center was asked to assist in identifying reported activity in and around Camp 22 in Hamgyŏng-bukto. More specifically, the Analysis Center was to examine: The outer perimeter fence, guard towers and guard positions to determine if some, or all, have been razed. The

North Korea's Camp No. 22
HRNK & DigitalGlobe, Inc.
Oct 24, 2012

During late September 2012, the North Korean activist community began reporting that the notorious political penal labor facility Camp 22 had been closed in early 2012. On October 1, 2012, in response to these reports and in partnership with the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, DigitalGlobe’s Analysis Center initiated an imagery analysis of Camp 22.

The North Korean government assigns a “songbun” status to every citizen at birth based on the perceived political loyalty of his or her family going back generations. While a small, politically loyal class in North Korea is entitled to extensive privileges, the vast majority of citizens are relegated to a permanent lower status and then discriminated against for reasons they cannot control or change.

The Hidden Gulag Second Edition
David Hawk
Apr 10, 2012

Based on extensive interviews with over 60 defectors and more than 40 satellite photos of North Korean political prisoner camps, the report calls for the dismantlement of the vast North Korean gulag system in which 150,000 to 200,000 are incarcerated.

Taken!
Yoshi Yamamoto
Nov 30, 2011

TAKEN! provides an in-depth and comprehensive history and analysis of North Korea’s state-sponsored policy of abducting citizens of other countries. This criminal enterprise dates back to the earliest days of the regime, and to policy decisions made by Kim II-sung himself. Those abducted came from widely diverse backgrounds, numerous nationalities, both genders, and all ages, and were taken from placs as far away as London, Copenhagen, Zagreb, Beirut, Hong Kong, and China, in addition to Japan.

This report calls the world’s attention to the suffering of North Korean women who have become the victims of trafficking and forced marriages after escaping their country to seek a new life in China. Seventy-seven interviews with North Korean women living in China yield 52 personal accounts--life stories of women who leave their home country for survival and safety only to be purchased by Chinese men who abuse and exploit them in China. In spite of finding places to live, North Korean women ent

North Korea after Kim Jong-il: Can We Hope for Better Human Rights Protection?
Kim Kwang Jin, HRNK Non-Resident Fellow
Dec 31, 1969

North Korea today is in a state of power transition that could lead to new dangers, instability, and uncertainty.  This was not the case during the first succession.  Kim Jong-Il had been carefully groomed by his father to succeed him.  The process had gone on for twenty years and was directed by Kim Il-Sung himself. In North Korea, all political power derives from Kim Il-Sung’s reign.  At the present, North Korea refers to itself as “Kim Il-Sung’s nati

After Kim Jong II: Can We Hope for Better Human Rights Protection?
Kim Kwang Jin, HRNK Non-Resident Fellow
Dec 31, 1969

This report is part of HRNK’s “Occasional Papers,” expressing a viewpoint not necessarily representative of the Committee or its Board of Directors. Rather, this paper is written from the viewpoint of a courageous man who has seen the North Korean system from within and has participated in the workings of that system. The author knows how outcomes are produced in North Korea and which individuals are critical to the political process. Kim Kwang-jin provides an overview of the North K

This report is a sequel to the previous report, “Failure to Protect: A Call for the UN Security Council to Act in North Korea” (2006), which called for the UN Security Council to take action. The report identifies concerns with respect to human rights in North Korea. While North Korea has opened up to some international aid, their food policy and inequitable social classification system (“Songbun”) prevents large segments of the population from ever receiving food provided by i

Legal Strategies for Protecting Human Rights in North Korea
Skadden, Arps, Slate, Meagher & Flom LLP
Dec 31, 1969

For over sixty years, the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea has engaged in the systematic, flagrant violation of nearly every human right recognized and protected by international law. This handbook describes the options available to human rights non-governmental organizations (NGOs) seeking to pursue international legal action against North Korea. The international legal system offers a variety of avenues for action, which NGOs can pursue. This report explores such legal avenues, linking NG

Czech Republic President Havel, Norwegian Prime Minister Bondevik, and Nobel Peace Prize Laurate and Boston University Professor Elie Wiesel commissioned the global law firm DLA Piper LLP to work with the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, because they believed that the security threat posed by North Korea has relegated the human rights concerns in the country to a second-class status. With the unanimous adoption by the UN Security Council of the doctrine that each state has a “resp

The North Korean Refugee Crisis: Human Rights and International Response
Stephan Haggard and Marcus Noland
Dec 31, 1969

Concentration on the strategic problem in the national security context is clearly warranted, yet there is another, growing dimension to the North Korean problem that poses a grave challenge: the plight of ordinary North Koreans who are denied even the most basic human rights, and those who risk their lives to escape the world’s worst nightmare, the tyranny of the Kim Jong-il regime. In this report, six experts – Stephen Haggard, Marcus Noland, Yoonok Chang, Joshua Kurlantzick, Jana Mason,