by Christopher Motola, HRNK Research Intern
Just a few days ago, the North Korean regime denied accusations of human rights abuses by the United Nations. In fact, its spokesperson defended North Korea’s human rights record, stating “North Korea guarantees ‘true freedom and rights’ to its people.” Further, North Korea argued that the accusations lacked legitimacy and were a calculated part of a “political maneuver aimed at overthrowing the regime.” Unfortunately for the North Korean government, the irrefutable evidence of abuse by the Kim regime has been well documented. In particular, human rights investigator David Hawk has worked through HRNK for over a decade to shed light on North Korea’s prison camp system through former prisoner testimony and satellite imagery in the Hidden Gulag series.
Although the denial from the regime may be frustrating (yet predictable), the truth is that progress is actually being made. The vociferous response from the regime clearly shows the fear it has regarding the increased focus and evidence of its human rights violations. In order to stay in power, the regime relies on strict and total information control. It is this philosophy that gets their citizens killed or imprisoned for consuming foreign media of any kind, especially from South Korea or the United States. Exposure to outside media or information helps to close the knowledge gap that the regime thrives on to survive. These revelations are, in a way, a lifting of the curtain. When presented with evidence of their atrocities, there is no choice for the regime but complete and total denial. Despite this, it is clear that progress is being made. Through the release of more and more evidence, an extraordinary amount of pressure is inevitably placed on the North Korean government. Slowly but surely, human rights advocates have used information and evidence like this in order to inspire the international community to take action, as well as force North Korea into a smaller and smaller corner. Recently, David Hawk sat down with HRNK to discuss the importance of this very process, stating:
"It is a well-established principle of contemporary international law that those who commit atrocities should be held accountable and should be asked to account for the violations of human rights that are so severe that they are considered to be atrocity crimes. That has to be done primarily through the efforts of other UN Member States. It’s at this point only other governments that can demand from North Korea that North Korea hold accountable those who are responsible. There are institutions and mechanisms for doing this that, as of December of last year, are employed. An overwhelming majority of Member States in the General Assembly passed a resolution requesting the UN Security Council to refer the North Korean human rights situation to the International Criminal Court for its investigation and its prosecution of those who are responsible. It’s the Member States of the UN that have to continue to pressure North Korea to improve its human rights situation and to cease these criminal violations and to bring those who are accountable to justice. We are a long way from that happening, but it’s only since the international community took these measures in 2014 to raise the issue of accountability and obtaining an account of these dreadful ongoing violations that the North Korean regime has responded at all to the concerns of the international community. Prior to this there had been a decade of resolutions at the UN Human Rights Council, there had been a decade of reports by the Special Rapporteur, there had been a decade of resolutions at the General Assembly, and North Korea ignored all of that, all of those resolutions, all of those reports. It’s only when the international community raised the issue of accountability that the North Koreans responded."
Even while the North Korean regime denies its wrongdoing, history has shown us that it is ultimately fighting a losing battle.
HRNK staff members and interns wish to dedicate this program to our colleague Katty Chi. A native of Chile and graduate of the London School of Economics, Katty became a North Korean human rights defender in her early 20s. Katty was chief of international affairs with the North Korea Strategy Center (NKSC) in Seoul from 2010 to 2014 and worked with the Seoul Office of Liberty in North Korea (LiNK) from 2019 to 2020. A remarkable member of our small North Korean human rights community, Katty brought inspiration and good humor to all. Katty passed away in Seoul in May 2020, at the young age of 32. She is survived by her parents and brother living in Chile. With the YPWP series, we endeavor to honor Katty’s life and work.