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Date : June 29, 2018
ICNK Conference on Changes in Human Rights of NK

The Problem of North Korean Human Rights in the Peace Era – an obstacle to the Inter-Korean Relations? 

ICNK, Human Rights Watch and 9 other North Korean Human Rights Organizations hold an International Conference about “Advancing the Human Rights Movement and Adapting to Change in North Korea”.

Starting at 9am on May 31st, ICNK, Human Rights Watch and 9 other North Korean Human Rights Organizations hold an International Conference on the issue of “Advancing the Human Rights Movement and Adapting to Change in North Korea” in the International Conference Room of the Seoul Global Center.

The International Conference on Advancing North Korean Human Rights was an opportunity to explore the past, present and future directions of the human rights movement at times of change on the Korean peninsula. It examined the North Korean Human Rights Movement beginning in the late 1990s and the possible options under current events in order to improve the actual human rights situation in North Korea. Therefore, the Conference faced the questions whether the North Korean Human Rights Movement will become a stumbling block for the normalization of North Korea in the midst of normalizing diplomatic relations on the Korean peninsula; and whether the North Korean human rights movement will be an obstacle to the denuclearization process and the establishment of a peace regime in North Korea.

The keynote speech was given by Kim Yong-hwan, director of the Group for the Future, who talked about whether Kim Jong-un is committed to economic development through reform and opening after the denuclearization and it’s background. He concluded, that despite wishes for economic development and reform, North Korea will not give up nuclear weapons, as it is its only national security strategy.

Thereafter, the Conference was divided into three sessions. The first session, moderated by Park Hyeong Jung, Senior Research Fellow at KINU, dealt with ‘Changes in North Korea’. The speakers on the podium included Lee Sang Yong, Editor in chief of Daily NK; David Hawk, Senior advisor of HRNK; Benedict Rogers, East Asia Team Leader of Christian Solidarity Worldwide; Kim Seok Hyang, Professor of North Korean Studies at Ewha Womans University; and Ishimaru Jiro, Director of the Osaka Office of Asia Press. 

David Hawk, author of "The Hidden Gulag", explained the impact of pressures on international human rights through international mechanisms based on the experience of international human rights activities of the United Nations in the past 20 years. Benedict Rogers stated the changes within North Korea in the past years but underlined the importance of seeing the continued oppression of the right of freedom of thought, conscience, religion and belief. Thus, it is important to “go on making ‘noise and fuss’ about North Korea’s crimes against humanity”. Professor Kim Seok Hyang stated, the change of the role of women, as they take control of the household finances through the markets, but the perception of the patriarchal hierarchy has not necessarily changed. Ishimaru Jiro talked about the technological opportunities in our current IT age. 

In the Second Session, speakers discussed about ‘Reinvention and Continuation of the Human Rights Movement’, moderated by Lee Won Woong, Professor at the Catholic Kwandong University. Speakers on the podium included Kwon Eun Kyoung, Secretary General of ICNK; Nicolai Sprekels, Co-Chair of Saram; Lee Kwang Baek, President of the Unifications Media Group and Daily NK; and Hubert Younghwan Lee, Executive Direcotr of TJWG. 

ICNK's director Kwon Eun-kyoung talked about the challenges and opportunities for human rights in North Korea. She stated, that pressuring North Korea on human rights issues through international organizations bring positive results, as the changed behavior of North Korean authorities after the CoI show. Nicolai Sprekels talked about the opportunities of European states and the importance of informing politicians and the civil society, as well as the incorporating human rights issues in diplomatic dialogues. Lee Kwang Baek proposed several policy suggestions to improve the human rights situation at current times, such as bringing the North Korean human rights cases to the International Criminal Tribunal and bringing in the human rights issues in inter-Korean talks. Hubert Younghwan Lee stressed the issue of documenting human rights violations within North Korea and the current options to do so. 

The third and last session dealt with ‘Current North Korean human rights movement and next steps’, discussed by Cho Jung Hyun, Professor at the School of Law at Hankuk University of Foreign Studies; Hong Jin Pyo, Former Standing Member of NHRC of Korea; Shon Kwang Joo, Former Chairman of the Hana Foundation; and Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Asia Division, Human Rights Watch. 

Professor Cho Hyeon-hyun assessed the inter-Korean and US-North Korea dialogues and the importance of bringing in the human rights issues despite trade-offs. Sohn Kwang Joo emphasized the importance of politicians, media and securing funds. Hong Jin Pyo and Phil Robertson underlined the continued importance of human rights movement for the improvement of human rights in North Korea.