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Title: Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea: Civil Society and Government in South Korea
Authors: Kim, Jiweon
Advisors: Katz, Stanley
Department: Woodrow Wilson School
Class Year: 2015
Abstract: In February 2014, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on North Korean human rights concluded in its report that the North Korean regime has been committing systematic and atrocious human rights abuses against its own citizens, including crimes against humanity, on a scale unparalleled in the contemporary world. Given South Korea’s unique but inseparable relationship with the North, many had expected the South Korean government to be at the forefront of mobilizing the international community to advocate for the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea. However, the extreme politicization of any topic related to the rogue state has stalled the government from putting together a coherent policy framework for addressing the crisis. Largely due to the international pressure created by civil society, the two bickering political parties have recently begun to show unprecedented willingness to negotiate a compromise bill on North Korean human rights that has been held up in the National Assembly for over fifteen years. This thesis explores the role that South Korean civil society has played in pushing the government to become more committed to improving the human rights crisis in North Korea. My research and interviews with leaders of Korean civil society organizations have revealed that the constriction of debate on North Korea within the domestic sphere and the underdevelopment of participatory mechanisms in the Korean political system have prevented Korean civil society from pushing the government to take a firm stance on the human rights situation in North Korea. Instead, civil society sought to make the human rights issue a priority on the international agenda, believing that such attention would put pressure on the South Korean government to act. By painstakingly collecting and documenting verifiable information, civil society organizations were able to shed light on the severity of the situation in North Korea and make historical strides at the United Nations. The culmination of decades of civil society’s behind-the-scenes work came last year with the release of the COI report on the North Korean human rights crisis. Considered to be a breakthrough in the international community’s efforts to improve the human rights situation in North Korea, the COI report has helped to raise global awareness of an issue that has been hidden in the shadow of discussions of North Korea’s nuclear weapons program. More importantly, the North Korean regime’s unusual engagement with and presence at the United Nations as well as the South Korean National Assembly’s renewal of discussions over its long-stalled bills regarding North Korean human rights confirm that the COI report has had a significant impact on both countries. Despite its significance, however, it is important to remember that the report, as well as civil society’s efforts to bring international attention to the human rights crisis, will prove meaningless if this momentum is not carried forward. At the same time, it is critical that the international community be realistic in their expectations of the future, since it is impossible to predict the precise pathway or timeline for bringing about tangible improvements in a country like North Korea.
Extent: 95 pages
Type of Material: Princeton University Senior Theses
Language: en_US
Appears in Collections:Woodrow Wilson School, 1929-2017

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