CanKor Megaphone: Meet Seongmin Lee, HanVoice’s First Pioneer!

MegaphoneIN THE INTEREST OF FULL DISCLOSURE: As many of you may know, I have been involved with North KoreaHV_Ignite_Poster_Image-1n human rights issues with an organization called HanVoice (www.hanvoice.ca), which I helped found in 2007. Since then, HanVoice has grown into the largest non-profit in Canada dedicated to North Korean human rights issues.

When it comes to North Korean refugees, one of the key areas of need that we have identified is leadership. This is especially true for the North Korean community in South Korea, where most of these refugees ultimately settle. Despite more than a fifteen year presence within South Korea, very few North Koreans have emerged as leaders of their own community.

With a first-of-its-kind program designed to address these challenges, HanVoice is pleased to announce the launch of the HanVoice Pioneers Project. Inviting a bright future leader to Canada, this program is designed to impart upon this candidate the tools necessary to speak on behalf of the North Korean refugee community worldwide. This will include not only learning English, but taking advocacy classes and “walking the halls of power” by interning at a Member of Parliament’s office. Read the rest of this entry »

North Koreans in Toronto: The NGO Predicament

It is no secret for anyone living in Toronto that persons of North Korean descent are living in Canada, and that most of them end up settling in Toronto. Also, for anyone who has devoted any effort to North Korean issues in Toronto, it is obvious after only a bit of time that most, if not all of them, have spent some considerable time in South Korea. You don’t have to notice that the first thing that many North Koreans do is obtain a smartphone, or that they stop needing your assistance after two weeks in Canada, or that the clothing they choose to wear is remarkably South Korean. Some will simply openly tell you that they came from South Korea and chose to live in Toronto.

Unfortunately, that is not the story they tell the Canadian immigration authorities. Doing so would spell doom to a refugee claim, which all North Koreans lodge upon entering the country. Rather, the typical North Korean refugee claim starts in North Korea and goes straight through China to Canada, omitting the South Korean leg of the journey. This is for obvious reason. Being honest and upfront about coming through a country that welcomes North Korean refugees with lavish subsidies would lead to an outright dismissal of their refugee claim.

There is a further wrinkle now that a lie has been told: the laws surrounding misrepresentation. If found to have misrepresented themselves to the government under the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act, the claimant would then find themselves unable to enter Canada for two years, with legislation now in the House of Commons that would expand that period to five.

Although I have written in the past how the Canadian government should respond to this issue, what has been neglected is how civil society should cope with this recent phenomenon. How should non-governmental organizations that deal with North Korea specifically respond to the North Koreans arriving on our shores? Read the rest of this entry »

“Struggle for Survival” fundraising event in Toronto

Megaphone“Struggle for Survival” is an event supported by the Scadding Court Community Centre in Toronto, Canada, and the office of Toronto City Councillor Raymond Cho. Jihyun Kwon, one of the organizers, asked CanKor to help promote the event, whose purpose is to raise funds to assist North Korean refugees in Toronto. See details in the poster below.

The event is sponsored by “North Koreans in Canada,” a small non-profit, non-partisan organization devoted to serving North Korean refugees (both status and non-status) living in Canada. According to this organization, there are currently about 2,000 North Koreans who have found refuge in Toronto, but still struggling to survive. Read the rest of this entry »

Progressives, Meet Bandwagon

Historically, progressives in the ROK have taken a vow of silence when it comes to North Korean human rights (“NKHR”).

Rep. Lee Seok Ki gets accosted by farmers… opposed to the FTA

For anyone involved in the issue, this has been a sore point even before the days of the Sunshine policy. Conservatives love to bring this up (at times for their own reasons) and progressives do not (again, at times for their own reasons). What are these reasons, you ask?

To answer this, we should go to a fundamental premise behind human rights: they are inherently political. The issue of NKHR is of no exception. Unfortunately, this issue has been yanked artificially away from the realm of “simply political;” rather what we have seen with the issue is a hyper-politicization that has created a schism between the left and the right. This divide quickly came to the point that some progressives in the past had remained peculiarly silent on NKHR. Read the rest of this entry »

David Hawk on the second edition of Hidden Gulag

[In 2003, CanKor Brain Trust member David Hawk, Visiting Scholar at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights, authored “The Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Prison Camps” for the US Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. The book contained numerous former prisoners’ testimonies and satellite photographs of the locations identified by them. Earlier this year a second, revised and augmented edition of this book was published. We asked David to explain why a new edition seemed necessary and some of the differences between the two. –CanKor]

David R. Hawk

CanKor: Why a second edition of Hidden Gulag?

Hawk: The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea wanted a second edition because the 2003 edition was long out of print. So rather than reprint additional hard copies of a then eight year old report, the Committee asked me to do an update.

Hidden Gulag had become something of a textbook on political imprisonment in North Korea. So I wanted to do an update that would have a “long shelf live” in the sad event that things in the DPRK remain largely the same. The Committee agreed that I should do an almost entirely new report as there is now much more information available about the practices of arbitrary detention. (When in 2002-2003 I did thirty in-depth interviews for the first edition there were some 3,000 former North Koreans who fled to China and South Korea, among whom were two score persons who had been imprisoned in the DPRK. By 2010-11 when I did an additional thirty interviews for the 2nd edition there were some 23,000 former North Koreans now recently resident in South Korea, among whom literally hundreds were previously incarcerated in the DPRK’s variety of forced labor facilities for persons deemed to have committed political offenses.) Read the rest of this entry »

Anonymous: Why North Korean Refugees Remain Nameless

So if the reports are true, China has repatriated the 31 refugees that South Korea and the NGO community have pleaded so earnestly not to. Hearing the news, I can’t say I’m surprised – after all, as I predicted a few days ago, the new interim nuclear deal the DPRK came to terms with the Americans literally pushed the refugee news off the media pages, giving Beijing the cover to quietly send the North Koreans back to what we can only hope is lenient punishment. Part of me can’t but help think of the words Jim McKay said after the disastrous German attempt at rescuing the Israeli hostages at Munich: “they’re all gone.”

I can’t help but think of how much this is non-news, especially contrasted to what this week came out as what could be the largest hyped human rights video of all time: Kony 2012. With over 50 million views, this dwarfs the number of folks worldwide who came out to protest China’s planned repatriation of the 31. Part of Invisible Children’s success is the personalization of the issue. By focusing the message on to one person, Joseph Kony, they’ve successfully turned what is a undoubtedly a complex issue into a simple anthropomorphic exercise: make Kony known, and maybe, just maybe, Dorothy, perhaps he’ll turn himself in.

The 31, and North Korean refugees in general, do not have that luxury. Read the rest of this entry »

Books: “Witness To Transformation” by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland


WITNESS TO TRANSFORMATION: Refugee Insights into North Korea, by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland. Washington DC: Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011. 182 pp. US$23.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-88132-438-9. This book review was written by CanKor Human Factor Editor Jack Kim.


In a former life as a management consultant, there was one lesson my superiors drilled into me: good decisions were all about data, data, and data. The more data you collected that was of superior quality, the more likely you were going to make a recommendation that would benefit the client.

Of course, that seems like common sense to most of us. But sometimes this simple lesson is lost upon those who make the “above-my-paygrade” decisions in life. Notwithstanding the limits of evidence-based decision-making, there are plenty of instances we can point out in the geopolitical sphere where catastrophic decisions were made with little regard to the data available. For example, Iraq comes to mind. The Rwandan massacre is another example of the world ignoring the evidence available.

But in many cases it is not only the qualitative analysis of data that is the issue – it is a lack of data in itself that prevents us from making decisions we should have otherwise made. When it comes to human rights, the world’s experience with the Cambodian genocide comes to mind. One of the reasons, especially early on, that the world stood idly by as at least two million Cambodians were murdered by Pol Pot and his cronies, was the Khmer Rouge’s ability to manage the information that came out of the country. In short, the atrocities themselves were hidden behind the curtain of control, sparking doubts of credulity in the outside world.

Of course, if there’s any a regime that has been as successful as the Khmer Rouge in controlling information flows, it is Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

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