North Korea Faces Heightened Human Rights Scrutiny, by Roberta Cohen

[CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta Cohen published an extensive analysis of the latest decision by the UN Human Rights Council regarding the DPRK in our partner-website 38North. For the benefit of CanKor readers we reprint the first part of this article here. For the rest of the paper, including footnotes, please access the 38North website here. –CanKor]

Roberta CohenOn 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.” 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 establishment of the commission reflects long overdue recognition that a human rights ‘emergency’ exists in North Korea. Commissions of inquiry at the United Nations have mainly been directed at situations like Syria, Darfur or Libya where conflicts, atrocities and destruction are clearly visible and in the headlines. Adding North Korea to the list suggests a new look at what a human rights crisis might be. In contrast to other situations, North Korea has always managed to hide its crimes. Most prison camps are in remote mountain areas, access to the country is barred to human rights groups, and rigid internal controls make it impossible for anyone who does manage to visit to talk with North Koreans about human rights. Indeed, the lack of access and the UN’s inability to form an “independent diagnosis” of the situation has long contributed to the reluctance of its senior officials to speak out strongly about North Korea. Even the US State Department’s human rights report for 2011, published in 2012, contained the caveat that no one can “assess fully human rights conditions or confirm reported abuses” in North Korea. 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 »

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