January 30, 2023

Remembering Otto Warmbier

By Robert Collins

January 30, 2023

Just before Christmas 2022, President Joe Biden signed into law the 2023 National Defense Authorization Act, which included the “Otto Warmbier Countering North Korean Censorship and Surveillance Act.” The law “authorizes $10 million annually for the next five years to counter North Korea’s repressive censorship and surveillance state.”

Otto was imprisoned and tortured by the Kim regime for reasons that seem petty to almost all of us, but were taken exceedingly seriously by the Korean Workers’ Party (KWP) and the Ministry of State Security (MSS). Otto died days after being returned to the United States to meet his family, unable to talk due to the torture that the North Korean regime inflicted on him.

The MSS took Otto into custody after he reportedly took down a propaganda poster in the hotel he was staying at. This seems like a minor infraction to us in the West. However, if the poster had the name of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, or Kim Jong-un on it, this act would be regarded as the worst of all crimes in North Korea—even worse than first-degree murder. This is not only law in North Korea, but most importantly, it is the firm policy of the KWP. Historically, North Koreans have been executed immediately for such an offense.

Any North Korean court official, security officer, or KWP member who fails to respond in the most brutal manner toward an offense against the Supreme Leader would be immediately imprisoned, along with their family members. It is hard to imagine that any government would punish its security personnel for failing to be brutal enough, but this is a fact of political life under the Kim family regime.

Otto had no way of knowing this. His youthful innocence resulted in him being detained by the ye-sim-gwa (pre-trial examination section) of the MSS. These interrogators are notorious for inflicting extremely harsh torture on the accused to extract confessions. There have been plenty of reports about detainees dying during interrogations.

North Korea’s courts, which are driven by party policy and not the rule of law, then issue a sentence based on forced confessions. Detainees are then sent to another detention facility, where they continue to face torture by the guards. The most extreme of these facilities are the Kim regime’s kwan-li-so political prison camps. Testimony on the horrific torture inflicted upon political prison camp detainees is beyond abundant.

Why the torture? In 2005, then-Supreme Leader Kim Jong-il directed security and prison officials to treat those incarcerated in political prison camps and related facilities as “poisonous grass.” He urged those that dealt with the incarcerated to root out the “poisonous grass” to “defend the dictatorship of the proletariat.” Supreme Leader directives are regarded as superior to the law in North Korea. They must be immediately and strictly implemented without hesitation. In other words, those who work in the ye-sim-gwa or the detention facilities must prove themselves loyal to Supreme Leader directives. How so?

Unlike any other country in the world, every North Korean, beginning at the age of nine and until they die, must conduct a public self-evaluation of their adherence to the directives of the Supreme Leaders—Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un—and how their performance falls short of these directives. They must criticize themselves, never compliment themselves. This is referred to as saenghwal chonghwa—lifestyle self-critique. The self-critique is followed by criticism from others.

This is done at least weekly, usually on Saturdays. Records of these self-critiques are kept by the organizational secretary of the KWP committee, which is embedded in every entity in North Korea—party, government, military, economic, or social. These records are transmitted to the all-powerful KWP Organization and Guidance Department (OGD). The OGD assigns a political action officer to manage every organization or regional area, including detention facilities.

There is an OGD political action officer or team of political action officers that monitor the ye-sim-gwa and detention facilities. These officers prepare reports for the Supreme Leader when deemed necessary. Considering how visible Otto’s trial was, it is difficult to believe that the North Korean leadership was not aware of exactly how he was being treated.

How does all of this inform our understanding of what happened to Otto? The interrogators in the ye-sim-gwa and Otto’s incarcerators would have had to admit their inadequate ill-treatment of Otto during self-critique sessions. Their fellow torturers and incarcerators would have had to complain that the official undergoing self-critique was not being brutal enough toward Otto. The brutal treatment of Otto was likely far more severe than that suffered by incarcerated North Koreans.

Many who are incarcerated in North Korea are forced to admit to fabricated charges or testify to some other fiction. Otto was also shown publicly apologizing in court. However, there is no evidence of subsequent cooperation with his torturers. Indeed, it is evident he did not cooperate any further. The North Korean regime would have made it public otherwise. Otto appears to have successfully resisted in a heroic manner, and we should remember him for that.

January 26, 2023

The UN COI at 10 Years: Strategic Priorities & Considerations

By Michael Kirby, former Chair of the UN COI on Human Rights in the DPRK

January 26, 2023

Next year will mark the 10th anniversary of the report issued by the UN Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK). Discussions have begun in Seoul, Washington D.C., and other capitals about the steps that might be taken to commemorate and reflect upon this milestone. The goal of these efforts would be to revive knowledge about the COI report and its detailed recommendations, and to rekindle a commitment to remedial action by the international community.

With this in mind, I am pleased to offer a non-exhaustive list of follow-up initiatives, together with guidance that might be taken to mark this 10th anniversary (hereafter “COI+10”).


From 2013 to 2014, I held the UN mandate of Chair of the COI on Human Rights in the DPRK, acting always with the participation of the other members of the Commission, Mr. Marzuki Darusman and Ms. Sonja Biserko. Our mandate was effectively completed when we delivered our report to the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) on 7 February 2014, or possibly after we followed up with the delivery of the report to the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly (GA) in the fall of 2014. On 22 December 2014, we attended the meeting of the UN Security Council, to which the GA had transmitted the COI report, together with expressions of its concern and recommendations.

Since the mandate of the COI has concluded, its members have no current authority to speak or act for the UN. Although individual members of the former COI have been invited by interested audiences to share their reflections on many occasions since 2014—especially in Seoul, Washington D.C., Tokyo, and London—they have always made it clear, as I do now, that their mandate for the UN has concluded. This role belongs to successors appointed by the United Nations, acting through its relevant agencies, including the HRC and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR). The mandate holder of the UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK plays an especially important role. This is presently Professor Elizabeth Salmón, who was appointed to replace Tomás Ojea Quintana in that office last year.

It will therefore be important that any follow-up action on the COI taken by member states or their agencies or individuals should always include full notification to, and cooperation with, the Special Rapporteur. In organising any hearings or events (actual or virtual), it will be important to inform the Special Rapporteur to ascertain any views she may wish to express, and to comply as far as possible with scheduling that would facilitate, where so decided, her participation in any follow-up events.


Many believe that a useful way to mark the 10th anniversary of the COI would be to keep in mind (and try to coincide with) significant dates in the history of the COI, and possibly also at the venue of important earlier events. These dates include:

  • 21 March 2013: Resolution of the Human Rights Council at its 22nd session in Geneva to establish the COI on Human Rights in the DPRK. This was done by HRC Resolution 22/13, mandating the body to investigate the “systematic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the DPRK, with a view to ensuring full accountability, in particular for violations that may amount to crimes against humanity’’ (A/HRC/RES/23/13). The resolution to establish a COI was taken without a vote.

  • 7 May 2013: Appointment of the members of the COI by the then-President of the HRC, Ambassador Remigiusz Achilles Henczel of Poland. The appointments announced to the HRC were Michael Kirby of Australia (Chair), Marzuki Darusman of Indonesia (then-Special Rapporteur on North Korean Human Rights, who recommended the creation of a COI), and Sonja Biserko of Serbia (human rights expert and subsequently the holder of a mandate of a follow-up UN expert group).

  • 1 July 2013: First meeting of the COI at the Palais Wilson in Geneva, when the members of the COI established the methodology of transparency and openness that was to be adopted in the discharge of their mandate. This novel methodology was adopted unanimously by the COI and observed throughout the discharge of its mandate.

  • 20 August 2013: Commencement of the COI’s public hearings and consultations at Yonsei University in Seoul, Republic of Korea (ROK).

  • 29 August 2013: Public hearings and consultations at the UN University in Tokyo, Japan.

  • 23 October 2013: Public hearings and consultations in London, UK.

  • 30–31 October 2013: Public hearings and consultations in Washington D.C.

  • 1 December 2013: Commencement of deliberations of the COI at Palais Wilson, followed by approval of the draft report and arrangements for follow-up.

  • 17 February 2014: First official publication of the COI report (UN Doc. A/HRC/25/63 and detailed findings, A/HRC/ 25/CRP.1). A press conference was held the same day at Palais des Nations, Geneva.

  • 17 March 2014: Formal presentation of the report by the COI Chair to the HRC plenary session, followed by questions, comments, and remarks.

  • 30 March 2014: Transmission of the COI report by the HRC to the UN General Assembly with strong endorsement (Vote: 30 pro; 6 contra; 9 abstain). This HRC resolution called for the report’s transmission to the GA, and by the GA to the Security Council (A/HRC/RES/25/25).

  • 17 April 2014: Arria-formula meeting at UN headquarters in New York of Security Council members—and by other states as observers—to receive the COI report. The meeting was not attended by the People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation, with apologies conveyed by the latter.

  • 18 November 2014: After many months of deliberation by the GA Third Committee in New York, a Cuban amendment supporting the DPRK was defeated. The GA Third Committee then endorsed the COI report with another strong vote, followed by a GA plenary vote on December 18 (Vote: 116 pro; 20 contra; 53 abstain). As recommended by the COI, exceptionally, the GA transmitted the COI report to the Security Council (A/RES/69/188).

  • 5 December 2014: Letter initiated by the Ambassadors of France, United States and Australia (then a non-permanent member of the Security Council) to the President of the Security Council (Chad), signed by 10 Council members, for a procedural resolution to place human rights in the DPRK on the Security Council’s agenda. For a procedural resolution to be adopted by the Security Council, an affirmative vote of nine of its members is required.

  • 22 December 2014: UN Security Council adopted the procedural motion put forward by the 10 states, which was read out by Australia. The People’s Republic of China and the Russian Federation challenged the contention that the proposed resolution was procedural, but ultimately it was so decided, with 11 states in favour (Vote: 11 pro – Argentina, Australia, Chile, Jordan, Lithuania, Luxembourg, ROK, and Rwanda together with three permanent member states – France, United Kingdom, and United States; 2 contra – China, Russia; 2 abstain – Nigeria, Chad). The COI report was thus placed on the Security Council’s agenda. Thereafter, the human rights situation in North Korea was raised under the agenda item added by this procedural vote.


The United Nations and its various organs and agencies must be an obvious focus of the consultations surrounding the COI’s 10th anniversary. The problem of Korea preceded the formal establishment of the UN in 1945. As the COI report indicated, the origins of the partition of the Korean Peninsula may be found in the meeting of the Allied Powers at the Cairo Conference in 1943 (COI Report, para. 95). They agreed that, after the defeat of Japan, the colonial power, the independence of Korea would be achieved “in due course.”

Thus began, in 1946, the division of Korea into two zones of control: the United States in the south, and the Soviet Union north of the 38th parallel. This was a pragmatic decision, intended to be of short duration. It was not consistent with the requirements of the UN Charter of 1945, which envisaged the right of “self-determination” for those who had been under colonial rule. The Korean people have never decided for themselves in favour of partition. Exercise of the right of self-determination is the overriding obligation of the UN and the right of the Korean people.

As the effective cause of the division of Korea, the United States of America and the Russian Federation, as successor to the USSR, have a primary, continuing, unfulfilled obligation. So does the United Nations itself. It is therefore proper that, in consultation, where possible with the post-war Korean states, the United States should play an important role in assisting the Korean people to exercise their fundamental human rights, and the right of peoples to self-determination. This contextual theme should inform the discussions surrounding the COI’s 10th anniversary.

It also explains why the two Korean states, intended to be temporary, have an obligation of their own to promote and achieve the self-determination of the Korean people, so far denied. The ROK cooperated fully with the COI. However, despite repeated efforts to make contact and to secure entry and cooperation, the DPRK has so far declined to cooperate either with the UN agencies concerned with human rights, the COI, or with the ROK.

Throughout its work, the COI insisted upon affording opportunities to the DPRK to participate in its work and to provide opportunities for inspection, provision of submissions, and commentary on conclusions. It would be desirable that consultations regarding the post-COI events should likewise insist at every stage on inviting cooperation, entry, inspection, and commentary by the DPRK, just as the COI did in pursuing the neutral interests of the UN and the COI. Renewed efforts at dialogue should be made before, during, and after the 10th anniversary consultations.

In the face of refusal and hostility, there should be the same neutrality as has been displayed by the UN’s organs, agencies, the COI, and the Special Rapporteur. This has an important symbolic value and, even now, may ultimately attract the engagement of the DPRK. Whether it does so or not, it is the correct stance for the UN and all impartial observers to adopt.

Lastly, Japan actively supported the work of the COI throughout its inquiry. It still has a special interest in the issues presented to the world by the DPRK. This includes human rights issues, notably that of the abduction of Japanese nationals from Japan; the abduction of nationals of other countries; the return to Japan of its nationals who were induced to seek a “promised land” in the DPRK and were retained; and the need to account for prisoners of war retained in the DPRK, as well as the remains of abductees and former prisoners; and other problems that overlap with the issue of abduction. The DPRK itself has acknowledged that this issue is not concluded.

The recent international security issue presented by the firing of North Korean missiles over Japanese territory and Japanese waters adds to these further unresolved issues of human rights. The recent re-election of Japan to membership in the UN Security Council also arguably provides another reason for the special involvement of Japan in events surrounding the COI’s 10th anniversary. According to media reports, the bilateral relationship between the ROK and Japan has recently improved. Consideration should be given by the sponsors to involving Japan in the COI+10 anniversary events and their design.


The COI performed its functions during the administration of President Park Geun-hye in the ROK. She extended courtesies to the COI and the assistance of officials. A weakness of the COI’s consultations was the absence of most members of the then-opposition parties and supporters. Since at least the time of President Kim Dae-jung and his “Sunshine Policy,” there have been political differences within the ROK concerning the proper response to reports of human rights abuses in the DPRK, and the investigation and criticism of reported human rights abuses in the north. There have also been differences of opinion about initiatives taken by the ROK for the pursuit of unification, contact with the DPRK, and cooperation with human rights critics, including the COI.

With the election of President Moon Jae-in, the ROK’s policies towards the COI report and responses to evidence of abuses changed. The participation of the ROK in annual UN resolutions condemning the abuse of human rights in the DPRK, in particular ROK co-sponsorship, was suspended. Criminal proceedings (challenged in the Constitutional Court) were brought against citizens of the ROK for releasing balloons containing information critical of the DPRK, including the report of the COI, which is not available in North Korea. The election to succeed President Moon Jae-in led to the election of President Yoon Suk-yeol, who entered office on 10 May 2022.

The Yoon administration appears to have taken several different policy directions from its predecessor. It will be essential that the participants in the 10th anniversary events should be given information, not always available to foreign observers, on the differences already evident in the policies affecting reported human rights abuses in North Korea. Furthermore, it will be important that the omission of the COI to engage effectively with opposition parties and individuals in the ROK should not be repeated.

Without intruding into partisan political issues, it will be the responsibility of public officials to alert overseas participants about any changes in policy towards the COI report; human rights investigations; participation in UN investigations; and responses to activities designed to inform citizens in the DPRK about relevant UN activities, especially the report of the COI and its follow-up. As we mark COI+10, it would be desirable for appropriate experts to give information to participants about the availability of access to international news, including UN investigations of human rights abuses.


Apart from the possible weakness in the COI’s consultation with diverse civil society organisations, resulting from limited time and impartial reliance on official sources, it is also essential for relevant actors to consult more widely with the fullest possible range of civil society organisations, reflecting divergent points of view.

Although some consultation was held with “defectors” (also referred to as escapees or refugees), it would be desirable that appropriate new consultations should be arranged with a larger number of civil society organisations, in general, and organisations of defectors, in particular. Although the number of such entrants into the ROK from the DPRK has diminished, due partly to the impact of COVID restrictions, such persons are vital sources of information on the human rights abuses that drove them to depart from the DPRK.

Leading members of this community (including some who have been elected to the ROK National Assembly) should be sought out and invited to offer their perspectives to the COI+10 consultations, particularly on any changes that have occurred in the situation of human rights in the DPRK over the past 10 years.


The 75th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) will occur on 10 December 2023. The organisation of COI+10 should emphasize this anniversary and its relevance to following up the essential criterion of the COI's critique of abuses of human rights in the DPRK. That critique was grounded in the principles of the UN Charter (with its insistence on universal human rights) and of the UDHR, which gives expression to the content of such rights, as later elaborated by several UN human rights treaties. The DPRK was, and still is, a party to some of these treaties.

Although some criticism of UN organs and agencies is commonly based on alleged Western influence over the contemporary content of human rights, the UN Charter and UDHR are universal statements that apply to all member states, nations, peoples, and individuals. It would be desirable that COI+10 should rebut the suggestions of regional or national exceptionalism. The anniversary of the UDHR affords the international community an opportunity to re-assert its commitment to these universal principles.

It would be desirable for the responses of the DPRK to the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), conducted by the HRC, to be analysed and measured against the criticisms expressed in the COI report and subsequently by UN Special Rapporteurs.


When considering the most effective ways to achieve the DPRK’s compliance with universal human rights, it is essential to embrace normal diplomatic techniques for negotiation and securing change. This involves, normally, the avoidance of mere condemnation and noisy criticism. It involves seeking out and identifying issues on the borderline of those held in common with the negotiator concerned.

Although former U.S. President Donald Trump prided himself on reaching a “deal,” his professional career was in real estate. Recent evidence suggests that he was sustained by the fortune secured by his father. Even to those—like myself—who were not opposed to President Trump’s outreach to the DPRK, after years of isolation, his negotiation technique was counterproductive.

It began with his initial speech to the UN General Assembly, threatening the DPRK with destruction “like nothing seen before.’’ He then shifted his approach to a “bromance’’ with Kim Jong-un, the Supreme Leader of the DPRK. He invited Kim first to Singapore and then to Hanoi. He plunged immediately into attempting to secure a deal regarding the most difficult subject for ultimate negotiation: nuclear weapons and long-range missile systems. As these were central to the protection and survival of the Kim family regime, the attempt quickly failed. That failure was compounded by the breakdown of the Hanoi summit on the morning of its second day. Whatever opportunity the U.S. president had from his surprising initiative was squandered and apparently wasted.

The normal technique of diplomacy is to start at the outside of a circle of issues, negotiating first those issues, initially less significant, where there may be common ground and where limited agreements might be reached. This can then lead to more comprehensive agreements. Central, extremely difficult, issues are typically left to be addressed in later negotiations, especially if there is a chance of first building mutual respect and negotiating trade-offs.

In its report, the COI was conscious of this diplomatic technique. Although its recommendations certainly included difficult subjects such as undertaking “profound political and institutional reforms without delay to introduce genuine checks and balances upon the powers of the Supreme Leader’’ (COI Report, conclusions, para. 89a), it was accompanied by other recommendations susceptible to agreement. This included

  • measures to ensure gender equality in practice;
  • the right to food without discrimination giving particular attention to the needs of women and vulnerable groups and to providing free and unimpeded access for humanitarian aid;
  • a moratorium on execution of the death penalty;
  • establishment of independent media and allowing citizens to freely access the Internet, social media, international communications, and foreign broadcasts; 
  • abolition of the prohibition on foreign travel;
  • provision of full information to families of persons abducted;
  • ratification of human rights conventions;
  • establishment of a field-based presence with technical assistance from the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights; and
  • introduction of postal services, restoration of railway and airline services, sporting links, and cultural links (COI Report, conclusions, para. 89).

It would be desirable for COI+10 to have expert advice from diplomats, experienced in difficult international negotiations, to reflect upon how, in practice, success can be achieved where the initial differences between the parties are large and entrenched.


The passage of 10 years has erased much of the impact caused by the COI report at the time of its issue. One of the problems of UN human rights reports is that they are usually not well published or circulated. A UN report will generally sink like a stone before the ink is dry. Real efforts were made by the COI to render its report accessible and readable. The fact that it was preceded by a series of widely publicised public hearings meant that, on publication, it was something of a sensation. It secured much international publicity. It provided detailed practical cases, based on evidence presented at public hearings, thereby identifying and personifying the human rights abuses found. It remains a different model for the writing of UN human rights reports.

Although highly readable, no readily accessible version of the COI report was made available in print form. The electronic version was available online, but relatively little is known against the background of many other UN human rights reports. The 10-year anniversary affords an opportunity to reconsider creatively what can be done to better distribute the knowledge contained in this report. Perhaps if UN human rights reports were published in an improved format, there would be more follow-up. The COI report should be reconsidered for the lessons it provides for UN human rights reports more generally.

The COI report, the annual reports on the DPRK’s human rights record, and other UN human rights reports should not be filed away and forgotten once delivered. There needs to be a regular system for considering their implementation and follow-up. Auditing the performance of mandate holders will also be more effective if there are available and readable reports.


COI+10 affords an appropriate opportunity to review the COI report in the context of the UN’s human rights apparatus more generally. To what extent did the innovations in the procedures of the COI on Human Rights in the DPRK provide models that (a) have been followed in the HRC; or (b) should have been followed with or without variations? Inevitably, the immediate danger presented to the UN and international community by the DPRK’s development of nuclear weapons, the testing of such weapons, the development of further technology, and the risks of proliferation enliven international concern.

Concern about abuses of universal human rights is important, but human rights issues tend to be regarded as endemic and less urgent when it comes to international action. Given the existential danger of nuclear weapons, the case of North Korea continues to provide an urgent reminder of the inadequacy and weakness of current international institutions to protect global peace and security, to uphold universal human rights and existential values, and to achieve justice. This is the basic lesson from the experience of the COI on Human Rights in the DPRK. The present dangers revealed in the COI report and the urgency of the problems disclosed therein have not been matched by enhanced and effective responses by the UN and the international community.


Reflecting on the last 10 years, there are many reasons for pessimism—even despair and alarm. We should use the 10th anniversary of the COI to reflect on whether humanity may take encouragement by reflecting on the alternative. What would have happened if there had been no COI or no UN?

Since there is no immediate prospect of major changes to relevant international institutions, should we derive a measure of optimism about the present dangers to humanity that the world did its best? Does a practical and pragmatic approach support an optimistic perspective—that humanity usually muddles its way to survival and to accountability for crimes against humanity, genocide, and war crimes? How, if at all, can we build on the experience of the COI on Human Rights in the DPRK to provide enhanced international remedies for grave wrongdoings that comes to light? Or are we doomed to an inescapable failure of the international community to respond quickly enough and effectively enough to the dangers to humanity? And if so, what precisely can we do to enhance human rights, international peace and security, and the attainment of justice?

It would clearly be desirable for a report to be written about the engagements surrounding the 10th anniversary of the COI. This report should be followed by international dialogue and criticism. It should also be presented in an appropriate way to the UN Secretary-General, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the President of the UN HRC, civil society organisations, and national officials and experts.

Those who silently accept the defects in the current response to the existential dangers that humanity faces are themselves part of the problem that threatens the survival of the human species.

Edited for HRNK by Roberta Cohen, HRNK Co-Chair Emeritus

December 16, 2022

Up Front: The Role of Civil Society in North Korean Human Rights

By Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director

December 16, 2022

NOTE: This essay is adapted from remarks delivered by Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, at an International Dialogue on North Korean Human Rights organized by the Republic of Korea’s Ministry of Unification on Wednesday, December 14, 2022 in Seoul. He spoke during Session 2, which addressed “Roles of Civil Society and International Cooperation.” The other panelists were Professor Eun-Mee Kim (President, Ewha Womans University), James Heenan (Representative, UN OHCHR Office in Seoul), Joanna Hosaniak (Deputy Director-General, Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights), and Bum-Soo Kim (Executive Director, Save NK). The recorded livestream of the event can be viewed at this link.

Ambassador Lee Shin-Wha, thank you very much for the kind words and for the invitation to join this august group. I also would like to thank the Ministry of Unification for organizing this conference.

Many words of wisdom have been uttered today. During the first session, Ambassador Lee Jung-Hoon and Professor Victor Cha mentioned a very important endeavor. How do we get Hollywood on board? How do we get celebrities on board?

Remember that not too long ago, before their temporary hiatus, BTS met with President Joe Biden at the White House. Was there one word uttered about North Korean human rights? None. BTS is not just a K-pop band. BTS is a global cultural phenomenon. What a great opportunity. Where are the K-pop artists?

Parasite was the first foreign movie to win the Oscars. They had the world's largest stage. Was there one word uttered about North Korean human rights, or the suffering people of North Korea? Not one. These are the type of challenges we are dealing with. This is where civil society must come in, and push as hard as we can.

Of course, we understand that there are other important issues—political, security, military issues. We understand that there is a certain bias within the national security and diplomatic environment against this issue of human rights, which is sometimes perceived as a nuisance. As Joanna [Hosaniak] was mentioning, we are on the fringes. North Korean human rights is a fringe issue, practically.

In order to understand North Korea, one has to look through the lens of a realist theory of international relations, if you will, even through the lens of offensive realism. From that viewpoint, I suffer from professional cognitive dissonance. I also spend my time as a Wilsonian liberal, trying to affect change through the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea.

These are all difficult issues that we have to address. We have to compete against other very important human rights crises across the world. This is not to discount the importance of attending to the other human rights crises. The North Korean human rights crisis—in particular, the North Korean refugee crisis—is a slow-motion crisis. There is somehow the impression that this is not as serious as the other terrible things happening in the world. This is where the role of non-governmental organizations (NGO) and civil society organizations (CSO) is very important.

Yesterday, I was having a very interesting conversation with colleagues from the Ministry of Unification about the "three tribes." Ours is the human rights tribe. There is a humanitarian and engagement tribe. There is an unconditional peace tribe as well. Is it possible to bring the three together for the common cause of human rights, democracy, peace, prosperity, reconciliation, and eventual unification for Koreans?

Our distinguished keynote speaker this morning, Secretary-General Ban Ki-Moon, has provided us with two answers to how these three groups can be brought together. One of them is what he said this morning. Peace without human rights is meaningless. We have seen attempts at a peace declaration and peace resolutions for the Korean Peninsula. Of course, we are all in favor of peace, and there can be no peace without human rights. That is why the role of civil society is very important. We must remind everyone that there is no such thing as peace devoid of human rights.

While he was Secretary-General, His Excellency Ban Ki-Moon on was very keen on the concept of "Human Rights up Front." As James [Heenan] knows very well, we have been using this term quite liberally in Washington, D.C. We have used this term to refer to an approach to national security and other issues that also factors in human rights and places it up front. In the case of the UN, of course, what it originally meant was that humanitarian interventions must be cognizant of the human rights situation.

I would argue that progress on North Korea is no longer possible without factoring in human rights. We have been using the same methods to address North Korea for more than 30 years now, whether that involves the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework, the Six-Party Talks, the "Leap Day" agreement, or the summit meetings of the past few years. In a different shape and form, the same errors were committed again and again. Human rights is sacrificed on the altar of security, military, and political issues, which are—of course—very important. Where did that get us?

I hear this all the time: "Oh, human rights in North Korea, that must be a short conversation." Well, I do not mean to take the problem lightly, but how about the nuclear weapons and missiles? How is that going? While not factoring in human rights, the North Koreans have reached the point where they have the capacity to launch 25 missiles during one single day. Perhaps it is time for a different approach that also factors in human rights.

There are responsible UN member states, including the United States and our great allies in the Republic of Korea, that have a keen interest in preserving and improving the international system as we know it. We have nothing better in place. On the other hand, there are also revisionist powers that try to challenge it.

U.S. NGOs and CSOs also feel the pressure. My organization was fortunate to acquire UN ECOSOC consultative status. My good friend Nam Ba-Da and our colleagues at PSCORE also have that consultative status and know how difficult it is to obtain it. Why do pro-democracy and pro-human rights organizations have such a hard time getting in? The answer is simple. Because revisionist powers, who are not exactly beacons of human rights or democracy, hold the key to access to the UN system through the NGO Committee. The only way to do it is to get rejected at the NGO Committee and then overturn it at ECOSOC. This takes support from many member states, including the United States, Canada, and the European Union. NGOs are also feeling this pressure, and North Korean human rights NGOs are also feeling this pressure.

Very important issues have been mentioned today. CSOs can play a very important role in the implementation of these issues at the United Nations. For a few years now, the North Korean human rights issue at the Security Council has been discussed as "AOB," any other business. As Joanna [Hosaniak] was saying, crimes against humanity do not qualify as "any other business." They are much graver than just that. Following the UN Commission of Inquiry report in 2014, the issue was placed on the agenda of the UN Security Council for several years. This is a procedural matter. It takes 9 out of 15 votes of permanent and non-permanent members to hold a discussion. I can assure you that my colleagues in the audience and on the podium know that CSOs play a very important role in liaising with UN member states and UN agencies. Documentation is very important, and also providing this type of information is extraordinarily important.

In the United States, we need a Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights to play the extraordinary role that Ambassador Robert King played until February 2017. He was more than just a Special Envoy. We in the NGO community know that he was our best friend and our cheerleader. It was very important to have that cheerleader in that position because of the difficulties we face.

Here in South Korea, there is the eternal drama of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation. This issue has been politicized for far too long. Our South Korean friends, allies, and partners need to move beyond this. It will be for the benefit of not only NGOs based here in South Korea that address North Korean human rights, but also to all NGOs that work on the issue.

Fundamentally, what we need is a paradigm shift, a paradigm shift that continues to address all of these important issues that threaten the lives of millions in Northeast Asia, the Indo-Pacific, and beyond. As we address these issues, it is also very important to include human rights in this new paradigm.

This, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is our greatest challenge moving forward.

Thank you very much.

November 02, 2022

Long Overdue Paradigm Shift: A Human Rights up Front Approach toward North Korea

By Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director

November 2, 2022

View of the Yeonggeumjeong Pavilion in Sokcho, on South Korea's east coast

Today, November 2, North Korea launched 25 missiles. A ballistic missile landed just 40 miles (60 km) east of South Korea’s port town of Sokcho. North Korea perpetrated this massive provocation barely four days after the Itaewon tragedy that took the lives of 156 young people from South Korea, the United States, Australia, Austria, China, France, Iran, Japan, Kazakhstan, Norway, Russia, Sri Lanka, Thailand, Uzbekistan and Vietnam. Instead of condolences and messages of solidarity, North Korea chose to threaten South Korea’s peace and security with its largest missile salvo ever.

To procure the hard currency needed to develop its ballistic missile and nuclear programs, North Korea oppresses and exploits its own people at home and abroad. According to the Korea Institute for Defense Analyses (KIDA), North Korea has spent up to $1.6 billion developing nuclear weapons, including six nuclear tests, since the 1970s. Those funds would have sufficed to buy up to 2.05 million tons of rice or 4.1 million tons of corn, the equivalent of four years’ worth of food for the entire North Korean population. According to KIDA, North Korea has spent 3 to 5 million dollars on short-range ballistic missiles (SRBMs), 10 to 15 million dollars on medium-range ballistic missiles (MRBMs), and 20 to 30 million dollars on intercontinental ballistic missiles (ICBMs). North Korea spends about 2 percent of its $33.5 billion GDP on its missile launches.

For thirty years, negotiations with North Korea and North Korea policy have sacrificed human rights for the sake of addressing nuclear weapons, missiles, and other military and security issues. Both the North Korean nuclear and missile programs have thrived. Sidelining human rights to appease the North Korean regime is not the answer, but a fundamental flaw in North Korea policy.

Now is the time for a long overdue paradigm shift in addressing North Korea, an approach that places the human rights and human security of the North Korean people front and center. A "Human Rights up Front" approach toward North Korea would require: international access to North Korean political prison camps and other detention facilities; transparency and the ability to conduct unimpeded in-country fact-finding human rights and humanitarian missions; and providing humanitarian assistance to the most vulnerable groups, in particular children, women, the elderly, and people in detention.

August 15, 2022

The Power of Information: Telling Three Stories to the North Korean People

By Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director

NOTE: This essay is adapted from pre-recorded remarks delivered by Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, to the "International Forum on One Korea 2022" on August 13, 2022.

Dear friends, distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

I am delighted to join you today. It is always a pleasure and an honor to participate in events organized by the Global Peace Foundation. Let me thank my good and dear friend Kenji Sawai in particular for engaging me in this endeavor.

Today, we are discussing the very important issue of sending information into North Korea. Fundamentally, as far as the United States is concerned, as far as like-minded friends, partners, and allies such as South Korea, Japan, and the European Union are concerned, we need to remember that we are facing a grave threat on the Korean Peninsula.

It is a threat that combines the dozens of nuclear weapons that North Korea possesses, the long-range ballistic missiles that North Korea possesses, and also the crimes against humanity that the North Korean regime continues to commit to this day, almost a decade after the UN Human Rights Council decided to establish by consensus a UN Commission of Inquiry dedicated to looking into the regime’s human rights abuses and crimes against humanity.

So, what is there to do?

Applying the DIME

We can analyze the issue by applying the “DIME” model. These are the four fundamental elements of national power: diplomacy, information, military power, and economic power.

Let us begin with diplomacy. The North Korean regime has breached each and every international agreement it has ever entered. One could go back to the 1994 Geneva Agreed Framework. They decided to breach the terms of that agreement and develop a clandestine uranium enrichment program.

The Six Party Talks, same story. The Leap Day Agreement of February 2012, right after Kim Jong-un assumed power, the same story. Ambassador Glyn Davies, at the time the U.S. Special Envoy for North Korea policy, met with Kim Kye-gwan. The North Koreans pledged to halt nuclear testing and ballistic missile testing. Two weeks later, they announced a so-called “satellite launch.” They proceeded with a missile launch that failed, two days ahead of the centennial anniversary of Kim Il-sung’s birthday. In December of the same year, they managed to place an object into orbit.

To make a long story short, there is an utter lack of credibility on the North Korean side. We should blame the failure of diplomacy on the North Koreans, not on the U.S. or on South Korea. Despite those failures, as a student and practitioner of diplomacy, I believe that diplomatic efforts must continue.

Next is military power, the “M” in the DIME. (I will address the “I” later since that is the focus of my remarks today.) Military power is crucial. Strong deterrence is very important. Strong containment is very important. A strong U.S.-South Korea alliance is critical. A strong U.S.-Japan alliance is critical. We need to continue to cherish our friendship, partnership, alliance with the Republic of Korea and Japan.

Then there is economic power, “E” in the DIME. We have a sanctions regime in place, grounded in UN Security Council resolutions. We also have bilateral sanctions by the U.S., sanctions established by the U.S. Congress. Other allies, including the European Union and Japan, have their own sanctions in place.

When it comes to UN sanctions, they are meant, first and foremost, to prevent the development and proliferation of North Korean nuclear weapons and missiles. Moreover, they are meant to punish the elites in charge of that development and proliferation by severing their access to hard currency and luxury goods coming from the outside world.

Are there negative adverse effects affecting the people of North Korea? We do not know because we do not have access inside the country. Access is of the essence. We now have a new UN Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in the DPRK, Professor Elizabeth Salmón from Peru. We also have a new South Korean Ambassador-at-large on North Korean human rights, Professor Lee Shin-hwa of Korea University.

I hope this will be at the very top of their agenda: requesting access inside the country to assess the humanitarian situation of North Korea. Why not assess side effects of sanctions, if there are any? Again, sanctions do not target the people of North Korea. But the only way to tell whether sanctions have a negative effect on the people of North Korea is by means of having access inside the country, by means of having UN officials go inside the country and conduct in-country assessments.

The Power of Information

Let me now return to the “I,” which I initially skipped. Information is extraordinarily important. This is a regime that has stayed in power since its establishment in 1948 by means of unprecedented coercion, control, surveillance, and punishment. This is a regime that has gone to great lengths to prevent the people of North Korea from gaining access to information from the outside world across three regimes—the regime of Kim Il-sung, Kim Jong-il, and Kim Jong-un.

North Korea needs change. Let me commend the Global Peace Foundation for its vision of a unified Republic of Korea that is strong, peaceful, democratic, market-oriented, and a staunch ally, friend, and partner of the United States.

How do we get there? I am not talking about a violent revolution or regime change. I am talking about change enacted by the only people who can actually enact change. They are the very people of North Korea. What can we do, in the outside world, to empower the people of North Korea?

The Three Stories

What we can do is to send them information from the outside world—information basically telling them three fundamental stories. First, the story of the corruption of their leadership, especially the corruption of the Kim family regime. Second, the story of the outside world, especially that of South Korea, a free and democratic country with the world’s tenth largest economy. And third, the story of their own human rights, which they do not know.

Let me first address the corruption of the regime. North Korea is a very strange hybrid. Entrepreneurship coexists with totalitarian regime control. Private property is not allowed in North Korea. North Koreans operate trucks, taxis, and cars as private entrepreneurs, but they do not hold property titles. In order to run those businesses, they need to register their vehicles under government agencies, under the protection of powerful officials. This is a recipe for great corruption. North Koreans need to understand that this is not how economies should operate.

Second, many North Koreans know today much more about the outside world, including South Korea, than they did 10, 15, or 20 years ago. K-pop, K-drama, and anything “K-” are very powerful drivers of interest in South Korea's success. The North Korean people need to understand that South Korea is a very successful alternative to the Kim family regime’s North Korea. And they need to understand that the formula for Korean success is not the totalitarian dictatorship of the DPRK, but the very successful Republic of Korea (ROK).

Human rights is another extraordinarily important story. North Korea joined the UN at the same time as South Korea in 1991. North Korea assumed international obligations as it became a UN member state. North Korea must observe the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. North Korea acceded to the two human rights covenants in 1982, nine years before it joined the UN: the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (ICESCR). It has also joined the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), the Convention on the Rights of Children (CRC), and the Convention on the Rights of People with Disabilities (CRPD).

And yet, each and every conceivable human right is violated in North Korea.

If you look at the Constitution of the DPRK or its other laws, you will see that there are wonderful stipulations that supposedly protect rights such as the freedom of religion and freedom of assembly. None of these rights are observed in practice. All that matters in North Korea are the Ten Principles of Monolithic Ideology (TPMI) and Kim Il-sung-ism.

Information campaigns coming in from the outside world must enable North Koreans to understand that there is a very deep rift between their Constitution and the regime’s ideology. There is a deep rift between the international obligations that North Korea has assumed and the TPMI.


Ultimately, why are we doing this? I have been a student and practitioner of Korean Peninsula issues for the past 32 years. There are so many others of us out there. What we ultimately want is reconciliation, peace, unification of the Korean Peninsula under a free, democratic, and prosperous Republic of Korea. This is the ultimate key to resolving the North Korean conundrum: nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles, egregious human rights violations, and crimes against humanity.

July 25, 2022

The Forgotten South Korean Prisoners of War, Who Sacrificed and Suffered for Seven Decades for Korean Freedom

By Col. David Maxwell (U.S. Army, Ret.), HRNK Board Member

NOTE: This essay is adapted from prepared remarks delivered at the "International Forum on Urging the Repatriation of Korean Prisoners of War and Human Rights Complaints," held in Seoul on July 20, 2022. It is also available at this link.

The sixty-ninth anniversary of the Korean War Armistice is July 27, 2022. The war is known as the “Forgotten War.” One of the most forgotten aspects of the war are the South Korean prisoners of war who were never returned to the Republic of Korea (ROK). Although 8,134 South Korean prisoners were returned at the time of the Armistice, an estimated 50,000 South Korean soldiers were forced to remain in the north. These prisoners were subject to a life of extreme hardship, mostly mining coal for the regime in North Korea. In 2014, there were an estimated 500 still alive. Over the years, some 80 have escaped, bringing the truth about what happened to these Korean patriots who fought for freedom and were sentenced by Kim Il-sung to suffer for their sacrifices.

I cannot imagine any human beings in the history of the world who have suffered so much for so long. They sacrificed the remainder of their lives since 1953 for the one thing they could never again experience: Freedom.

We are all free today here in the Republic of Korea and around the world because these soldiers sacrificed their future and their lives in the name of freedom against the scourge of communism, a blight on the world that continues to persist in various forms in North Korea, China, and other places around the world. Had they not sacrificed so much we would not be here today, and we would never have witnessed the Miracle on the Han.

We should all put ourselves in their shoes and think hard as to whether we could sustain a will to live and the ability to continue to live in the face of such inhumane and brutal treatment. Very few of us have endured a level of pain anywhere near theirs. And no one alive today has experienced that level of suffering for so long.

Except for the family members who remained in the South. While they might not have suffered the same physical pain, they have suffered the loss of their loved ones that is made worse by not knowing their status, or whether they are dead or alive. They do not know where they are or where their remains are. They may never have closure.

We believe there were some 50,000 South Korean prisoners forced to live as slaves to the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim Family regime. Except for the few who have been able to escape, they have lived out their lives in the Guerrilla Dynasty and Gulag State of North Korea.

In 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry recognized them. Let me quote from paragraph 298 on page 84 of the report:

Among those who suffered the most extreme discrimination were South Korean prisoners of war (POWs) retained in the DPRK after the armistice.

Mr. Yoo Young-bok, a former POW who fled the DPRK and returned to the ROK, explained at the Seoul Public Hearing: “Because we were POWs, we were discriminated against. They were looking down on us. Although we married North Korean women, our children were controlled, our children were kept under surveillance. They did not really give us good jobs; there were just no opportunities to make better lives for our children.”

Another former POW from South Korea worked in a coal mine in North Hamgyong Province for 40 years. He told the Commission that about a quarter of the miners were POWs and were under particularly strict surveillance by the Ministry of Public Security and the State Security Department. The witness was regularly interrogated and his interrogators seemed to know many details about his life. He married and had three sons and two daughters. His sons were neither allowed to join the army nor go to university, and one asked him “Why are we even born?” His daughters were not able to marry a man of good songbun, because they were from a POW family. Even his grandsons were denied the opportunity to join the army or to obtain a tertiary education. The witness recalled how a POW friend hung himself because his children complained so bitterly to him about their situation yet he could not do anything about it.

Please put yourself in that father’s shoes and think about how your children would suffer in that situation and that there is nothing you can do for them. Thinking of the words of that father and his children makes my heart hurt.

Although not described in the report, my assessment is that the evil regime decided to use these prisoners of war and establish a kind of slave caste that would eternally perpetuate a slave class to benefit the regime. They were allowed to marry so the regime would continue to have access to a slave labor pool in perpetuity. Such evil.

Surely this is a crime against humanity without parallel. There is no greater example of cruelty and brutality and this will continue for as long as the Kim family regime survives.

Their suffering is made worse because these POWs are the forgotten men of the “Forgotten War.” The lack of recognition is a terrible hurt for their families.

The suffering of these POWs must be recognized and accepted in the South. It is time for the ROK government to recognize them and their families. Surely their sacrifices have contributed to all the greatness of the Republic of Korea today.

Yes, it is shameful that they have never been properly honored and thanked for the contributions. However, South Korea is a strong democracy. And one of the hallmarks of a strong democracy is the ability to recognize and admit mistakes and take corrective action. Just as the ROK government is acting to investigate and hold accountable those responsible for the forced repatriation of the two fishermen in 2019, the ROK government can begin the long process to make things right for the families by recognizing what happened to their loved ones who were forced to remain in the north. They deserve recognition and respect. All freedom loving people should demand that they be recognized and honored. 

The strength of the ROK-U.S. alliance is that we share the values of freedom and individual liberty, liberal democracy, the rule of law, and human rights. Both our countries pledge to not leave our fallen behind. Look at the efforts our militaries and governments undertake to try to account for and return all those missing in action. Look at the remains recovery operations that recently took place in the DMZ at White Horse and Arrowhead Ridge. The ROK military worked tirelessly to recover South Korean and allied remains and return them to their countries and families for proper honors. South Korea must make the same effort for all those prisoners left behind in North Korea in 1953. They and their families deserve the same recognition. In addition to recognition and respect, the remains of the prisoners who have died over the past seven decades need to be accounted for and recovered. Unfortunately, that is not possible for as long as Kim Jong-un remains in power.

Yes, the likelihood of recovery is low as long as the Kim family regime remains in power. Closure for the ROK POWs and their descendants in the north and their families in the South will only come after there is a free and unified Korea. To return the remains and bring honor to their sacrifice we all must work toward a free and unified Korea. Then and only then will their sacrifices be realized.

The real atrocity is that committed by the Kim family regime in the north. The regime needs to be held accountable. However, that is not likely to ever occur until there is drastic change in the north. This is because the root of all problems in Korea is the existence of the most evil mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime that has the objective of dominating the Korean Peninsula under the rule of the Guerrilla Dynasty and Gulag State.

Frankly speaking, there will be no justice for these prisoners for as long as the regime exists. More specifically, the only way we are going to see an end to the nuclear program and military threats as well as the human rights abuses and crimes against humanity being committed against the Korean people by the mafia-like crime family cult known as the Kim family regime is through achievement of unification and the establishment of a United Republic of Korea that is secure and stable, non-nuclear, economically vibrant, and unified under a liberal constitutional form of government based on individual liberty, rule of law, and human rights as determined by the Korean people. We all must work to support a free and unified Korea. This is how we can honor the 50,000 heroes who sacrificed for our freedom and the freedom of all Koreans. The greatest gift that can be given to them is a free and unified Korea--in short, a United Republic of Korea (UROK).

December 13, 2021

Statement of Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, at "International cooperation to resolve the abduction issue as a global issue" (Int'l Symposium hosted by the Government of Japan, December 11, 2021)

By Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director

NOTE: Greg Scarlatoiu, HRNK Executive Director, delivered pre-recorded video remarks at "International cooperation to resolve the abduction issue as a global issue," an international symposium that was hosted by the Government of Japan in Tokyo on Saturday, December 11, 2021. The full text of his remarks is reproduced below. The official video recording of the event can be accessed at this link.

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Greetings and warm wishes. Let me begin by thanking the Government of Japan for the opportunity to address this extraordinarily important symposium. The entire world continues to struggle with the COVID pandemic. During these difficult times, we remember and pray for abductees from Japan and other countries as well as their families, who continue to seek closure and justice.

For a brief time, early on, the DPRK’s Kim regime addressed COVID prevention as a public health threat. Then, it politicized COVID prevention, instituting draconian controls aimed at cracking down on factors threatening its grip on power, in particular informal markets, smuggled Chinese cell phones, and information coming in from the outside world.

While the Kim regime claims that the DPRK is COVID-free, domestic and cross-border travel restrictions have taken a heavy toll on North Korea’s human rights and humanitarian situation. While food shortages are not as bad as the 1990s and the DPRK is likely not on the verge of a great famine, the humanitarian situation is dire. The international community needs access and transparency in order to assess the real humanitarian needs of North Koreans, in particular the needs of most vulnerable groups: Women, children, the elderly, and people in detention, especially political prisoners.

The Biden administration has repeatedly emphasized human rights as a pillar of our U.S. foreign policy, an essential component of the core values we share with Japan, the Republic of Korea, and other key allies, friends, and partners. The Biden administration has also underlined multilateralism as another pillar of our U.S. foreign policy. The Third Committee of the UN General Assembly has recently adopted its latest resolution on human rights in the DPRK. Regrettably, the DPRK continues to refuse to engage in dialogue with the United States or Japan. Moreover, the DPRK has repeatedly tested missiles, although only short-range.

As the Kim regime continues to violate the human rights of its own people and threaten neighboring countries as well as international peace and security with its nuclear and missile development, family members of Japanese citizens abducted by North Korea have continued to suffer. However difficult it may be, the international community must resolve this critical issue.

The entire world will be undergoing a post-COVID reset. North Korea, as isolated as it is, will be no exception. North Korea’s trade with China will likely expand to previous levels. The international community may consider disbursing humanitarian assistance to North Korea, hopefully while upholding transparency, the need for access, and a human rights up front approach aimed to assist most vulnerable groups first. UN, U.S., Japanese and other sanctions do not target the ordinary people of North Korea, but simply aim to do away with the Kim regime’s development and proliferation of nuclear weapons and ballistic missiles. That said, Russian and Chinese attempts to float draft resolutions to unconditionally ease the North Korean sanctions regime will continue.

As the DPRK undergoes a post-COVID reset, there can be hope for the North Korean people. Prime Minister Kishida Fumio has clearly signaled that he is ready to meet with North Korea’s leader face-to-face. I am certain that the governments and citizens of Japan and the United States would stand together, ready to assist the people of North Korea in seeking a bright future. This would be possible only if North Korea’s leadership made a strategic decision to change course, improve the human rights and humanitarian situation of its people, do away with its obstinate development of nuclear weapons, ballistic missiles, and other tools of death, and focus on development instead. Most importantly, if the North Korean leadership wishes to qualify for Japanese, U.S., and international humanitarian and development assistance, it must provide a full, final, and verifiable solution to the abduction conundrum. If abductees are still in North Korea, they must be reunited with their family members. If they passed away while held against their will in North Korea, their remains must be returned to their families and hometowns. Japanese families have suffered far too long, and so have the families of abductees from other countries. They deserve closure. They deserve to know the fate of their loved ones taken by the DPRK regime. They deserve to be reunited with their loved ones.

As representative of the Washington, D.C.-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), I am fully and painfully aware that a huge responsibility rests on the shoulders of human rights civil society organizations (CSOs). We have recently been informed that UN Economic and Social Council-accredited CSOs will be able to obtain UN passes and physical access, effective January 2022. While we have made the best of virtual programs under COVID, physical presence is important. I look forward to rejoining forces with CSOs from Japan and other like-minded democracies. I look forward to fully dedicating our minds, bodies, hearts, and souls to bringing closure and justice to Japanese abductees and their families. Their torment at the hands of the Kim regime must come to an end.

October 15, 2021


By Roberta Cohen

Edited by Raymond Ha, HRNK Director of Operations & Research

NOTE FROM HRNK: This essay draws attention to the risks facing political prisoners as the food situation in North Korea worsens. Restrictions imposed by North Korea in response to Covid-19 have resulted in the withdrawal of most, if not all, international humanitarian staff from the country. As humanitarian aid to North Korea resumes, special attention should be paid to reaching the most vulnerable group in that country—those who are detained in political prison camps. Now is the time to plan steps that could be taken to better protect vulnerable populations in North Korea, who face serious risks due to lack of access to adequate food and medical care. This essay is based on an affidavit prepared by the author for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and International Bar Association’s forthcoming Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Detention Centers.

According to the UN Food and Agriculture Organization, North Korea is facing a severe food shortfall—a gap of at least 860,000 tons of food, which corresponds to two months’ supply.[i] In ordinary times, more than 40 percent of North Korea’s population is food insecure, but conditions at present are said to be more dire. Damaging floods and the government’s Covid-19 restrictions have exacerbated the food shortage. International aid agencies have been prevented from operating and cross-border trading has been curtailed. State media openly speaks of a food crisis.

In such conditions, the most food-deprived persons in the country should be identified and prioritized. But in North Korea, the government has created a food-deprived group isolated from the rest of the population: political prisoners. They are undoubtedly the first to be denied food when commodities are scarce and the last to receive food when it is available. In July 2021, the UN Secretary-General warned the international community that “there are risks that the food situation for detainees has worsened, as the food situation has become more acute for the general population.”[ii]

The UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) on human rights in North Korea described the near starvation of prisoners in North Korea as a form of governmental “control and punishment” in its 2014 report.[iii] The most in danger during times of crisis are those held in political prison camps (kwan-li-so). A North Korean official told the former German Ambassador that “people are only being sent there to die.”[iv] However, those held in long-term re-education through labor camps (kyo-hwa-so) and short-term detention facilities are also at risk, especially now that Covid-19 restrictions prevent families and friends from bringing food packages.

A total of 80,000 to 120,000 political prisoners are reported to be incarcerated in North Korea, with some sources estimating upwards of 200,000. In most cases, they are charged with ‘offenses’ that are not considered criminal in other countries: trying to leave the country without permission; trying to join relatives in South Korea or having a family member who does; listening to foreign news broadcasts; watching foreign movies and copying foreign speech and clothing; questioning or complaining about government policies, or having a family member who did; being caught up on the wrong side of a factional political dispute; possessing a Bible or organizing a Christian service; and more. During the pandemic, North Koreans who question or fail to adhere to official quarantine measures are reported to be placed in labor camps for challenging Party policy.[v] In some cases, entire families of prisoners, including children, have been incarcerated on the basis of guilt-by-association (yeon-jwa-je).

Deaths in detention are known to be high. The UN COI estimated in 2014 that hundreds of thousands of prisoners perished over the past five decades from a combination of deliberate starvation, illnesses, forced labor, torture, and other brutality. It defined their deaths as “extermination,” which “can be carried out by imprisoning a large number of people and withholding the necessities of life so that mass deaths ensue.”[vi]

With few exceptions, it has long been accepted practice for donors and aid agencies to refrain from requesting access to political prisoners, because of the political sensitivity of the issue and the fear of jeopardizing access to other vulnerable populations. Political prisoners, however, are undoubtedly the most vulnerable group in North Korea.


In the case of political prison camps (kwan-li-so) as well as long-term re-education through labor camps (kyo-hwa-so), the UN COI presented extensive evidence of the denial of adequate food to those detained. The COI also found evidence of limited access to food at short-term detention facilities.[vii] In recent years, additional corroborating information has emerged regarding these short-term facilities. This information, presented below, shows how adequate food has been consistently denied from the time of arrest through interrogation and then in early short-term detention. Typically, prisoners detained in such facilities are held up to two years, at which point they may be released or transferred to long-term detention facilities.

The following documentation attests to the inadequate food in short-term detention facilities:

  1. Interviews in 2019 and 2020 by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) with 25 former prisoners held in short-term facilities spanning a twenty-three year period (1996–2019) in the provinces of North Hamgyong, South Hamgyong, North Pyongan, South Pyongan, and Ryanggang.[viii] The short-term facilities include: a) police interrogation/detention centers (An-jeon-bu ku-ryu-jang or ku-ryu-so); b) police stations (An-jeon-bu bo-an-so and bun-ju-so); c) Ministry of State Security (hereafter MSS) interrogation/detention centers (Bo-wi-bu ku-ryu-jang); d) short-term labor detention facilities (jip-kyul-so); and e) mobile forced labor brigades (ro-dong-dan-ryeon-dae).
  2. Reports authored by David Hawk, a leading expert on North Korea’s prison camps and detention facilities, including The Hidden Gulag[ix] and The Parallel Gulag,[x] published by HRNK in 2012 and 2017 respectively.
  3. The 2020 report of the UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), Human Rights Violations against Women Detained in the DPRK, based on 100 interviews of women detained between 2009 and 2019 (many in short-term detention facilities) after being forcibly repatriated from China.[xi]
  4. The 2017 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), which compiled more than 500 cases of violations of the right to food in short-term detention facilities and found these violations to be “prevalent” throughout the country. [xii]
  5. Information obtained over the past decade by the author from meetings with former North Korean prisoners, prison guards, and government officials, as well as officials and experts from other Asian countries, North America, and Europe. 


Witness after witness described the below-subsistence food rations provided at the short-term detention facilities run by the Ministry of Social Security (the police),[xiii] the Ministry of State Security (responsible for political crimes), or both in collaboration. Indeed, the diet provided over a period of two decades across different facilities constitutes a dangerously small fraction of minimal dietary requirements for average adults.[xiv]

Of course, during the great famine of the mid-1990s and subsequent periods of food scarcity, the state had little to provide prisoners. But even during periods when food was available, the authorities distributed substandard amounts to persons in detention centers, especially to those being punished on political grounds. 

The following quotes from the testimonies of former prisoners describe their daily diets in short-term facilities, spanning a nineteen-year period:

a) 2000: “small amounts of boiled mashed corn and salty radish leaf soup” (labor detention facility in Chongjin)[xv]

b) 2001: “corn soup made of whole grain unpeeled corn, amounting to three or four spoonfuls” (MSS facility in Onsong)[xvi]

c) 2002–3:“raw corn which had no nutritional value...not even peeled off or cleansed” (MSS facility in Onsong)[xvii]

d) 2005: “about 20 pieces [kernels] of corn” (labor detention facility in Chongjin)[xviii]

e) 2008: “only corn noodles about 2 kilograms for 200 people” (MSS facility in Hyesan)[xix]

f) 2009: “we really could only eat mice and corn pieces” (mobile labor brigade in Sinuiju)[xx]

g) 2010: “a small cup of boiled rice, about 150 grams per meal. Soup was made of dried cabbage and salt” (short-term detention facility in North Pyongan Province)[xxi]

h) 2011:“50 grains [of corn] at each meal...I counted the grains”(unnamed MSS short-term labor facility)[xxii]

i) 2012: “200 to 300 grains of corn three times a day” (unnamed MSS interrogation center)[xxiii]

j) 2012/13: primarily “corn that they couldn’t throw away that even the dogs did not want” (labor detention facility in Hyesan)[xxiv]

k) 2014: “five tiny rotten potatoes per meal” (unnamed police interrogation center)[xxv]

l) 2015: “five spoonfuls...boiled leftovers...three times a day” (MSS detention facility in North Hamgyong Province)[xxvi]

m) 2016: “a handful of corn per meal” three times a day (unnamed MSS detention center)[xxvii]

n) 2017: “50 grains of corn per meal” (unnamed police interrogation center)[xxviii]

o) 2019 (solitary confinement): “about 150 grams of food every day. I did not receive water” (held for one month and ten days at police facility in Onsong)[xxix]

p) 2019: 150 grams three times a day (MSS and police facilities in Onsong)[xxx]

“I think they willfully made people starve in detention,” said one former prisoner to HRNK about his time at a mobile labor brigade in Hoeryong, North Hamgyong Province in 2001.[xxxi] Others echoed the same sentiment: “I have...witnessed many people in the detention centers [Musan, Chongjin, Hyesan, Onsong, Pyeongsong] die of starvation even though the state has food that could be distributed”(2004–5).[xxxii] Another former prisoner said that insufficient food “led to cases of starvation among the detainees” at a mobile labor brigade in Hoeryong in 2011.[xxxiii] The UN OHCHR’S 2020 report described a “consistent pattern” of “grossly inadequate” food for women prisoners in both short-term and long-term facilities.[xxxiv]

Because constant and severe hunger was the daily predicament of many prisoners in these facilities, prisoners ate grass and other plants to survive, according to a former prisoner at a labor detention center in South Sinuiju in 2000.[xxxv] Prisoners caught and ate mice at other facilities, but in many short-term detention facilities, especially overcrowded buildings, prisoners lacked access to the outside and could not even forage for grass, insects, or rodents.[xxxvi]

Role of Families in Preventing Prisoner Starvation: One of the reasons prisoners incarcerated in long-term re-education through labor camps and short-term facilities have been able to survive is because their families and friends are able to bring food packages. (This is not the case in the political prison camps, which are operated by the MSS.) However, the Covid-19 lockdown in 2020 and 2021 has barred families and friends from visiting these facilities, and the food situation for prisoners has become even more precarious.

Prior to the pandemic, there were difficulties in providing food packages to prisoners. Families could remain uninformed for months about the whereabouts of their loved ones, especially while they were in interrogation. Once family members found out the location of the detention facility, they often had to bribe guards to ensure that the food package was safely delivered. Sometimes, the guards stole or ate part of the food or sold it in the market. Visits could also be denied on an arbitrary basis.[xxxvii] The UN OHCHR’s 2020 report points out that not all detainees received packages from their families, since not all were close by or had the capacity to do so. Prisoners who did not receive packages remained “vulnerable to malnutrition.”[xxxviii]

When families were allowed to bring food, former prisoners acknowledged that the health of detainees typically improved. “Most of us survived only because of families and friends bringing food for us and if not, prisoners died from severe malnutrition and ultimately starvation, combined with constant hard work,” according to a former prisoner at a mobile labor brigade in 2011.[xxxix] When family members were allowed to bring food “twice a week,” as was the case at a police detention facility in Onsong in 2019, conditions “got better,” said a former prisoner. However, from April 2019 until the prisoner’s escape in July, prison authorities stopped these visits without providing a reason, and prisoners began to become malnourished.[xl]

For those who were subject to hard labor for up to 10 or more hours a day, food was essential but not often provided. “Even when we were forced to do very hard labor,” the guards “barely provided food” (mobile labor brigade in Hoeryong, 2011).[xli] The combination of inadequate food with forced labor added to the likelihood that prisoners would fall ill. “I was hungry all the time,” said a former prisoner at an MSS facility in Hyesan, Ryanggang Province in 2012–13. “[W]e received only very limited food...[while] we were made to do hard labor, including working on cleaning the railroads.”[xlii]

Nor was clean water made regularly available. The UN OHCHR’s 2020 report recommended that North Korea make “drinking water available to every prisoner whenever she needs it.”[xliii]


Many detainees testified that the food provided by the state sickened them. At one MSS interrogation facility in 2017, a former prisoner testified: “Meals were carried in a bucket and the bucket was never cleaned and smelled terrible...I was unable to eat it.”[xliv] At many other detention facilities and over many years, different detainees repeatedly called the food provided by the state “rotten,” “inedible,” and causing “bad side effects.” “The only food that we were given was essentially waste...animal feed,” which caused many prisoners to suffer from diarrhea and other sicknesses such as enteritis, an inflammation of the small intestine commonly caused by food or drink contaminated with microbes (e.g., Chongjin MSS facility in 2001, Hyesan MSS facility in 2008).[xlv]

At an MSS facility in Hyesan in 2008, a former prisoner spoke of “at least two people in my cell who died from diarrhea or enteritis...I witnessed their deaths, and the prison authorities did nothing to help them.”[xlvi] At an MSS facility in Onsong, “a number of the detainees suffered from enteritis and starved to death” (2002–3).[xlvii] This was also the case at multiple detention centers in North Hamgyong and Ryanggang provinces in 2004–5, where a former prisoner witnessed “many” detainees becoming ill. “I witnessed a large number of people die as a result.”[xlviii] Another former prisoner who suffered from an inflamed gall bladder received no medical help (police detention center in Hoeryong, 2009).[xlix]

Food was regularly used as a weapon of punishment and control. Some former detainees reported “having to drink dirty, contaminated water as collective punishment” (2004).[l] Others reported “not being allowed to receive the dinner meal” as a form of punishment (mobile labor brigade in Chongjin, 2008).[li] At a police interrogation/detention center in 2014, one former detainee stated, “I was starved on a few occasions...the MSS wanted to punish and pressure me, and therefore they did not allow me to get the meals [brought by family members].”[lii] During interrogation, especially for cases concerning political crimes, “starvation” was “deliberately imposed on suspects to increase the pressure on them to confess and to incriminate other persons.”[liii]

Sometimes, food was withheld from certain categories of prisoners as punishment. For example, pregnant women, especially those impregnated by Chinese ‘husbands,’ were reportedly denied food and water at a labor detention facility in Nongpo (Chongjin) in 1999.[liv] At a mobile labor brigade in Hoeryong, “some young male detainees” were singled out and “treated so badly when it [came] to food” (2001)[lv], while at an MSS facility in Chongjin, Christian prisoners “were treated very badly, with many beatings and little food” (2001).[lvi] The teenage daughter of Christian missionaries at a police station in Hyesan was “not given food for almost two weeks” during interrogation (2004).[lvii] According to another former prisoner, “The authorities aimed to hurt those who did not support the regime and/or belonged to the ‘wrong’ social class” (mobile labor brigade in Chongjin, 2003).[lviii] In 2010, female prisoners who had been forcibly repatriated from China were told by prison guards that they were “traitors who deserved to die,” so they received little food and did not have access to medical treatment (police detention facility in South Hamgyong Province).[lix]

Detainees who stole food to survive, especially while working on farms, were punished severely. Guards at an MSS facility in Onsong were reported to have executed “dozens” for eating oxen (beef) in 2000,[lx] while at a short-term labor detention facility in Chongjin in 2002, a former detainee said that “I have…seen individuals executed for stealing a pig.”[lxi] In 2010, at a short-term detention facility in Ryanggang Province, a prisoner secretly ate uncooked rice while doing farm work, and “they put pebbles in my mouth and sealed it with adhesive tape, and they made me work” without food.[lxii]

When prisoners became so sick that they were in need of hospitalization, the authorities sometimes sent prisoners home. In some cases, families had to bribe the authorities or doctors to allow the sick prisoner to return home.[lxiii] Clearly, prison authorities had neither the willingness nor the capacity to treat prisoners who became extremely sick, even though the insufficient food they provided—combined with the “lack of health care” and hard labor—had caused prisoners’ health to deteriorate.[lxiv] In many instances, the bodies of detainees who died from starvation (and other causes) were thrown into unmarked graves.


Inadequate food regularly jeopardized prisoners’ health, in many cases causing inflammation of body organs, as described above. The UN OHCHR also found that the “grossly inadequate quantity and poor quality of food,” fed to women prisoners “led to high levels of malnutrition…and the interruption of their menstrual cycles” (2009–19).[lxv] Both male and female detainees who were held in short-term detention facilities for months lost considerable weight, making them weak and vulnerable to malnutrition and disease, including enteritis and tuberculosis.[lxvi]

Some prisoners described themselves as being reduced to “skin and bones.” Whether at an MSS facility in Hyesan (2008), an MSS facility in Musan (2003), or a labor detention facility in Chongjin (2002), prisoners spoke of how the denial of adequate food reduced their bodies to skeletons. “I weighed only 32 kilograms [70.5 pounds],” recalled one former prisoner.[lxvii] Another individual, who “lost half his body weight” after three months in detention at an MSS facility in Sinuiju, collapsed from malnutrition and beatings and was sent home to die (2003).[lxviii]

Impact of Food Deprivation on Children: It is well known that detained children are subjected to acute suffering, in part because they “ha[ve] no funds with them” with which to secure additional food by bribing guards. For example, at a mobile labor brigade in Chongjin, there were “many deaths of children from malnutrition or starvation” (2003).[lxix] At an MSS facility in Musan in that same year, “almost all of the children were suffering from malnutrition, with a number of them dying from starvation.”[lxx]

In 2003–4, at a labor detention facility in Hyesan, “more than 10 children died of starvation.... Other children survived but were suffering from extreme hunger and malnutrition.”[lxxi] At an MSS facility in Sinuiju in 2008–9, “hunger and starvation were rampant, particularly for children. Many children and young people were emaciated.”[lxxii] Considering that one in five non-incarcerated North Korean children suffer from stunted growth, one can only imagine the impact on incarcerated children when deliberately denied food in detention facilities. Further, it is almost certain that this deprivation also causes lasting emotional harm and irreversible intellectual deficits, in addition to the long-term physical impact on these children.


There is no question that inadequate food—either alone or in combination with forced labor, beatings, and lack of medicine and adequate healthcare—have resulted in deaths over the past twenty years. Thousands of North Korean detainees are estimated to die each year from the combination of starvation, beatings, labor exhaustion, lack of medicine, and disease.

The UN COI’s report found that in short-term detention facilities, “many die from starvation, disease or injuries sustained during beatings and work accidents.”[lxxiii] The UN OHCHR’s report on women prisoners (2009–19) found that “The deprivation of food was at times so severe that detainees reportedly starved to death.”[lxxiv]

Testimony regarding deaths in specific short-term facilities can be found in the following:

a) The UN COI’s report: for example, “After a month or two of imprisonment,” where prisoners were given starvation rations, “a lot of inmates died” (labor training facility in Hamheung).[lxxv]

b) Witness testimonies quoted in HRNK reports (2000–2009): [lxxvi]

  1. “I witnessed many deaths due to starvation and unlivable conditions, around 35 individuals died in the Bo-wi-bu [MSS] that I know of due to starvation” (MSS facility in Onsong, 2000).
  2. “There was at least one person dying every day from malnutrition - it was like an epidemic” (labor detention facility in Chongjin, 2003).
  3. “Approximately 2,000 die...each year...We were told to keep track of how many prisoners died.... Of the 2,000 deaths each year, I knew a number of these individuals.... Some of the inmates died of starvation or malnutrition” (former prisoner-turned-prison administrator at mobile labor brigade in Chungsan, 2003–5).
  4. “I saw a number of people die of starvation.... Starvation and extreme hunger were rampant in the facility” (mobile labor brigade in Pyeongsong, 2005).
  5. Detainees “often suffer from starvation. I witnessed many detainees die” (at detention centers in Onsong, Chongjin, and Orang, 2004–5).
  6. “I saw people die continuously. These deaths often resulted from malnutrition and untreated diseases” (mobile labor brigade in Musan, 1997, 2004, 2009).
Prisoners continued to suffer from health problems after being released. Many former prisoners who managed to escape to South Korea continued to suffer from worms, gastrointestinal problems, and other ailments. One individual who was provided little food during detention in 2009 said six years later, “I caught tuberculosis [then] and have to take medicine now” and “My daughter still has a problem in her heart” (North Pyongan Province police labor detention facility).[lxxvii] Not surprisingly, enduring psychological damage from trauma during detention also is common. “Since my release from the Kilju bo-an-so (police station) I have suffered from considerable mental and physical trauma which continues to this day” (2013).[lxxviii]


In response to the increasing reports of starvation of North Korea’s prisoners, annual UN General Assembly resolutions have begun to list political prisoners in North Korea as a vulnerable group “suffering chronic and acute malnutrition”[lxxix] and have called for the entry of international humanitarian organizations to North Korea’s “detention facilities.”[lxxx]

North Korea itself informed the UN in 2019 that it accepted the recommendation put forward by the government of Ireland at the UN’s Universal Periodic Review (UPR) that the DPRK:

grant immediate free and unimpeded access to international humanitarian organizations to provide assistance to the most vulnerable groups, including prisoners [emphasis added].”[lxxxi]

Donors, UN agencies, and NGOs have nevertheless mostly refrained from requesting access to prisoners so as not to antagonize the North Korean government and possibly undermine aid going to other vulnerable groups. Human rights specialists, for their part, have cautioned that North Korea’s acceptance will doubtless not apply to prisoners in the political prison camps, whose existence the government denies,[lxxxii] and that a “Potemkin village”-type prison could be erected. However, the DPRK’s acceptance of the recommendation does offer an entry point for donors, UN agencies, and NGOs to request access to long-term re-education through labor camps and short-term detention facilities.

North Korea should realize that it is in its own interest to allow humanitarian groups to treat prisoners with tuberculosis and other diseases, because this could benefit the wider community.[lxxxiii] Gaining entry to and vaccinating prisoners against Covid-19 would also yield benefits for the broader population. In 2020, an NGO informed a U.S. Institute of Peace audience that the North Korean government had negotiated an MOU with an unnamed NGO to allow it access to prisoners with health problems.[lxxxiv] The MOU had been negotiated prior to the U.S.-DPRK summit in Singapore, according to the NGO representative, but the DPRK pulled back when diplomatic tensions increased again.

Surely it is time for donors, international agencies, and NGOs to develop a joint strategy that prioritizes the goal of reaching the most acute cases of hunger and disease in North Korea, which are found in its prison camps and detention facilities. Not only would this reinforce international humanitarian standards – e.g., reaching the most vulnerable and providing aid without discrimination, but a joint initiative would also help protect individual agencies from government retaliation. The UN COI, moreover, has warned that subjecting detainees to food denial on a systematic and widespread basis could constitute a crime against humanity, for which North Korea could be held accountable in an international criminal tribunal.[lxxxv] Aid agencies, particularly those whose operations are visibly close to detention facilities, may be seen as complicit if they knowingly turn their heads away.

Precedents exist in other countries for bringing assistance to prisoners, spearheaded by the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), the World Food Programme (WFP), and the World Health Organization (WHO). These precedents should be studied and built upon, with the goal of applying them to the DPRK.

The UN’s Strategic Framework for the DPRK (2017–21), which governs the operations of UN agencies in the country, could be helpful. It affirms that the UN has a role in providing support to the DPRK in meeting its human rights commitments under the UPR. It therefore puts the UN in a position to offer its support to the North Korean government to help implement its acceptance of humanitarian entry to prisons, as noted above. The Strategic Framework also provides that the UN may offer support to North Korea in technical cooperation and training in international standards. With support from headquarters and donors, the UN Resident Coordinator in North Korea could feasibly bring onto the international humanitarian agenda the plight of incarcerated North Koreans who are badly in need of food and medical care.

An episode in the ICRC’s history may be instructive. In 1989, the widely acclaimed organization decided to look back some fifty years to understand why it had provided so little help to those incarcerated in Nazi concentration camps during the Second World War. What its evaluators found was that ICRC staff and officials at the time feared that such advocacy could jeopardize their assistance to other groups, in particular POWs for whom they had a specific responsibility, and possibly undermine their relationship with the government. Overall, they had failed to grasp the extraordinariness of the situation. Today, the ICRC views this oversight as “the worst defeat” in its history.[lxxxvi]

The international humanitarian and development community owes it to long-suffering prisoners in North Korea and also to the integrity of their own missions to bring closer the human rights and humanitarian goals that lie at the foundation of their work.


[i] FAO Crop Prospects and Food Situation, July 2021, p. 5, at http://www.fao.org/3/cb5603en/cb5603en.pdf.
[ii] UN General Assembly, “Report of the Secretary-General: Situation of human rights in the DPRK,” A/76/242, 28 July 2021, para. 16.
[iii] UN Commission of Inquiry, Report of the detailed findings of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK, A/HRC/25/CRP.1, 7 February 2014, para. 681 [hereafter UN COI report].
[iv] Thomas Schaefer, From Kim Jong Il to Kim Jong Un: How the Hardliners Prevailed (2021), p. 68.
[v] Mun Dong-Hui, “Violators of North Korea’s quarantine protocols sent to ‘total control zones,’” NK News, August 12, 2021; and “North Korea to Impose Hard Labor Sentences for Covid-19 Gathering Violations,” Radio Free Asia, August 11, 2021.
[vi] UN COI report, para. 1041.
[vii] UN COI report, paras. 1068, 1170, 1171.
[viii] U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, fifty testimonies taken in 2019–20 [unpublished, hereafter HRNK 2020].
[ix] David Hawk, The Hidden Gulag (Washington, DC: U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2012) [hereafter Hawk, Hidden Gulag].
[x] David Hawk, The Parallel Gulag (Washington, DC: U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2017) [hereafter Hawk, Parallel Gulag, 2017].
[xi] Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Human Rights Violations against Women Detained in the DPRK, July 2020, at https://www.ohchr.org/EN/NewsEvents/Pages/DisplayNews.aspx?NewsID=26127&LangID=E [hereafter OHCHR 2020].
[xii] Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), 2017 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights [hereafter NKDB 2017], p. 353.
[xiii] The Ministry of Social Security was formerly known as the Ministry of People's Security. See Jeongmin Kim, "North Korea likely renames Ministry of People's Security," NK News, June 3, 2020, at https://www.nknews.org/2020/06/north-korea-likely-renames-ministry-of-peoples-security/?t=1591178315505. See also "평양종합병원건설장으로 달려오는 마음," Ryugyong, June 2, 2020, at https://kcnawatch.org/newstream/1591084868-679913493/%ED%8F%89%EC%96%91%EC%A2%85%ED%95%A9%EB%B3%91%EC%9B%90%EA%B1%B4%EC%84%A4%EC%9E%A5%EC%9C%BC%EB%A1%9C-%EB%8B%AC%EB%A0%A4%EC%98%A4%EB%8A%94-%EB%A7%88%EC%9D%8C/.
[xiv] Human Rights Watch, A Matter of Survival (2006), Appendix, p. 35; and UN COI report, paras. 539 and 804 (and note 1200).
[xv] Hawk, Hidden Gulag, p. 141.
[xvi] HRNK, 2020.
[xvii] HRNK, 2020.
[xviii] HRNK, 2020.
[xix] HRNK, 2020.
[xx] HRNK, 2020.
[xxi] NKDB 2017, p. 353.
[xxii] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VI.
[xxiii] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VI.
[xxiv] HRNK, 2020.
[xxv] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VI.
[xxvi] NKDB 2017, p. 357. 
[xxvii] OHCHR 2020, para. 39.
[xxviii] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VI.
[xxix] HRNK, 2020.
[xxx] HRNK, 2020.
[xxxi] HRNK, 2020.
[xxxii] HRNK, 2020.
[xxxiii] HRNK, 2020.
[xxxiv] OHCHR 2020.
[xxxv] Hawk, Hidden Gulag, p. 124.
[xxxvi] Hawk, Parallel Gulag, pp. 12–13.
[xxxvii] NKDB 2017, pp. 346–8.
[xxxviii] OHCHR 2020.
[xxxix] HRNK, 2020.
[xl] HRNK, 2020.
[xli] HRNK, 2020.
[xlii] HRNK, 2020.
[xliii] OHCHR 2020, para. 85.
[xliv] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VI.
[xlv] HRNK, 2020.
[xlvi] HRNK, 2020.
[xlvii] HRNK, 2020.
[xlviii] HRNK, 2020.
[xlix] HRNK, 2020.
[l] Hawk, Hidden Gulag, p. 135.
[li] HRNK, 2020.
[lii] OHCHR 2020, Annex 2, VII.
[liii] UN Commission of Inquiry, Report of the commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK, A/HRC/25/63, 7 February 2014, para. 58.
[liv] Hawk, Hidden Gulag, p. 138.
[lv] HRNK, 2020.
[lvi] HRNK, 2020.
[lvii] HRNK, 2020.
[lviii] HRNK, 2020.
[lix] NKDB 2017, pp. 356–7.
[lx] HRNK, 2020.
[lxi] HRNK, 2020.
[lxii] NKDB 2017, p. 354. 
[lxiii] HRNK, 2020; and Hawk, Hidden Gulag.
[lxiv] OHCHR 2020.
[lxv] OHCHR 2020.
[lxvi] OHCHR 2020.
[lxvii] HRNK, 2020.
[lxviii] Hawk, Hidden Gulag, p. 127.
[lxix] HRNK, 2020.
[lxx] HRNK, 2020.
[lxxi] HRNK, 2020.
[lxxii] HRNK, 2020.
[lxxiii] UN COI report, para. 822.
[lxxiv] OHCHR 2020, para. 40.
[lxxv] UN COI report, para. 822.
[lxxvi] HRNK, 2020.
[lxxvii] NKDB 2017, p. 353.
[lxxviii] HRNK, 2020.
[lxxix] See UN General Assembly Resolution on Situation of human rights in the DPRK, A/C.3/70/L.35, 30 October 2015, para. 4. 
[lxxx] See UN General Assembly Resolution on Situation of human rights in the DPRK, A/C.3/73/L.40, 31 October 2018, paras. 2(vi), 5, 16 (m).
[lxxxi] UN Human Rights Council, Recommendation 126.58, Report of the Working Group on the UPR: DPRK, A/HRC/42/10, 25 June 2019.
[lxxxii] David Hawk, Human Rights in the DPRK: The Role of the United Nations (Washington, DC: U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, 2021), p. 93. 
[lxxxiii] World Health Organization, at http://www.who.int/tb/challenges/prisons/en/; and http://www.euro.who.int/en/health-topics/health-determinants/prisons-and- health/who-health-in-prisons-programme-hipp; and see Daniel Wertz, “A Chance for Progress in North Korean Human Rights,” The Diplomat, November 11, 2014.
[lxxxiv] Daniel Jasper, “Lost Generation: Health and Human Rights of North Korea’s Children,” Panel, U.S. Institute of Peace, January 31, 2020, https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zqTbbSg3re4.
[lxxxv] UN COI report, paras. 1068, 1170, 1171.
[lxxxvi] Edward Cody, “Study says Red Cross did too little to help Jews in WWII,” Washington Post, February 17, 1989, at https://www.washingtonpost.com/archive/politics/1989/02/17/study-says-red-cross-did-too-little-to-help-jews-in-wwii/85c70ae0-2bd5-421f-95c9-f7a57ac5f5a5/.