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April 03, 2013

Medford, Mass. – “The ongoing human rights violations in North Korea are an insult against humanity and human norms,” said Professor Sung-Yoon Lee yesterday at a forum held at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy in Medford, Massachusetts. 

At a time when North Korea is dominating the front page of the news with its threats of attack, the forum, entitled “Human Rights in Kim Jong-un's North Korea: Is Progress Possible?”, brought together a number of subject matter experts to focus on different topics – the nation's notorious political prison camps, the plight of North Korean refugees and the remedies available through the U.N. system to address the North Korean human rights conundrum.

The event, held by the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK), a non-governmental organization based in Washington, D.C., The Fletcher School, and the Concord, New Hampshire-based Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice, brought together a group of speakers including: Katrina Lantos Swett, President of The Lantos Foundation and HRNK Board member; Roberta Cohen, HRNK Co-Chair; Jacqueline Bhabha, Lecturer on Law at Harvard Law School and Harvard University Advisor on Human Rights/Human Rights Education; Hurst Hannum, Professor of International Law at The Fletcher School; Sung-Yoon Lee, Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor of Korean Studies at The Fletcher School; Joseph Bermudez, Senior Analyst at DigitalGlobe Analytics; In-ae Hyun, Resident Fellow at HRNK and Deputy Representative at NK Intellectuals’ Solidarity; and Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director, HRNK.

On Human Rights in North Korea

Katrina Lantos Swett, the President of the Lantos Foundation for Human Rights and Justice and Board member of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, remarked, “The world’s attention on North Korea’s threats is a reminder of how the world is once again setting aside the fundamental values of human rights; and we do so only at our own peril.”

Hurst Hannum, Professor of International Law at The Fletcher School, commended the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea for the UN Human Rights Council’s adoption by consensus of a Commission of Inquiry on North Korean human rights, a measure first proposed by the Committee in 2006. At the same time, emphasizing the need to truly help the North Korean people, Hannum cautioned, “Accountability is an important goal. But that doesn’t necessarily improve the human rights of the North Korean people.”

On North Korea’s Political Prison Camp System

Joseph Bermudez, Senior Analyst at DigitalGlobe, a leading global provider of high-resolution earth imagery solutions, indicated that at least two of North Korea’s six political prison camps had expanded in size. The area of Camp 25 in Chongjin, North Hamgyong Province, expanded twofold between 2009 and 2010.

Greg Scarlatoiu, Executive Director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, noted, “Under the Kim Jong-Un regime, the crackdown on defections has intensified. That explains the decrease in the number of North Korean refugees reaching South Korea, and this is one possible explanation of the expansion of Camp 25.”

On North Korean Refugees

Professor Jacqueline Bhabha of Harvard University, an expert on refugees, emphasized “The current international refugee protection system is extremely flawed and unreliable for people who need protection.”

Roberta Cohen, Co-chair of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, noted, “North Korea restricts access to food, resources and opportunity according to songbun, a social classification system based on loyalty to the regime. Many North Korean refugees face a well-founded fear of persecution if forcibly repatriated to North Korea. They qualify for full protection as political refugees under the 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, as refugees sur place.”

Mrs. Hyun In-Ae, a Resident Fellow at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea and a former professor of philosophy in Pyongyang, North Korea, pointed out that “the number of North Koreans arriving in South Korea declined by almost 50 percent from 2011 to 2012.”

Contact: Greg Scarlatoiu, [email protected]; 202-499-7973


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