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South Korea's efforts in solving North Korea's human rights issue Updated: 2015-12-10 18:23:01 KST

In June of this year, the United Nations opened a new Human Rights Office in Seoul to monitor the human rights situation in North Korea.

Furthermore, the third committee of the UN General Assembly passed last month a resolution on such issue in an overwhelming vote of 112 to 19.

These two landmark events this year alone have further underlined an undeniable truth: the human rights situation in North Korea is not only in the world's radar, but also a pressing global agenda.

"Last year in February, the UN Commission of Inquiry published a report on North Korea’s human rights violations. These violations were systematic, extensive and serious and they have been ongoing for decades. The situation in the North is no different than the Nazi’s brutality which claimed the lives of 6 million Jews, or that of Cambodia’s Pol Pot of Khmer Rouge, which killed 2 million."

Efforts in South Korea are also seen in both governmental and civilian levels. According to Seoul's Ministry of Unification, there are currently 60 Non-Governmental Organizations registered with the government working on improving North Korea’s human rights situation.

Such NGO is the Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, a group credited of introducing the human rights issue for the first time to the world in the 1990s.

"We first started campaigning on the issue in South Korea. But people were very reluctant to talk about North Korean issues as many considered them to be very political. So we thought maybe if the international society underlines the situation first, then South Koreans could also see the problem as it is, a human rights issue. So we held global campaign activities which raised awareness both internationally and domestically."

NKHR seeks other international NGOs and governments to support this cause, and it tries to further make the issue known to the world by means of exhibitions and cultural events.

But how serious is the issue?

We met a North Korean defector who now works as a painter, conveying his message through his works.
Just 10 years ago, Song Byeok used to draw propaganda posters in North Korea.

"The most basic and important need of a human being, is food. But North Korea does not allow that. To feed our family, my father and I tried to get it from China. But while crossing the Tumen (Doo-man) river, my father drifted away and died and I was caught and taken to a prison camp. It was there that I saw the reality of North Korea. North Korea has no such thing as 'individual's dignity'. Many people died in the camp and I really envied them. I wished I could die fast and live another life. This is the reality of North Korea."

Most North Koreans defect not for freedom, but for survival.

"There is no freedom of press, expression or movement in North Korea there isn't and shouldn't be another place like North Korea."

This group prepares for the process of transitional justice which will likely occur after reunification or when North Korea agrees on inspections over its human rights situation.

Through testimonies of North Korean defectors, the organization collects evidence on the regime's public executions, and pinpoints the locations where those took place in a map.

"There's a lot of pressure that can be put on those leaders for their behavior to change. One way that people put it is, they call it "accountability anxiety". If you know that somebody is watching you and you know what you are doing is a crime against humanity, you are going to start get a little bit nervous. And that might change the way they behave and change the way of approaching these sorts of issues within North Korea."

As the world is working on ways to improve the human rights of the North Korean people, South Korea should go beyond activities held by organizations and engage society altogether.

"To improve the North Korean human rights issue, organizations need support. And by support, it doesn't simply mean food aid or pressuring North Korea to hold talks. An actual way to solve the issue is to let North Koreans know what the outside world really looks like, and help them escape Kim's abusive rule."

"North Korea's human rights issue is in the global spotlight, and individuals and organizations are working to improve the situation hoping that the North Korean people can soon gain their freedom and rights. Lee Ji-won, Arirang News."
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