Macro-viewpoints for Improving Women’s Rights in North Korea
The current state of human rights crisis and the devastating situation of women in North Korea are corroborated by testimonies of North Korean refugees who have gone through severe traumatic experiences. A 2014 report of the UN COI on human rights in DPRK accused the North Korean government of “being involved in systemic, widespread and gross human rights violations”.
In order to find fundamental solutions to improve North Korean women’s rights, we must take macro-viewpoints, because the severe human rights violation in North Korea stems from the systemic characteristics of the Kim regime, which has been maintaining information blockade system for nearly 70 years.
The international community has been putting pressure on the DPRK through adopting North Korean human rights resolutions; some nations have tried to establish human rights dialogues with North Korea; South Korea once launched the Sunshine Policy in efforts to reconcile with and change North Korea; yet, none of the approaches has successfully achieved its intended purpose.
It was because the approaches in the past have been mainly aimed at changing the mind of Kim Il-sung family, and focused largely on inducing positive response from the regime. A new approach must aim at developing consciousness of the people in North Korea so that they spontaneously seek for alternative democratic regime.
Before proposing a concrete new approach, I would like to briefly introduce a few stories of North Korean refugees I have interviewed in a third country.
The first story is about a woman who left North Korea to a third country in the mid-90s to feed her husband and a five-year-old son. As the food shortage intensified into famine, she decided to smuggle herbs, which her neighbors collected, and trade them for food. She crossed the Tumen River with a help of a North Korean border guard who ‘promised’ to also ‘help her way back exactly one week after at the agreed time and place’. But the local dealer never paid her for the herbs, and she was stalled empty handed in a third country.
The second case is a story of a woman who led a life of a peddler near the Tumen River between North Korea and China. She showed me how she carries around a $100 bill. She rolled the bill as small as possible and wrapped it in plastic with one end of thread. She then tied the other end to one of her molar teeth, and swallowed the money so she can later take it out of her stomach and use it after she arrives home safely. She explained that it was a new way to secure what they have against border guards who search even in women’s uterus by inserting their hands.
The third case is a story of three North Korean youth known as kotjebi(homeless child beggars). They were 11, 15, and 16 year-old boys. The boys referred their ‘Supreme Leader’, Kim Jong-il, as a ‘villain who deserves death’ without any hesitation, which is absolutely unthinkable to do so for most North Koreans. The boys’ perception of their ‘Supreme Leader’ has changed so in just two days upon watching South Korean TV shows while they were staying at one of the Chinese residents in China. The Chinese resident told me that he was surprised by the powerful influence of the TV media as they say, “A picture tells a thousand words”.
The fourth case is about a young professor from North Korea. He said that he had been taught about ‘anti-imperialism and anti-feudalism’ more than once a week since his childhood. He also claimed that secret dissident groups must be organized in order to carry out anti-Kim family regime activities, because the structure of North Korean society has retrogressed to become a feudal monarchy pivoted on Kim Il-sung Nationalism. He also argued that a large number of North Korean intellectuals are clearly aware of the need of a people’s revolution, but wouldn’t dare to act out for it is thought that there would be no support from external influences.
All of their testimonies suggest that a broader view must be taken in seeking for fundamental solutions since the human rights violation in North Korea virtually stems from having to secure the Kim family regime. Most North Koreans strongly believe that the collapse of Kim Il-sung family regime will bring about the collapse of the nation and the people. What seems preposterous idea that ‘there are no people with a regime change’ is prevalent amongst North Koreans, who are also not even aware of the concept of human rights and protection system.
On the other side, it also gives hope that if international community intervenes to raise awareness amongst North Koreans, it will lead the people to find the ultimate solutions on their own.
With this being said, a new approach to North Korean human rights issue can be taken by establishing a direct distribution channel to the North Korean residents for delivering outside information and supplies without the regime’s interference, so that the people’s eyes open and they change the characteristics of the regime. Also, direct influence must be exerted in order to help North Koreans to recognize the need of human rights improvement, and for them to change the tyrannical regime to liberal and democratic government.
Above all the possible concrete plans, I propose the international community to take a closer look at the following three suggestions: ① Satellite Digital Multimedia Broadcasting(S-DMB) to North Korea, ② network marketing near the China-North Korea border region, ③ improvement of the human rights of the North Korean overseas workers.
‘S-DMB’ service will effectively penetrate the regime’s Information Blockade Policy and be delivered directly to the people, which is expected to have dramatic influence on awakening North Koreans. In collaboration of the government organizations and NGOs, this could be done by providing commercial distribution of portable pocket-sized television sets near the China-North Korea border, and by providing services on the S-DMB network with full coverage for DPRK.
Audience share in Yen Bien Province in China and in North Korea is expected to be high based on the current demand, and it will surely have a positive impact on changing their psychology. It is not so hard to imagine how much S-DMB with dozens of TV channels will influence North Korean viewers’ awareness.
The second proposal is to build and run about 10 supply stations in the China-North Korea border region, where both official and unofficial commercial exchanges are actively taking place. Not only sending relief goods but providing more markets with supplies at a cheaper price will have direct impact on the people’s consciousness. If networks are established across the Tumen River and the Yalu River, they will promote the expansion of private economic interchanges without the Kim Jong-un regime’s control, which, in turn, will serve as crucial channels for information.
The last proposal is that the countries hosting North Korean overseas workers undertake practical measures to improve their human rights and guarantee their freedom in order to protect their rights and improve their awareness of human rights. Nearly 60,000 North Koreans who are sent abroad to over 18 countries are exploited by Kim Jong-un under the name of ‘the loyalty to the Divine Leader’, thereby maintaining ‘little North Korea’ abroad. The research on the issue has already begun in some countries.
As neither the pressure nor persuasion is making any difference to the violation of human rights in North Korea, a new resolution is urgent. Establishing direct channel to North Koreans and rouse the people’s consciousness to change the regime and its system would certainly have an impact on improving women’s rights in North Korea.
By K. C. KIM.
Translated by Jinny Lee.