North Korean refugee on fostering democracy in North Korea

January 10, 2013 6:00 AM

Kim Joo-il is a former captain in the Korean People’s Army. He is an activist residing in the UK. This week Parliament Street, a British think-tank, issued Kim’s report on how to foster democracy in North Korea.  He makes four recommendations.

First, “the UK and other European countries must actively lead an international initiative to expose the reality of human rights violations, persuade the regime to address these problems, and plant the seeds of democracy in North Korea.

As well as the obvious moral rewards that such an approach will yield, the UK’s position in the world will be enhanced.”

Second, “Relate aid policies to human rights problems, together with transparency.

That is the real way of providing humanitarian aid to North Korea. A double standard where they provide economic assistance only while ignoring human rights issues cannot be truly humanitarian.

Both rescue mechanisms, humanitarian aid and human rights, are inseparably related to each other. Especially in a country like North Korea, where the concept of humanitarianism faces limitations, these two mechanisms must not be separated. “

Third, “Promote freedom among the people of North Korea

There are high chances that human rights related requests from the UK and European press will be taken into consideration while those through the US media will only be considered as anti-North Korean broadcasts. “

Fourth, “Nurture the future leaders of a free Korea

The UK and other European countries must be actively involved in nurturing young talent among North Korean defectors. These young talents will be the future leaders in building democracy in North Korea.  For this, special curriculums such as "leadership in bringing democracy to North Korea" must be devised to include teachings on politics, economy, culture, religion and diplomacy.”

To start with the last recommendation, Steph Haggard and I recommended the same thing in the final chapter of Witness to Transformation: Refugee Insights into North Korea. Indeed, we suggest a possible tactical approach: a country like Norway, for example, could train refugees, as Kim suggests, while its neighbor Sweden engaged with the regime.  There is a tendency within foreign governments to not do anything that might offend the North Koreans for fear of putting engagement at risk.  In other words, we pull our punches. A good cop/bad cop strategy would turn the tables on the North Koreans: instead of them playing foreign governments off each other, the foreign governments would cooperatively play distinct roles.

With respect to the first recommendation, the more, the merrier, I suppose, though I have my doubts that Europe will ever have the strategic interest in North Korea that the US and the Asians do.  Whatever Europe does, it should coordinate with others: one thing that Steph Haggard and I found in Famine in North Korea: Markets, Aid, and Reform is that the North Koreans were quite adept at playing on the diplomatic ambitions of foreign countries and obtaining aid from new donors as it dried up from others.

Likewise, in Witness, we sketch out a strategy of eyes-open engagement, offering to engage but bearing no illusions about the nature and interests of the regime and crafting our strategy and tactics accordingly.  One of the things we argue is that pure humanitarian aid should not be conditioned on politics, though we support and indeed recommend various tactics to improve effectiveness in implementation.  Developmental assistance is a different story however: in this case we believe that assistance should be conditional on policy—as it is everywhere else in the world—and this includes human rights.

Finally, on the third recommendation, I have no idea if the European press or sources would be regarded as inherently less hostile than their American counterparts, but I do welcome the news that the BBC may be initiating a service aimed at North Korea.  London calling.



Kim Joo-il's report is available at You might want to add a hyperlink in your post? Cheers

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Marcus Noland Senior Research Staff

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