What South Korea can do about human rights abuses in DPRK



During the brief period that I attended elementary school in Seoul, the homeroom teacher always had the class leader (banjang) write down names of those who misbehaved on the blackboard while the teacher was away. Lest s/he gets punished by the teacher later on, the young students suppressed the urge to chat and play with their classmates, and did whatever they were told to do in relative silence. It’s all about incentives.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea decided to do just that (well, sort of) by opening the North Korean Human Rights Documentation Center and Archive in Seoul, with the purpose of documenting the human rights violations of the North Korean government and others officials. As mentioned in the Wall Street Journal blog post, this center is modeled after the one in West Germany that documented human rights abuses occurring in East Germany at the time. Dong-A Ilbo [in Korean] writes that although this center was unable to investigate the crimes right then and there, the mere existence of such center deterred, to a certain degree, the East German officials from engaging in human rights abuses lest they be punished for it if Germany were ever to reunite. In fact, the 40,000 plus cases documented at this West German center were later used to prosecute East German officials for their crimes after the fall of the Berlin Wall.

The divide on this issue between the left and the right wing of Korean politics remains stark. However, from a humanitarian standpoint, if the existence of this center can deter even one North Korean official from committing atrocious human rights abuses to commoners, it might be worth it. The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights already documents more than 11,000 cases of human rights abuses in North Korea. Sadly, we all know that this is just a tip of the iceberg and that there is a lot of work to do on this front.

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