ISHR Interviews PSCORE about women’s and children’s rights in North Korea

Interview with Bada Nam, General Secretary of PSCORE (People for Successful COrean REunification)

Frankfurt am Main/Seoul, 20 January 2020 – The South Korean-based human rights organisation PSCORE is committed to helping defectors and victims of human rights violations in North Korea. ISHR staff member Dooyoung Kim interviewed Bada Nam, Secretary General of PSCORE (People for Successful COrean REunification) about the situation of women and children’s rights in North Korea.

Left: Bada Nam (Secretary General of PSCORE)
Right: Dooyoung Kim (Staff of ISHR)

Q1: What do you think are some of the biggest obstacles when it comes to promoting North Korean children’s and women’s rights? 

During the meetings of Universal Periodic Review, United Nations Human Rights Council, and other human rights related conferences, North Korean government has consistently claimed that it is actively working on improving women’s and children’s rights and that their rights are guaranteed. They are lying about the situation to certain extent, but the bigger issue here is that North Korean government is really convinced that women’s and children’s rights situation is not grave and that they think these rights are protected. This clearly shows that public awareness about human rights, especially women’s and children’s rights, is minimal in North Korea. As a result, when North Korean government is accused of human rights violations and other countries expresses concerns and gives advices in the United Nations Human Rights Council meetings, North Korean government officials may have difficulties understanding the reasons behind it.

For example, when the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child had to be translated into North Korean, the hardest part was to explain certain basic terms like “Child Abuse” because these terms do not exist in North Korean language. Thus, translating these terms for North Korea requires lots of explanations. This is an effective proof of North Korea’s low awareness about basic human rights which explains why the efforts North Korean government claims to make seem adequate.

Furthermore, the overall status of women and children in North Korea is very low due to the country’s hierarchical society and military culture. Therefore, when women and children try to raise their voices and express concerns about their rights, they are either unanswered or rejected, thereby discouraging them to speak up. This is the root of the problem.

Q2: What do you think about the female North Korean defectors and the violation of their human rights they are facing in China?

Numerous North Korean women are trafficked to China. Some women are even aware that they will be trafficked or sold, but they still decide to go on with it, as they believe it is still better than living in North Korea. This is one of the examples that show how dire living and human rights conditions are in North Korea.

The traffickers in China fully take advantage of the desperateness and vulnerability of these women, which also points to the human rights violations in China. Last year, PSCORE helped North Korean defectors who were arrested and detained in Chinese prison and organized campaigns to raise international awareness on this issue. But helping North Korean defectors escape and settle in other countries is very difficult as there is no rule of thumb regarding how to succeed in helping them. Each case is different and depends a lot on luck.

In any case, PSCORE has consistently work in this area, and we will continue to do so.

Q3: The key aim of PSCORE is the successful reunification of South and North Koreas. How are human rights issued linked to the successful reunification?

The definition of reunification significantly varies from person to person. Same goes for how each government and how its citizens view the reunification. In South Korea, people tend to focus particularly on economic benefits that can be generated by the reunification. They talk about using or trading the rare earth materials from North Korea, building inter-Korea railroads, or how the reunification will make Korea a stronger and richer country. But when I talk to the North Korean defectors who settled in South Korea, they do not necessarily agree with these ideas.

We, the PSCORE believes that the successful reunification is the one that prioritizes the protection of human rights. Yes, the political conflict resolutions or economic advantages are important as well, but working towards the reunification while prioritizing these practical matters but disregarding human rights issues will lead to serious consequences later on.

Q4: South Korean government is constantly making efforts to better the inter-Korean relationship. Yet, it does not mention to the North Korean government the human rights concerns. What are your opinions on this issue?

Human rights are to be enhanced at all levels in essence, which is why the term itself is always in plural form. It is therefore essential that all human rights are promoted in concert. Yet, the current situation is politically complicated as North Korean government basically refuses to talk whenever human rights issues are brought to the table. So I do understand why South Korean government rather focuses on economic, social, and cultural improvements in North Korea without ever mentioning the necessity of promoting political and civil rights of North Korean citizens. It is true that advances in Inter-Korean relationship and increased interactions will help enhancing some aspects of human rights situation in North Korea, but this should be done with the core aim of promoting and guaranteeing all human rights.

North Korean government is responsible for responding to these concerns in the end, but South Korean government should speak up about human rights violations and put more efforts into promoting overall human rights in North Korea.

Q5: What recommendations do you have for the international community to promote and protect the rights of women and children in North Korea?

As I emphasized earlier, the greater influx of information through increased interactions and connections with the outside worlds is the key to promote and protect women’s and children’s rights in North Korea. North Korean society has long been violent due to military culture and the government’s one of the long-standing propagandas; the country can survive and flourish when it defeats all enemies. This aggravates the women’s and children’s rights violations as they consist the vulnerable populations.

The situation has recently been changing. South Korean soap operas have been illegally brought to North Korea, and North Koreans can now see how women are treated in other countries. Moreover, most parents used to have 5 to 8 children in the past but nowadays choose to have 1 or 2 mostly due to the financial difficulties. Accordingly, each child gets more care and attention than before. In case of fights, people started trying to reach agreements on financial compensations for any damage, resulting in reduced number of fights and violence in the society. South Korea went through this phase already 20 to 30 years ago.

It is therefore important for the international community to encourage and facilitate the influx of information that will make a crucial contribution to giving the North Korean public an insight into the outside world, thereby facilitating social improvements.