2022 South Koreans' Perceptions of North Korean Human Rights

How can we consistently increase public awareness of North Korean human rights?


2022 South Koreans’ Perceptions of North Korean Human Rights


 

Summary of Survey Results on South Koreans’ Perceptions of North Korean Human Rights


Interest in North Korean Human Rights

- 66.5% of respondents said they were “Interested” in North Korean human rights (Very 15.0% + Generally 51.5%), while 33.5% responded they were “Not Interested” (Not at All 4.5% + Hardly 29.0%). There has not been a significant change in interest among the general public in North Korean human rights each year, maintaining a level between 50-60%.

- Among the top reasons for being interested in North Korean human rights were “Exposure to news through media content”, “From the perspective of universal human rights, to ensure the basic human rights of North Koreans”, “Because we share the same ethnicity”, and “by listening to their testimonies”.

- Regarding reasons for not being interested in North Korean human rights, respondents said “It has nothing to do with me”, “I am busy living my own life”, “The situation cannot be improved”, and “North Korea is just another foreign country”.


Perceptions of the North Korean Human Rights Situation and Possibility of Improvement


- The majority of the general public (95.5%) agreed that the human rights violation in North Korea is “serious” (Very Serious 55.0% + Fairly Serious 40.5%).



- 18.2% of respondents said the North Korean human rights situation was “getting worse” while 9.4% of them responded that the situation was “improving”. Compared to last year, the response that North Korean human rights are “improving” decreased by 7.6%p and the response that the situation is “getting worse” increased by 0.1%p. The majority of the general public recognize that the situation of North Korean human rights is severe without any possible change as shown by the 7.5%p increase in the response that the situation is “unchanged”.


Possible Improvement of North Korean Human Rights


Regarding the possibility of North Korean human rights improvements, 76.4% of respondents said there was “no possibility of further improvement,” while 23.6% responded there was “a possibility of further improvement.” In 2018, the positive response to the North Korean human rights improvement had reached its peak, but has been on the decline since then.



The South Korean Government's Response in the Event of a Large Scale North Korean Refugee Crisis 



- In the event of a large-scale North Korean refugee crisis, 41.4% of respondents said that the South Korean government “should accept all the people who want to reside in the country as we share the same ethnicity” while 46.8% responded the government should “selectively accept the people considering the economic capability and diplomatic burden”, and 11.8% said the government should “not accept any of them due to high burden on society”.

- While the gap between the two responses is closing, the preference for selective acceptance of refugees has been growing since 2018. According to age, respondents over 50 preferred “accepting all” while those in their 40s and younger showed a strong preference for “selective acceptance”. 


Level of Awareness of North Korean Human Rights Related Issues


Topic

Aware of it

First Time Hearing

Public Execution

92.6

7.4

Forced Repatriation of North Korean Fishermen

87.8

12.2

Political Prison Camps

83.6

16.4

Human Trafficking

77.9

22.1

UN North Korean Human Rights Resolution

73.1

26.9

North Korean Human Rights Act

46.0

54.0

Referring Kim Jong Un to the ICC

38.7

61.3

North Korean Human Rights Foundation

31.5

68.5

Ministry of Unification Center for North Korean Human Rights Records

28.9

71.1

Establishment and Operation of the UN Human Rights Office in Seoul

27.2

72.8

Appointment of a North Korean Human Rights Ambassador

23.6

76.4

Ministry of Justice North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office

19.1

80.9


- The survey found that over 70% of South Koreans were aware of “Public Executions”, “Forced Repatriation of North Korean Fishermen”, “Political Prison Camps”, “Human Trafficking”, and the “UN North Korean Human Rights Resolution”. Additionally, compared to the survey results from 2020, the level of awareness of North Korean human rights-related government institutions also increased on the whole.

- Among the majority of the public who were aware of the forced repatriation of the North Korean fishermen, 54.2% said that the repatriation was not an appropriate response.

- Meanwhile, less than half of respondents were aware of “The North Korean Human Rights Act” (46%), “Referral of Kim Jong Un to the ICC” (38.7%), “The North Korean Human Rights Foundation” (31.5%), “The Ministry of Unification’s Center for North Korean Human Rights Records” (28.9%), “Establishment and Operation of the UN Human Rights Office in Seoul” (27.2%), “Appointment of a North Korean Human Rights Ambassador” (23.6%), and the “Ministry of Justice North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office” (20.2%).

- Compared to the previous year’s figures on those who were aware of the North Korean Human Rights Act, awareness increased by 18.2%p from 27.8% to 46%, demonstrating a substantial change in the number of those aware of the act. As for the North Korean Human Rights Foundation, the percentage of people aware decreased by 6.8%p.

- In 2015, prior to the enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Act, 45.7% was highest level of awareness surrounding the act, and since its enactment had in fact shown a decreasing trend of awareness, maintaining a level in the 20-30% range. This year’s results being the highest level of awareness can be attributed in connection with the forced repatriation of the North Korean fishermen and the publicity attributed to the case by North Korean human rights groups and politicians, as well as raising issues such as revisions to the North Korean Human Rights Act, resulting in a majority becoming aware of the act.


Level of Awareness and Satisfaction with Operation of the Ministry of Unification’s Center for North Korean Human Rights Records


- The percentage of respondents who had heard of or were aware of the Ministry of Unification’s Center for Human Rights Records was 28.9%, and increase of 3.5%p from the 2021 figure of 25.4%. Issues such as the continued lack of and official publication of the Center’s activities appears to be having an effect thanks to continued coverage by the media. Although the Center has been operating as an organizational unit under the Ministry of Unification for six years, there is still strikingly little presence as a government institution.

- Through the North Korean Human Rights Act, the Center for North Korean Human Rights Records was established and is operated by the Ministry of Unification, while the North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office was established and is operated by the Ministry of Justice. However, there has been substantial criticism of their operation due to the obstacles faced in establishing the North Korean Human Rights Foundation due to office closures and inadequate sharing of results on North Korean human rights recording activities.


Level of Awareness and Satisfaction with Operation of the Ministry of Justice’s North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office


- The percentage of respondents who had heard of or were aware of the Ministry of Justice’s North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office decreased from the 2021 figure of 20.2% by 1.1%p to 19.1%, the lowest level of awareness among the topics surveyed. This shows the relatively passive position and lack of activity and publicity by the Ministry of Justice, the affiliated ministry of the institution.

- In 2018, the North Korean Human Rights Documentation Office was relocated from the government complex in Gwacheon to the Yongin branch of the Institute of Justice, along with a reduction in the number of personnel in charge of operating the office. As a result, expectations for the Documentation Office have not been met, and the level of dissatisfaction is high.




Principal Actor(s) Suitable for Investigating North Korean Human Rights Violations


- 67.7% of respondents said that “the government and private organizations should cooperate” when it comes to conducting activities to investigate and record North Korean human rights violations, which is 6.7%p higher than the previous year's figure.

- Amid the ongoing conflict between the government and private organizations regarding the investigation and recording of North Korean human rights violations following the parliamentary audit in 2020, the majority of citizens expect that such activities will produce practical and effective results only if the public and private sectors work together.

- At least 64% of the respondents - regardless of their ideological orientation (70.3% of progressives, 64.8% of moderates, 69.3% of conservatives) - indicated that the government and private organizations should cooperate on the issue. Thus, the majority of South Korean citizens recognize the investigation and recording of North Korean human rights violations as an issue that requires cooperation between the public and private sectors.

- The way the South Korean Ministry of Unification's Center for North Korean Human Rights Records shares and promotes its investigative outcomes has left much to be desired. If investigations by private organizations remain suspended, it is difficult to confirm that such activities are being carried out in an effective manner. The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB), a non-governmental organization that records North Korean human rights violations and had a reputation of publishing the White Paper on North Korean Human Rights annually for 14 years, has been unable to publish the latest versions of the White Paper since 2021 due to the suspension of on-site investigations at Hanawon, which had been conducted continuously over the previous two decades.




Intervention in North Korea about its Human Rights Issue


- 69.2% of the respondents answered, “we should actively intervene from the perspective of universal human rights”, while 30.8% of the respondents said, “we should not intervene in the North Korean human rights issue”. Although the North Korean regime is opposed to the international community raising concerns over its violations of human rights, the majority of South Koreans share the opinion that the North Korean human rights issue must be actively addressed in terms of the advancement of universal human rights. 


The Effect of the North Korean Human Rights Act


- Regarding the effect of the enactment of the North Korean Human Rights Act, 66.5% of respondents answered that “no effect” (not at all, 3.3% + not significant effect, 53.2%) is expected. 33.5% of respondents said, “it will have an effect” (significant effect, 3.3% + moderate effect, 30.2%). Among South Korean citizens, it was expected that the North Korean Human Rights Act would contribute to the improvement of North Korean human rights along with the improvements in inter-Korean relations in 2018. However, as the act has not shown a direct effect, the majority of respondents have responded that there is a slim possibility for the North Korean human rights situation to be improved through the legislation.


Top Priorities for Improving North Korean Human Rights





- Regarding the top priority activities for advancing North Korean human rights, 44.4% of respondents said, “Exerting Pressure through Cooperation with the International Community”, followed by “Demand for Improvements through Dialogue and Offers of Support” (27.1%), “Actively expand support to North Korea from the international community” (15.1%), “Advocacy and collection of data on North Korean human rights violations” (12.5%). The most common responses include the contrasting concepts of “pressure through international cooperation” and “improvements through discourse and support”.

- Among respondents who tend to identify themselves as the progressive, “urging for improvement and support through continuous discourse” (33.2%) and “pressure through the cooperation of international society” (35.9%) showed similar level of policy preference. This implies their acknowledgment that continuous discourse alone cannot ensure the improvement of North Korea human rights issues.


Primary Role of North Korean Human Rights Organizations


- 49.4% of respondents answered that the primary role of North Korean human rights organizations is “domestic and international advocacy or collection of data on North Korean human rights violations”. This was followed by “international political acts, such as referral of Kim Jung Un to International Criminal Court” (25.6%). Rather than political activism, South Koreans emphasized data collection and advocacy in both domestic and international fora in long-term perspectives.

- Less popular answers included, “education of North Koreans through broadcasting targeted to North Korea” (15.2%), and “Aid to North Korea” (7.8%).

 

Necessary Activities of North Korean Human Rights Organizations to Improve North Korean Human Rights 


Activities

Necessary

Not Necessary

1. Recording and keeping records of human rights violations in North Korea

84.9

15.1

2. Promotion of the human rights situation in domestic and international seminars

83.7

16.3

3. Institutional preparations such as implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

78.4

21.6

4. Preparation for transitional justice

70.4

29.6

5. Education of North Koreans through broadcasting targeted to North Korea

69.3

30.7

6. Aid to North Korea including medical aid and food aid

65.0

35.0

7. Sending leaflets to North Korea

43.5

56.5


- Among the activities of North Korean human rights organizations to improve human rights in North Korea, the “promotion of the human rights situations in domestic and international seminars”, “data collection of human rights violations”, and “recording and keeping the records of North Korean human rights violations” were the major activities with over 70% of public support each year.

- When asked about the necessary activities of North Korean human rights organizations for improving human rights in North Korea, 84.9% (up from 80.5% in 2021) answered that it is “necessary” to continue “recording and preserving records of human rights violations in North Korea”, followed by “promotion of the human rights situations in domestic and international seminars” (83.7%), up from 81.8% in 2021.

- 78.4% of respondents indicated that it is “necessary” to have institutional preparations such as the implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act. The North Korean Human Rights Act specifies the establishment of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation, its absence the subject of criticism since the Act’s enactment in 2016. In August 2022, the South Korean government, under the current ruling party, passed the “North Korean Human Rights Foundation Normalization Act (a partial amendment to the North Korean Human Rights Act)”.

- 70.4% of respondents answered that they acknowledged the need to prepare for transitional justice. In consideration of the absence of active accountability measures, it is necessary to contemplate issues regarding the fundamentals and the range of transitional justice methods.

- Regarding “sending leaflets to North Korea”, 43.5% of respondents answered that it is “necessary”, indicating the lowest rate of support among North Korean human rights organizations' activities. 57.8% of conservative respondents answered that the distribution of the leaflets is “necessary”, while only 30.5% of progressive respondents said it is “necessary”. This implies a division of opinion according to political orientation.

- 65% of respondents indicated that it is “necessary” to provide “aid to North Korea including medical aid and food aid”. This showed an increase of 7.5%p from 57.5% in 2021. This can be interpreted as an expression of the willingness to support North Korea with the provision of humanitarian aid to overcome the difficulties caused by COVID-19.


Whether the Activities of North Korean Human Rights Organizations Improve North Korean Human Rights


- 53.7% of respondents answered that the activities of North Korean human rights organizations “help”, while 46.3% answered that they “do not help”. Nearly half of the people feel that the activities of North Korean human rights organizations are limited when it comes to providing practical help for the improvement of North Korean human rights.


The Group Responsible for the Improvement of North Korean Human Rights


- 37.2% of respondents said that the “North Korean government” should bear the most responsibility for improving the human rights situation. This was followed by “International humanitarian organizations” (25.6%), “UN” (13.5%), “South Korean government” (12.3%), “foreign governments such as the US government” (7.7%), and “North Korean human rights organizations in South Korea” (3.7%) as the groups responsible for the improvement of North Korean human rights issues.

- Compared to the results from 2021, the response of “international human rights organizations” saw the largest increase in support (6.9%p), reflecting high expectations for international human rights organizations.


Raising of the Human Rights Issue with North Korea by the South Korean Government


- 62.9% responded that the South Korean government “should raise the issue” while 37.1% said it “should not raise the issue”.

- 71.4% answered that raising the issue “will harm inter-Korea relations” when the South Korean government raises the issue with the North Korean government.

- More than half of respondents who answered that raising the issue will influence inter-Korean relations (progressives 55.9%, moderates 53.1%, conservatives 58.1%) said that the South Korean government raising the issue is required, understanding that it will negatively affect inter-Korean relations.


The Necessity of Preparations for Transitional Justice for North Korean Human Rights Issues and Punishment of Perpetrators


- As mentioned above, 70.4% answered that accountability in terms of North Korean human rights issues is “necessary”. This implies the need for adequate discourse and societal consensus, in terms of preparation for Korean unification.

- When asked to answer whether perpetrators of human rights violations should be punished, the majority of respondents (97.6%) expressed their consensus over human rights issues, indicating that they favored “severe punishment” (34.2%), and “punishment according to the severity of the violation” (63.4%).

- Regarding this issue, North Korean escapees (92.5%) shared the same views as the general public in South Korea, however, they expressed their hope for more severe punishment for perpetrators.


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