[General]New Perspectives on the export of North Korean labour

2 Jun 2017
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On Friday May 19th, the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights and LeidenAsiaCentre co-hosted a seminar entitled “New perspectives on the export of North Korean labour: modern slavery, human trafficking and accountability”

The seminar was opened by Professor Remco Breuker of LeidenAsiaCentre and the Chief Director of North Korean Human Rights Archives, Dr. Yeosang Yoon of NKDB. NKDB’s very own Teodora Gyupchanova gave a presentation on the exploitation of North Korean overseas labourers - working conditions, violations and general trends based on NKDB’s research that has been carried out since 2014. Dr. Jae Ku of the US-Korea Institute at SAIS, Johns Hopkins University was the discussant for this presentation, in which he questioned whether the dispatch of overseas labourers was a reflection of the desperation of the situation within the DPRK or a reflection of the risk-taking nature of the regime.

Martin Witteveen, an appeals prosecutor at the Appeals Court in Amsterdam highlighted the importance of enforcing the law and corporate complicity in human trafficking. Mr. Witteveen stated that while the solution to this issue might not lie with criminal law it certainly will not be solved without it.

The third presentation was given by Lea Perekrests from Human Rights without Frontiers on the topic of North Korean overseas labourers in Africa. It is estimated that the DPRK regime earned up to 160 million US dollars between 2000 and 2010 from the dispatch of North Korean workers to a number of African countries. Dr. Kwang Cheol Kim, a researcher at the Institute for Korean Peninsular Strategy was a discussant for this presentation and stated that in order to have a better human rights situation in North Korea, a new North Korean regime was needed.

The afternoon session was kicked off by a presentation from Prof. Breuker and Dr. Masja van Meeteren on North Korean overseas labour from the perspective of human trafficking. This was followed by a panel discussion from professionals in the field with Katharine Bryant from the Walk Free Foundation who spoke about the Global Slavery Index and North Korea; Dr. Yeosang Yoon who gave policy recommendations for the improvement of the human rights situation of North Korean overseas labourers and finally Imke van Gardingen who spoke on the topic ‘Accountability for North Korean Forced Labour: ILO and Strategic Litigation.’

After a full day of fruitful discussion and debates, Agnes Jongerius a Dutch MEP for the European Parliament gave the closing remarks in which she spoke about the need for the European Parliament to take action on this issue. Through presentations, live-tweeting and discussions, the seminar was a great success and a stepping stone in raising awareness of the dire situation in which the North Korean labourers work, in hope to improve their lives and guarantee their basic rights and freedoms. NKDB would like to thank all the participants, presenters and of course, our partners at the LeidenAsiaCentre.