[Press Release][Press Release] NKDB Unable to Publish its Flagship Annual Reports

9 Aug 2021
Views 565

PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE


Date of Issue: August 9th (Mon), 2021

For inquiries: Please contact Hanna Song, NKDB at nkdb.org@hotmail.com or 070-42036621


NKDB Unable to Publish its Flagship Annual Reports: White Paper on North Korean Human Rights, White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea;

Pandemic, Lack of Access to Blame


○ For the first time in 14 years, the White Paper on North Korean Human Rights will not be released by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights
○ NKDB’s White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea will not be released for the first time since 2008
○ Effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, lack of access to Hanawon by the Ministry of Unification as main causes

The Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) will not publish the White Paper on North Korean Human Rights or the White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea in 2021. This will mark the first time in 14 years that NKDB will not publish the annual White Paper on North Korean Human Rights, and the first time in 13 years that the White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea will not be published.

NKDB’s decision to forgo our two annual publications in 2021 in part stems from the ongoing lack of access to Hanawon that is being withheld by the Ministry of Unification. NKDB’s ability as an organization to inform the international community about the state of human rights in North Korea largely relies on the ability to meet with recently arrived North Korea defectors and gather data from their testimonies. The lack of access to this information due to fewer new arrivals in South Korea as well as the Ministry of Unification’s decision to not allow any civil society organizations access to Hanawon has limited NKDB’s ability to produce the annual White Papers for the general public.

Monopolization of Data Collection, Obstruction of Civil Society

NKDB has had access to Hanawon since its establishment in 1999, which was formalized through an agreement with the Ministry of Unification in 2008. However, with the North Korean government unwilling to discuss the issue of human rights at the negotiation table, the documentation of human rights violations in North Korea has remained a sensitive topic for inter-Korean negotiations.

By relying on the expertise of NKDB to carry out the work of documenting human rights in North Korea, the South Korean government, and in particular the Ministry of Unification, was able to distance themselves from the sensitive issue.

However, in 2016, after the passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, the Ministry of Unification began to restrict NKDB’s operations inside Hanawon. Beginning with limiting the scale of questions that were allowed to be posed to the number of interviews that were allowed to be carried out, rather than work in concert with civil society organizations as laid out in the North Korean Human Rights Act, the government began to encroach upon civil society’s ability to carry out their work. Suddenly, in January of 2020, the Ministry of Unification requested a further 30% reduction in the number of respondents that NKDB would be allowed access to in Hanawon each month.

Until that point, NKDB had agreed to each of the requests put forth by the Ministry of Unification in connection with the enacted North Korean Human Rights Act, but requested reconsideration of further decrease in access. However, after two months, the Ministry of Unification completely suspended NKDB’s access to Hanawon.

In an effort to work in cooperation with the government to document human rights violations in North Korea, NKDB continues to request access to interview recently arrived defectors. However, after over a year and a half of suspended access to Hanawon, the possibility of reinvigorated cooperation seems a far-off goal, especially when the number of new arrivals remains low due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Number of Incoming Defectors Reaches a Low Point

After the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic at the beginning of 2020, North Korea took drastic action in shutting down all border activity as a means to prevent the spread of the virus into North Korea. This decision to sever all cross-border activity has also made it much more difficult for North Korean citizens to escape from the country into China. As a result, the number of newly arrived defectors hit a record low in 2020, and has continued into 2021. The South Korean government recently reported that only two defectors arrived in South Korea in the second quarter of 2021. This dramatic drop in new arrivals has decidedly limited the amount of new information that we can obtain about the state of human rights in North Korea. With such a decrease in the number of potential information providers, there is not a significant change in the number of reported violations that compels the publishing of a new White Paper on North Korean Human Rights or White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea.

Somewhat more concerning however, is the continued lack of access to Hanawon for NKDB to carry out human rights investigations. When the number of defectors increases once more, this lack of access will stand as the only obstacle to conducting investigations.

The Need for Cooperation between Government and Civil Society

NKDB believes it is critical to record and cross-reference cases of North Korean human rights abuses in order to enable relief and transitional justice, a goal made more possible through cooperation between the government and civil society.

In particular, the Ministry of Unification’s Center for North Korean Human Rights Records, established in 2017, has still failed to publish a single report detailing the state of human rights in North Korea, demonstrating the need for civil society to continue their work regardless of governmental action or inaction.

Dr. Yeosang Yoon, Chief Director of NKDB, explained, “The North Korean Human Rights Act is clearly intended to improve the state of North Korean human rights through cooperation between the government and civil society.” He continued that, “It is our hope that the Ministry of Unification will grant civil society the opportunity once more to enter Hanawon and carry out our investigations so that we may publish our 2022 White Paper on North Korean Human Rights and 2022 White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea.”

In particular, he pointed out that, “the Ministry of Unification’s decision to suspend NKDB’s access to Hanawon violates the government’s pledge to work with the international community as well as private organizations to improve North Korean human rights, as well as Government Initiative 92,” further emphasizing that, “The South Korean government’s retreat with regards to North Korean human rights policy has garnered criticism from the international community that only further demonstrates the need for further government-civil society cooperation.”

Despite NKDB’s decision not to publish the White Paper on North Korean Human Rights and the White Paper on Religious Freedom in North Korea this year, NKDB remains hard at work on an array of other research projects and programs intended to provide assistance to resettled defectors and advocate for the improvement of human rights in North Korea.

Recently, NKDB has launched new platforms to advocate for improvements in North Korea human rights. The Visual Atlas (www.visualatlas.org) displays the locations where North Korean human rights violations are taking place, while the North Korean Human Rights Larchiveum (www.nkhrlarchiveum.org) serves as an online library, archive, and museum, where visitors can gain a wealth of information regarding North Korean human rights.

In spite of restrictions on access to Hanawon, NKDB will hold a seminar on August 19 regarding assigning accountability to perpetrators of North Korean human rights violations.

###