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Reviewed by:
  • North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks ed. by Andrew Yeo & Danielle Chubb
  • David Hawk, Adjunct Lecturer (bio)
North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks ( Andrew Yeo & Danielle Chubb eds., Cambridge University Press, 2018), ISBN-13: 978-1108425490, 330 pages.

North Korean Human Rights: Activists and Networks1 collects twelve essays on the transnational non-governmental efforts to promote human rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (DPRK or North Korea). The core chapters are descriptions of the North Korean human rights activist movements in South Korea, Japan, the United States, and Western Europe. Other chapters examine the outreach of North Korean refugees now living in South Korea (commonly called "defectors" there),2 efforts to get information about the outside world into North Korea, NGO (nongovernmental organization) efforts at the United Nations, and North Korea's efforts to respond to the accusations and advocacy directed against its human rights practices. Two of these chapters were written by NGO activists, and the other chapters were written by young scholars in the United States, Japan, Australia, and South Korea. A number of chapters attempt to utilize social science methodologies and to infuse their analyses with contemporary academic theory.

Promoting human rights in North Korea is unique in today's world owing to both the DPRK's deliberate selfisolation from most normal interaction with the international community and the "closed" nature of North Korean society.3 In virtually every other country situation, transnational NGOs work in consultation with and in support of indigenous citizen activists and rights defenders. However, North Korea has no civil society and citizen surveillance is ubiquitous. Citizen associations, media, and broadcasts are under the direct control of the Korean Workers' Party and the various DPRK State organs, and there is virtually no unauthorized or unsupervised contact or communication.4

Thus, just about all human rights activists and NGOs can do is document violations (mostly from information provided [End Page 290] by refugees) and seek to inform international public opinion and influence the posture of other nation-states, particularly in a variety of UN fora. In these efforts, human rights advocates have achieved considerable success. North Korean human rights violations have become a major subject of international concern, second only to North Korea's nuclear weapons programs. "[T]he situation of human rights in the DPRK"5 is assessed and condemned annually by huge majorities at the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) and UN General Assembly, and, from 2014 through 2017, North Korean human rights violations were discussed annually by the UN Security Council.

Such "successes" are, of course, penultimate, as the ultimate goal is to affect the human rights practices of the regime and improve the lives of the North Korean citizenry. Notwithstanding, this volume is packed with information about efforts to accomplish this and thus fills in a gap in the now voluminous academic and policy literature on North Korea.

Several chapters stand out. Celeste Arrington, an Assistant Professor at George Washington University, provides a clear account of the complex relationship between Japan and North Korea6—the huge concern in Japan about previous North Korean abductions of Japanese citizens, a major political issue—and articulates concerns about North Korean mistreatments of North Koreans. This includes ethnic Koreans once resident in Japan who migrated to the DPRK in the 1960s (many of whom ended up in prison camps). Several hundred of these ethnic Koreans escaped to China and again returned to Japan.

Sandra Fahy, a Korean-speaking anthropologist teaching at Sophia University in Tokyo, provides a fine account of North Korea's counterproductive and self-defeating responses to human rights criticism.7 In her chapter in North Korean Human Rights, Fahy analyzes the DPRK responses at the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI)-generated criticism; perhaps more importantly, she analyzes North Korean domestic media such as the Korean Central News Agency and Rodong Sinmun, the leading newspaper of the DPRK.8 North Korea's self-defense includes what Fahy terms "ersatz civil society" commentary by governmentinstigated non-governmental organizations (GINGOs)9 and so-called "man-inthe-street" interviews.10

Fahy finds North Korean responses to human rights advocacy to be self-discrediting abroad and counterproductive...