Human rights advocate argues for refined approach in North Korea

Kim Young Hwan delivering his keynote address at the 2018 North Korea Human Rights International Conference. Image: Daily NK.

In his keynote address, Group for the Future President Kim Young Hwan argued for the need to separate the North Korea human rights movement and the democratization movement. He conjectured that North Korea does not intend to surrender its nuclear weapons due to economic and security reasons.

“Compared to China, we don’t see as much focus on the development of democracy, but we do see emphasis on the human rights problem, which has led to improvement in some areas. For more effective results in the case of North Korea as well, there is a need to distinguish between the democratization movement and the human rights movement,” Kim said at the 2018 North Korea Human Rights International Conference, which was held in Seoul by The International Coalition to Stop Crimes against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) in conjunction with Human Rights Watch and the Germany-based organization Saram.

The conference participants assessed the state of change in North Korea and sought to lay out an approach for human rights in consideration of these changes.

On this, Kim Young Hwan’s perspective is that North Korea’s democratization movement involves the organization of its residents to broadly pursue changes in the political power structure in North Korea, but the North Korea human rights movement is focused on a highly specific issue.

“A clear distinction between the two will allow both the authorities and residents to more easily approach change from within,” he explained.

“We have entered an era of opening and reform for North Korea. Active support for change is both attractive to Pyongyang and a preferable roadmap for the future of South Korea toward unification.”

“Kim Jong Un has consistently protected the country’s markets and permitted their expansion for the six years he has been in power,” Kim said, also noting that some state enterprises have paid wages according to market rates and the general trend towards the state protecting private capital.

“Over 40 buildings were constructed in Pyongyang’s Ryomyong Street last year, and were 100% financed with private capital. The fact that Ryomyong Street used such a large amount of private investment means that there is already some level of trust developing between the state and the financiers.”

However, he postulated that, despite the phase of reform and opening, North Korea will not completely divest itself of its nuclear weapons.

“North Korea devotes 24% of its national budget to the military. In order to commit to opening and reform, the regime will need to dramatically reduce this amount, making nuclear weapons a necessity in the eyes of Kim Jong Un and the leadership,” he said, going on to explain that nuclear weapons also help North Korea address security concerns, meaning that it is very unlikely they will throw them away.

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