Event: North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society


Jieun Baek, a Ph.D. candidate in Public Policy at the University of Oxford, will address the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea on November 2nd at 17:00 in Committee Room 20, the Houses of Parliament.

Jieun Baek is the author of North Korea’s Hidden Revolution: How the Information Underground is Transforming a Closed Society (which will be published by Yale University Press in November 2016) and a former research fellow at the Belfer Center for Science and International Affairs at Harvard University. Baek received her BA in Government and MA in Public Policy from Harvard and has worked at Google, where, among other roles, she served as Google Ideas’ North Korea expert.

In her talk, Jieun Baek will draw on interviews with North Korean exiles from all walks of life, ranging from propaganda artists to diplomats, to discuss how North Korea’s information underground — the network of citizens who take extraordinary risks by circulating illicit content such as foreign films, television shows, soap operas, books, and encyclopedias — have fostered an awareness of life outside North Korea and affected the social and political consciousness of North Koreans.

Attendance is free and open to the public. The Houses of Parliament can be accessed via the Cromwell Green visitor entrance.

A Letter to North Korea’s Exiles

Fiona Bruce MP (Credit: Human Atlas)

What more is there to say about the Government of North Korea, a regime that wantonly starves, enslaves, impoverishes, and exterminates its population to maintain the legitimacy and rule of a system? To suffer for one’s family or for one’s cause is one matter. But to suffer for the Supreme Leader-centred system: that is another matter entirely.

As a serving Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom and a Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, I have witnessed Pyongyang’s march toward ever increasing capacities of evil. My journey has been marked by scores of exiled North Koreans who have visited London to tell of the horrors of starvation, poverty, imprisonment, and physical abuse and violence. I have heard of the state’s psychological weapons of war that have led to North Korean children being forcibly aborted and women and men being humiliated and compelled to give their minds to the Kim-family cult.

When I listen to exiled North Koreans, I always hear of a sense of betrayal. As exiles, you will have escaped the grip of the North Korean system, but you will have been forced to pay a heavy price for your freedoms. Many of you will have experienced brutalities that I will never comprehend. You will all have been separated from your families or have heard of suffering that befell family members. Those of you who now shed light on life inside North Korea or those of you who once worked for the North Korean government may now live under constant threat. And you will all have now realised a very stark fact: the system that raised you also betrayed you.

It may be of little consolation, but five-thousand miles from the Korean peninsula in London, your stories and your voices are heard. Through reports, oral testimonies, and exiled media outlets, such as New Focus, the awful realities of life inside North Korea — once dismissed as fantastical — are no longer hidden or denied.

To be frank, global recognition of the horrors that you once faced in North Korea took far too long to arrive. But today, the evidence against the North Korean government is so overwhelming that no amount of tourist attractions, paid for by the blood of twenty-five million citizens, or attempts at dissuasion by Pyongyang or its apologists can disguise the brutal reality of life under the Supreme Leader-centred system.

As exiles, you function as vital relays between hope and despair for your countrywomen and men who remain in North Korea. Every time you contact a remaining friend in North Korea, send money back to family members, or another compatriot flees, the foundations of the Kim dynasty erode ever more. The Kim dynasty is not simply based on the perpetuation of violence, it is also sustained by propaganda that justifies the cult of Kim. It is vital that we continue to break down this communications barrier.

It is my contention that the exiled North Korean community deserves more credit than it has received. For all of the good work of the United Nations and the international community, we must never forget that it has been the tireless work of exiles that has kept the candle burning for North Korea. The world has taken much from your community, and we must remember to repay your sacrifices. The All-Party Parliamentary Group has always welcomed, and will continue to welcome, you to London to tell your stories to the British public and politicians.

As I look forward, I see reasons for hope. Forces such as the blackmarket, foreign media, and the growing ability of ordinary North Koreans to make contact with the outside world are eroding Pyongyang’s ideological grip on its citizens. The exiled North Korean community that once stood in despair now rallies against those who abused, tortured, and killed their very own.

I have previously written of my hopes for the 30,000 exiled North Koreans who now live in the Republic of Korea. The National Assembly has passed the North Korean Human Rights Act and it is my hope that exiles will play a leading role in the Act’s implementation. Without the input and leadership of those who have experienced North Korea, we are all doomed to repeat the failures of the past.

Time waits for no man and change in North Korea cannot wait. I believe that North Koreans will soon be freed from their shackles and the exiled community will surely play a large role in this momentous task.

[The above op-ed was first published in Korean by New Focus on September 21st]

Fiona Bruce MP is Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, Chair of the Conservative Party Human Rights Commission, and a serving Conservative Member of Parliament in the United Kingdom.

APPG Event: Breaking North Korea’s Information Blockade

On May 19th, the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea will host an event in partnership with No Chain, titled Breaking North Korea’s Information Blockade.

We will hear from North Korean exile, Jung Gwang Il, who will talk about his organisation’s role in smuggling information into North Korea and the methods that North Koreans use to access foreign media.

Formerly a regional manager of a North Korean trading company, Jung Gwang Il was suspected of spying for South Korea and arrested by North Korea’s Ministry of State Security in 1999. Detained in Hoeryong prison camp, Jung was beaten and tortured, living without his teeth – all of which were broken by prison guards – for four years. After forcing a confession and without trial, Jung was sent to the infamous Yodok concentration camp. Witnessing torture, starvation, and innumerable deaths, Jung was released on 12th April 2003 and escaped to China on the 30th April. One year later, Jung arrived in South Korea and now advocates for the rights of North Koreans.

The event will take place at 17:00-18:30 in Committee Room 17, the Houses of Parliament.

Attendance is free and open to the public. The Houses of Parliament can be accessed via the Cromwell Green visitor entrance.

Violence against Women and Girls & the Sustainable Development Goals

On the 27th April, Fiona Bruce MP, Co-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, spoke briefly at a Westminster Hall debate on Violence against Women and Girls and the Sustainable Development Goals.

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Fiona Bruce MP; Deuk-Hwan Kim, Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the ROK in the UK and NI; and Shin Heisoo, United Nations Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (Credit: Human Atlas)

Fiona noted:


I congratulate the hon. Gentleman on securing this debate. Will he join me in condemning the state-sanctioned violence against women and girls in North Korea? Technically, that country joined in support of the SDGs last autumn, but it operates violence against women and girls as a tool of oppression. Even the UN has described it in a report as having human rights violations that ‘reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world’.

Those violations include: sexual violence; exploitation; rape; forced abortion; human trafficking; institutional, economic and psychological violence; slavery; and torture, even until death. Does the hon. Gentleman agree that the UK must use what limited engagement it has with North Korea—it is mainly via the Foreign and Commonwealth Office—to press for change? Also, will he join with me and other parliamentarians in putting on the record that the abused women of North Korea are not forgotten here?

This was the first time that the issue of VAWG committed against North Korean women and children had been raised in the Houses of Parliament since the APPG’s dedicated conference in February.


Remembering North Korea’s Forgotten Women

As we mark International Women’s Day, I am minded to reflect upon the recent conference in the House of Commons hosted by the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea, of which I am Co-Chair. Titled Addressing Violence against Women and Girls in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the conference looked to a forgotten corner of Asia and a forgotten group of people: North Korea’s women and girls.

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Fiona Bruce MP (Credit: Human Atlas)

Notorious for its diplomatic belligerence, its disregard for international law and its nuclear programme, the DPRK (or North Korea) successfully concealed its widespread human rights violations from the world for decades. An era of silence ended in 2014 when a United Nations Commission of Inquiry reported, “The gravity, scale and nature of [North Korea’s human rights] violations reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”.

The severity of this UN statement is worth repeating: North Korea’s human rights situation has no parallel in the contemporary world.

As the international community slowly awakened from its slumber, it was no longer farfetched to recognise North Korea as the largest concentration camp the world had ever known or to rank the horrors of Yodok, Hoeryong, and Pukch’ang alongside Auschwitz, Belsen, and Dachau. It became a fact that North Korean women have and continue to experience sexual violence, including rape, sexual assault and harassment in public and private spheres of life; human trafficking; forced abortions; slavery; sexual exploitation; psychological violence; religious and gender discrimination; and institutional and economic violence.

This violence in North Korea is neither occasional nor confined to certain quarters — it is endemic; it is state sanctioned; and it is perpetrated against women precisely because they are women. In every sense of the term, North Korea’s abuses are ‘gendered’.

Why has the international community been silent on this issue? We can look to many factors, but first and foremost is the discourse that surrounds North Korea. Dominated by talk of nuclear weapons, regional security, engagement, unification, and humanitarian aid, there has been little room for North Korean women. And, if truth be told, advocates have simply not been loud enough on this issue.

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The APPG’s recent conference (Credit: Human Atlas)

This year’s International Women’s Day marks an important phase for women’s rights. Just months after the twentieth anniversary of the Beijing Conference on Women, and fifteen years since the pioneering UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, this is the year that the world is developing the Agenda for Sustainable Development looking to 2030. The Sustainable Development Goals include a stand-alone goal to achieve gender equality and empowerment for women and girls.

North Korea’s female population should not be forgotten on March 8th. Gendered violence and discrimination are destroying lives and ruining families in North Korea. Women are enduring unimaginable suffering and the UK must use what engagement it has with the DPRK to push for real change. The APPG’s conference on VAWG in North Korea brought together North Korean victims, exiled DPRK Government officials and experts on gender and the rights of women and girls. Women’s and girls’ human rights is an area in which the UK exhibits international leadership. Let us draw from our knowledge and set out to challenge gendered violence in the DPRK just as we do in so many other countries in the world.

Roundup: APPG Conference on VAWG in North Korea

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea extends its thanks to those who were able to attend and participate in Monday’s conference, titled Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in the DPRK. Papers delivered on the day will be collated and published in due course. Please visit the website of our sponsor, Human Atlas, for photos from the day’s proceedings.

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Human Atlas)

As the APPG reflects on the day’s proceedings, we think back to the presentations delivered by our experts on women’s and girls’ rights, gender-based violence, human trafficking, North Korean governance, development reconstruction, international justice mechanisms and foreign policy. But perhaps most importantly, we remember the words of those North Korean women who we were fortunate to hear from.

Veteran North Korea watchers will have visited many conferences on the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, Asia’s regional security concerns and even North Korean human rights. But rarely do those of us who attend these conferences hear from as many female voices — let alone North Korean female voices — as we did on Monday. Our hope is that the conference marks the start of a journey that begins to rectify our field’s oversight of female and indigenous voices.

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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP & Fiona Bruce MP (© Human Atlas)

Following welcome speeches by James Burt, Fiona Bruce MP, and Deuk-Hwan Kim (Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the ROK in the UK and NI), the morning sessions covered two important areas: 1). Gendered violations and discrimination; 2). The human trafficking of North Korean women and girls.

In our first session, the largely unknown and overlooked institutional and psychological structures of abuse were looked at in detail by Shirley Lee. This is an area that many of those who wish to learn of North Korean governance must address. We then heard of the direct and horrifying impact of violence against women from Choi Min Kyeong, a North Korean exile. We thank Ms. Choi for her bravery and for travelling from South Korea. The session concluded with an enlightening overview from Jane Gordon on how governments may address violence against women and girls through their foreign policies and international obligations. Jane has great experience in this field and served as gender advisor and sexual and gender based violence investigator with the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic — to which there are parallels to be drawn with North Korea.

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Human Atlas)

In our second session, James Burt provided an overview of the pulls and pushes of the human trafficking of North Korean women and girls in the realms of forced marriage and sexual slavery. We then learnt of the repercussions of human trafficking for North Korean women and the harsh lives of women and girls hiding in China through the testimony of Kang Mi Jin. Ms. Kang arrived in South Korea just six years ago and now works as a reporter for the Daily NK. Once again, we applaud her for her bravery. Finally, Aidan McQuade spoke of the international tools that may aid the tens of thousands of North Korean victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery who remain hidden and vulnerable in China.

After lunch, session three honed in on the international legal mechanisms that may be able to improve the rights of North Korea’s women and girls. David Hawk, who has long worked in our field and produced extremely important research on North Korea’s prison camp network, assessed Pyongyang’s responses to the international community’s actions in international fora, to which the UN Commission of Inquiry has been an integral and motivating force. Shin Heisoo then described the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and other emerging human rights mechanisms that are, it seems, much needed to protect women and girls in North Korea. We hope that the important messages of Ms. Shin are looked at in the South Korean National Assembly and by those who implement that country’s North Korean Human Rights Act. Finally, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC talked us through the challenges connected to a referral of those suspected of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, but also of tantalising legal mechanisms beyond the ICC.

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Human Atlas)

In the following session, which was titled ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’, the thoughts of two North Korean women, Park Jihyun and Kim Kyung Hee, were heard. Both now live in the United Kingdom and their thoughts on where they have come from, where they see their futures, and the future of their country were extremely important to hear.

In the final session of the day, we heard of different paths that the international community can take to improve the rights of women and girls when fundamental and transformational change occurs in North Korea. We thank Christine Chinkin for her thoughts on securing women’s rights in development reconstruction; K.C. Kim for his ideas on the spread and dispersal of information throughout North Korea and its borderlands; Jo Baker for her insights on how truth and reconciliation commissions can account for gender; Kim Young Hwan for his pointers on potential areas of conflict and cooperation in the transitional era; In-Sook Chappell for her novel thoughts on how art may become a bridge of understanding between societies in conflict; and Jang Jin Sung for his views on a human rights management system and the importance of identity.

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Lord Alton (© Human Atlas)

The APPG wishes to extend our thanks to the conference sponsors:
The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK & NI
Human Atlas
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea
The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea

The APPG conference must be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Violence against women and girls in North Korea is the most serious violation of human rights, a crime against humanity, and entirely unacceptable. Governments, the United Nations and all of us involved in human rights and North Korea must take this issue with the seriousness that it deserves and work together for a better future for North Korea’s women and girls.

APPG Conference: Programme and Speakers Announced

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea is pleased to announce the programme for its upcoming conference, titled Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in the DPRK.

The conference is now fully-booked, but if you wish to be placed on the waiting list, please email: jamesburtappg@gmail.com

POSTER _ Addressing VAWG in the DPRK (web)updated Programme

MORNING _ Addressing VAWG in the DPRKAFTERNOON _ Addressing VAWG in the DPRK