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:

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

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

Why the UK should welcome South Korea’s passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act

fionabruce1South Koreans may be surprised to learn that over five thousand miles away in London, the Korean peninsula is a hotly debated issue. In the United Kingdom’s Houses of Parliament, where I am a serving MP, politicians from across the political spectrum regularly meet to discuss the trials and tribulations of the Kim Jong-un regime and the plight of the North Korean people.

In 2004, two of my colleagues, Lord Alton and Baroness Cox, visited North Korea. Their objective was to raise awareness in the UK parliament of the human rights, humanitarian, and security issues posed by the North Korean Government. Upon their return to London, they founded the All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea (APPG) — a grouping of politicians from all parties that meet to discuss and debate North Korea.

Since the APPG’s formation, we have welcomed North Korean Government delegations, including the Speaker of the North Korean Assembly, Choe Thae-bok; we have debated North Korea in both Houses of the UK parliament; and, most importantly, we have provided North Korean refugees with the opportunity to speak about their experiences to UK politicians (the UK is home to the largest North Korean refugee population outside of South Korea).

In December 2015, I met with Kim Son Gyong, Director General of the European Department of North Korea’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Our discussion, which is on pubic record, was cordial, but frank. I told Mr. Kim that UK parliamentarians asked for changes in the way that his government treated the North Korean people. I questioned his view that there were no human rights violations in his country. And I reminded him of the inevitable course of international justice that is outlined in the report of the United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

An offer was also extended to his Government for assistance in the field of human rights — I await a reply.

This, in essence, is the role of a democratically elected politician. Like my colleagues on the National Assembly in South Korea, I was elected by the people, for the people. My job is not only to represent and promote local interests at the national level, it is also to promote universal interests at the international level.

The North Korean people have no recourse to justice or democracy. They have no viable political representatives. It therefore falls upon politicians, like myself, to advocate for their well-being and human rights.

As a serving MP with a passion for the North Korean people, I have followed the now decade-long legislative debate in the South Korean National Assembly on the North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA) with interest.

The debate is of course nuanced, but many politicians in the UK — both liberal and conservative — had struggled to comprehend why the NKHRA had not passed into South Korean law.

In the UK, human rights were first set out in law in the Bill of Rights in the year 1689. In the three centuries that have passed since, there have certainly been struggles but human rights are now seen as being above politics. Indeed, they now form a global normative order: which is to say that human rights are universal and non-negotiable. They are the most basic and substantive component of modern humanity.

As such, and with profound respect for the views of my fellow South Korean politicians who oppose the NKHRA in its current form, I urge them to act immediately to improve human rights in North Korea through supporting the NKHRA legislation.

Discussing human rights issues with the North Korean Government and people should not be optional, nor should it be viewed as a political act. As the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stated, the dignity and worth of all human beings passes through national borders. It is for those of us who enjoy freedom to champion it for those who do not.

Is the NKHRA, as the bill is presented in the National Assembly today, provocative or detrimental to peace and unification on the Korean peninsula? I would say it is not. North Korea’s actions — from the sinking of the Cheonan in 2010 to the border shelling in August 2015 that followed anti-Pyongyang propaganda broadcasts — have certainly been provocative and detrimental to peace. But South Korea has a maturing democracy and has shown admirable restraint. It should not be held hostage by its northern neighbours.

The APPG has for many years urged the BBC — the UK’s public broadcaster — to transmit a Korean- language service to the North Korean people. Following years of consideration and NGO action, a BBC radio service for the North Korean people will soon become a reality. For the APPG, our support of this radio service was not a matter of politics. It was a way of ensuring that North Koreans were able to exercise their freedom to listen to impartial news and information.

In my view, the aim of the North Korean Government’s opposition to the NKHRA is clear: Pyongyang seeks to divide South Korean public opinion. If South Korea’s politicians and public stood united behind a NKHRA, Pyongyang understands that it would face its biggest challenge: a politically unified South Korea that is at one with ordinary North Korean citizens.

Will change in North Korea come through unrestrained flows of money or humanitarian aid? The evidence suggests it will not. Will reform come through tourism or cultural engagement? Again, all evidence says it will not. In reality, the small amounts of change in North Korea have emerged from the North Korean people themselves.

It is the duty of us all to support those who are working for positive change in North Korea. A NKHRA will not bring an end to the North Korean Government’s abuse of its population, but it will say ‘enough is enough’. Time is fast running out for the current North Korean regime. Now South Korea’s National Assembly is better prepared for change and is uniting behind the North Korean people today.

The above article was first published in Korean in the Chosun Ilbo.

Baroness Cox: An assessment of the security and human rights challenges on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s recent nuclear test

The following speech was delivered in the House of Lords on January 21st 2016:

Baroness Cox

My Lords, I warmly congratulate my noble friend on his tireless work on North Korea, and on opening this debate with characteristic comprehensiveness. I have had the privilege of travelling to DPRK with my noble friend three times, and of meeting many refugees and escapees, whose heartbreaking accounts of horrific violations of human rights remain ingrained in my heart and conscience.

In addition to echoing the serious concerns highlighted by my noble friend and other noble Lords, I wish to highlight specific concerns regarding infringements of freedom of religion and belief, including the recent arrests of two foreign nationals. First, Hyeon Soo Lim, a South Korean-born Canadian Christian, is a 60 year-old pastor. He is a Canadian citizen, but he was sentenced last December to life imprisonment with hard labour, accused of using religion to overthrow the state and harming the dignity of the supreme leadership. He had previously made many visits to DPRK and engaged in humanitarian work supporting an orphanage, a nursery and a nursing home. A CNN report emphasised: “It is this tremendous love for the people of the DPRK that motivated Mr. Lim to travel (there)”. Unusually, he was recently able to give an interview to CNN, in which he described being forced to work for eight hours a day digging holes. He is believed to be in poor health, but all he asks for is a Bible and letters from his family. I understand that Canadian government officials have so far been denied access to him. Secondly, a Korean-American pastor, Kim Dong Chul, has been arrested on spying charges.

The arrest and detention of these two foreigners is deeply disturbing as they illustrate the Pyongyang regime’s attitude to human rights and religious freedom. I ask the Minister: what response is the United Kingdom making to these arrests, and, particularly given our diplomatic presence in Pyongyang, what support has the UK given to the efforts of Canada and the United States regarding these two cases? More generally, what more can the United Kingdom do to address the violations of freedom of religion or belief in the DPRK?

On the same topic, I highlight serious concerns about a recent statement by the World Council of Churches. On 28 October last year, the WCC’s Forum for Peace, Reunification and Development Cooperation on the Korean Peninsula issued a Pyongyang appeal following a visit to DPRK. I entirely support efforts to pursue constructive and critical engagement with the DPRK. Indeed, my noble friend Lord Alton and I have participated in such direct engagement during our visits, so I endorse some of the WCC’s recommendations, particularly for exchanges between North and South Korean citizens, cultural and academic exchange, and engagement.

However, I and many others are deeply concerned that the WCC’s statement and an accompanying report issued by the Asia secretary of the Church of Scotland’s World Mission Council ignore the horrific human rights violations and the severe persecution of Christians, documented by the UN commission of inquiry report. Instead, the WCC’s statement calls on “all churches, church-related organizations and people of good will around the world” to resist “the confrontational misuse of human rights” avoid “the promotion of enemy images” and lift economic sanctions. The WCC describes North Korea as “a society that is visibly advancing, demonstrating great resilience and self-reliance despite the longstanding and recently strengthened international sanctions”.

In an article published on the Church of Scotland’s website, Sandy Sneddon describes visiting tourist and cultural sites in Pyongyang, including a Protestant church. My noble friend and I visited this Protestant church and three other churches in Pyongyang—another Protestant church, a Catholic church and a Russian Orthodox church. While we welcome their existence there, they are tightly controlled by the regime, and are widely believed to exist largely for the benefit of foreign visitors. In the rest of the country severe violations of freedom of religion or belief are well documented. The UN commission of inquiry concludes that “there is an almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion, as well as the rights to of freedom of opinion, expression, information and association”.

The regime, according to the UN inquiry “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat” and, as a result “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted”. Severe punishments are inflicted on “people caught practising Christianity”.

The WCC report makes no reference to the UN inquiry. As my noble friend highlighted, it concluded that “the gravity, scale and nature” of the violations of human rights in North Korea “reveal a State that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world”. It claims the systematic and widespread violations, described as “unspeakable atrocities”, are continuing “because the policies, institutions and patterns of impunity that lie at their heart remain in place”. They amount, according to the inquiry, to “crimes against humanity in international law”, and these crimes “clearly merit a criminal investigation”.

In conclusion, I ask the Minister for reassurance that the brutal violations of the rights and freedoms of people of DPRK, including freedom of religion and belief, will be at the centre of any engagement with Pyongyang by Her Majesty’s Government, alongside the priority concerns about the security situation.