High School Students Respond to North Korea Human Rights Question

This year in our Composition class we are studying and writing about Current Events around the world.  In February the United Nations Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights released a highly critical report on North Korea, comparing the human rights abuses taking place in that country to those of Nazi Germany.I asked the students to research this report and write an opinion paper on this situation, specifically commenting on the question of where responsibility lies. It is a complex question and one that many– from world leaders to high school students–  are challenged by.

When human rights atrocities are taking place on the other side of the world, is it our responsibility, as members of the international community, as human beings, to take action?  If so, what action and how?


North Korea’s Kwan li-so

by Samah Rash

In North Korea there are some long-term, hard labor prison camps that are known as the kwan li-so, or the gulag systems.  According to a recent report commissioned by the UN, there are approximately 200,000 prisoners held captive.  They work up to 16 hours daily with almost no food.  (Alex Pearlman) Most of the prisoners are malnourished and a large number of the people in the kwan-li-so die of starvation, if they aren’t executed before that.  The probability of making it out of the kwan-li-so is so minute that most of the families of the prisoners have lost hope.

I believe that if North Korea will not do anything to save its citizens from the concentration camps, then the international community should take this situation into its own hands and the international community should start taking action and help the people that the leader of North Korea, Kim Jong-Un, has held captive.  Under the power of Kim Jong-un, there has been a reported 100,000 deaths just from the labor camps themselves.

However, some people believe that since North Korea is a sovereign nation, we don’t have the right to get involved with the situation that is going on there.  A sovereign nation has the power to do everything necessary to govern itself, including making laws, executing them, and applying laws.

I don’t believe that it is right to execute somebody for having different beliefs. Maybe it is because I’ve grown up in the United States and everything that I have been taught throughout my life so far is that it’s fine to have different beliefs.  It astounds me how Kim Jong-un remains unaffected by the horrible crimes he commits.  One man got his finger chopped off just for dropping a sewing machine.  A lot of the prisoners have to find their own food because of the lack of it.  Some people had to pick corn kernels out of cow manure just to satisfy their hungry stomachs, and that wasn’t the satisfaction they were longing for.  The prisoners live with only 180 grams of corn a day and the only meat they eat are the occasional rats that they find.  (Wikipedia, 2014).

The lack of food causes disease, and with so many prisoners in one area, the disease becomes widespread and the worst part is that the captives have no medical help so most of them die. There was one mother who was forced to drown her baby because the baby’s father could have been Chinese, and Kim Jong-un wants “racial purity” which means the offspring must be from a Korean mother and a Korean father.  If the child is not purely Korean and has not been born yet, then there will be a forced abortion on the mother, sometimes beating her until the child dies.

There are many different options for addressing the problem in North Korea that could be suggested, but I think that some would be more effective than others.  There has been a lot of discussion in the United Nations and the International Community about what to do with the situation in North Korea.  I, along with many other people, including the head of the UN Commision, believe that it would be best for North Korea’s leader to be sent to the International Criminal Court.  The ICC  is “…the first ever permanent, treaty-based, international criminal tribunal established to investigate and try individuals for the most serious crimes: genocide, crimes against humanity  and war crimes.”

A retired Australian judge who was a former Justice of the High Court of Australia, Michael Kirby, sent Kim Jong-un a letter saying that he may be allegeable for being tried in the ICC for committing inhumane crimes against his citizens.  Kim Jong-un has been cautioned that he could face prosecution for crimes against humanity after a United Nations inquiry which accused him of some of the worst human rights abuses since the Second World War.

What Kim Jong-un is doing to his citizens is just as bad as the Nazi’s in my opinion, although this time, people can’t act as if they are clueless as to what is happening in North Korea – we cannot say that we never knew, and that we should have acted upon this sooner.  This information about the kwan-li-so is all over the news and accessible to anyone unlike what was happening in WWII with all the merciless acts that were happening to the Jews in the concentration camps.

Even though the present situation is very dark, we can only hope that humanity can learn the lessons from what happened with the Nazi’s and that we can help the poor, tired, starving people in the concentration camps right now in North Korea.



“Hoeryong Concentration Camp” http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hoeryong_concentration_camp (Wikipedia, 2014) April 1st, 2014
Pearlman, Alex “Over 150,000 people living in secret North Korean gulagshttp://www.globalpost.com/dispatches/globalpost-blogs/rights/over-150000-people-living-secret-north-korean-gulags  April 11th, 2014

23 Ryo, 2006; Ford and Kwon, 2008. 24 Oh and Hassig, 2000, 133; Hawk, Hidden Gulag, 2003, 28; HR and International Response, 2006, 18-45.
25 Hawk, Hidden Gulag, 2003, 23. “North Korea’s Gulags” http://www.northkoreanow.org/the-crisis/north-koreas-gulags/


“Martinus Lijhoff, Leiden. 2013.” http://www.amicc.org/icc/  “What is the ICC?”


“Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea” http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/CoIDPRK/Pages/MichaelDKirby.aspx Ohchr.org , 2013

“Nazi Party” History, 2014 http://www.history.com/topics/world-war-ii/nazi-party

Never Get Involved in a Land War in Asia

by Emad Davis

 According to a recently published report by the UNOHCHR (United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) the human rights abuses in the DPRK (Democratic People Republic of Korea) are crimes against humanity. In a press conference about the report Michael Kirby, the inquiry chairman to human rights abuses in the DPRK, said that there were “many parallels” (Walker) between the evidence he had gathered and acts committed by the Nazis and their allies during the Second World War.

If Michael Kirby and his council’s report are accurate, what is happening in the DPRK is horrible. However, I do not see any realistic way I can help the situation. The one power that I can think of, that has the ability to improve the situation in the DPRK, that I can influence, is the U.S. government. Although currently, it seems to me, that the U.S. is also unable give aid to  people in the North Korean region. What is happening in the DPRK does not affect me, the life I lead or the country I live in, and until it does I will probably hold the following opinion: Do not get involved with the situation in the DPRK unless sanctioned by the UN or if the DPRK involves the U.S.

In a USA Today article entitled, “In North Korea, learning to hate U.S. starts with children,” it says that children in the DPRK are tough slogans like “Let’s wipe out the U.S. imperialists” (Jones, Brent). That along with the slogan, “We love playing military games knocking down the American bastards” (Jones, Brent), makes me tend to believe that the DPRK has no plans to play nice with the U.S. If the DPRK engages the U.S. it will probably choose the sword over the pen.

Staying uninvolved with the DPRK keeps the PRC (People’s Republic of China) happy. Representing the PRC’s mission in Geneva, Chen Chuandong told the UN that the report Michael Kirby and his council published was “divorced from reality” (Miles).  Chen also said, “The inability of the commission to get support and cooperation from the country concerned makes it impossible for the commission to carry out its mandate in an impartial, objective and effective manner” (Miles). The PRC is a member of the UN Security Council and has the power to veto any attempt to refer the DPRK to the ICC (International Criminal Court). Any action the U.S. takes to help the people of North Korea would upset the second largest economy (The New Global Economy, CNNMoney) and largest military (per capita) (Jones, Brian) which is never a good idea. Given the political situation the U.S. is in no place to give aid to those in need in the North Korean region.

The DPRK is developing an ICBM(Intercontinental ballistic missile) (Bell), but we are currently unsure of how far long they are in the process. The U.S. currently has one of the most advanced ABMS(Anti-ballistic missile systems) (Stewart), as long as the U.S. knows that a ICBM has been launched it can intercept and neutralize it. The U.S. currently has an ABMS stationed in Guam with the specific purpose to intercept any DPRK ICMBs (Stewtart). To the best of my knowledge the DPRK does not pose any immediate militaristic treats to the U.S.

Just to reiterate, I feel bad for the North Korean prisoners of and those being oppressed by the DPRK. If I saw a efficient and realistic way I could help improve the situation of those suffering in the region I might help, but I currently see no options to do so that have positive outcomes. Being as the unfortunate situation that the DPRK has created does not impact my life and any involvement of the U.S. could impact my life I think the U.S. should defensively prepare itself to what the DPRK could do, then wait for the UN to sanction actions or DPRK to involve the U.S.

Michael Kirby said in a press release, “I have lived long enough to see things that looked impossible come to full fruit.” He continued,

The independence of East Timor, the independence of the Baltic states and other steps  following the fall of the Berlin Wall are all indications that things can happen that don’t look certain now. They won’t meet media deadlines but they will occur” (Miles).

Everything passes eventually, there will come an appropriate time for the U.S. to get involved with the situation in the North Korean region. It will be interesting to see how the DPRK’s future unfolds as it progresses though the rest of the 21st century.




Bell, Larry. “The Ultimate North Korean Missile Threat To America: A Nuke Power Grid Attack.” Forbes. Forbes Magazine, 14 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.forbes.com/sites/larrybell/2013/04/14/the-ultimate-north-korean-missile-threat-to-america-a-nuke-power-grid-attack/>.

Board, Editorial. “North Korea’s Crimes against Humanity Have ‘no Parallel’ Today.” Washington Post. The Washington Post, 19 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/north-koreas-crimes-against-humanity-have-no-parallel-today/2014/02/19/dafec350-99a7-11e3-b88d-f36c07223d88_story.html>.

Boyle, Joe. “South Korea’s Strange Cyberwar Admission.” BBC News. BBC News, 02 Mar. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/world-asia-26330816>.

“Field Listing :: GDP (official Exchange Rate).” Central Intelligence Agency. Central Intelligence Agency, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <https://www.cia.gov/library/publications/the-world-factbook/fields/2195.html>.

Jones, Brent. “USA TODAY.” USATODAY.COM. USA Today, 23 July 2012. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://usatoday30.usatoday.com/news/world/story/2012-06-23/north-korea-teaching-hate-united-states/55784168/1>.

Jones, Brian. “The 10 Most Powerful Militaries In The World.” Business Insider. Business Insider, Inc, 12 June 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.businessinsider.com/10-most-powerful-militaries-in-the-world-2013-6?op=1>.

Liss, Mackenzie. “North Korean Children Taught Anti-American Beliefs at a Young Age.” North and South Korea. Penn State, 07 Nov. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://sites.psu.edu/maybeacomm410/2013/11/07/north-korean-children-taught-anti-american-beliefs-at-a-young-age/>.

Miles, Tom, and Stephanie Nebehay. “China Rejects North Korean Crimes Report, Hits Chance of Prosecution.” Reuters. Reuters.com, 17 Mar. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://uk.reuters.com/article/2014/03/17/uk-korea-north-un-idUKBREA2G0CZ20140317>.

“The New Global Economy.” CNNMoney. Cable News Network, n.d. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://money.cnn.com/news/economy/world_economies_gdp/>.

“South Korea to Develop Stuxnet-like Cyberweapons.” BBC News. BBC News, 21 Feb. 2014. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.bbc.com/news/technology-26287527>.

Stewart, Phil, and Jack Kim. “U.S. to Send Missile Defenses to Guam over North Korea Threat.” Reuters. Thomson Reuters, 03 Apr. 2013. Web. 17 Mar. 2014. <http://www.reuters.com/article/2013/04/03/us-korea-north-idUSBRE93002620130403>.

Walker, Peter. “North Korea Human Rights Abuses Resemble Those of the Nazis, Says UN Inquiry.” The Guardian. Guardian News and Media, 18 Feb. 2014. Web. 15 Mar. 2014. <http://www.theguardian.com/world/2014/feb/17/north-korea-human-rights-abuses-united-nations>.

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