Oct 21, 2010

Sponsor: NED

North Korea's Shifting Political Landscape: Will Succession Provide Opportunities for Expanded Human Rights and Democracy in the Hermit Kingdom?

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On September 27, North Korea’s government news agency announced the promotion of Kim Jong-il’s third son, Kim Jong-un, to the rank of four-star military general, the clearest indication yet of North Korea’s succession plans. The simultaneous elevation of Kim Jong-il’s sister, Kim Kyoung-hui, to the same rank shows Kim’s determination to keep power in the family, but the depth of support for the young, inexperienced Kim Jong-un, as well as the impact the succession will have on North Korea’s abysmal human rights environment, is still unclear. How will political, social and economic life in the DPRK evolve? And will there be new opportunities to promote human rights and democracy?

On October 21, 2010, NED hosted “North Korea's Shifting Political Landscape: Will Succession Provide Opportunities for Expanded Human Rights and Democracy in the Hermit Kingdom?” a day-long conference to examine the future of human rights and democracy in North Korea. Though the North Korean government’s succession plans have finally become clear, the impact the succession will have on North Korea’s abysmal human rights environment is still uncertain. A broad range of speakers, including South Korean and western experts, as well as North Korean defectors and activists, brought their expertise to bear on the issue to better understand the challenges democracy promotion faces under future DPRK governments.

After welcoming remarks, the first panel discussed North Korea’s Political Context, with a focus on the recent promotions within the North Korean regime and the emergence of Kim Jong Eun as the country’s likely future leader. This was followed by a panel on the flow of information in North Korea. One presenter noted that cell phone usage has skyrocketed in the border regions of North Korea and China as Chinese phone companies install more cell phone relay stations. Attempts by the DPRK to quash usage has had the unintended effect of improving the quality of information coming out of the country as intelligence officers – who are able to use cell phones with impunity – blatantly leak information with increasing frequency.

After lunch, the conference discussed “Marketization and Social Change in North Korea,” with panelists noting that since 2000, the accumulation of wealth through the markets has become permanent, and government control over the economy weakened. The conference closed with a discussion of the “Programmatic Opportunities to Promote Democracy and Human Rights in North Korea.” Presenters emphasized the need for North Koreans to be the leaders in North Korea’s future, with practical support coming from outside as needed. Han Ki Hong of NKnet urged the South Korean government to focus on institutionalizing North Korean Human Rights policy as the best way to facilitate democratization in North Korea.

NED co-sponsored the conference with NED grantee Network for Democracy and Human Rights in North Korea (NKnet), a cutting-edge mover and incubator of new ideas and initiatives, and the Sejong Institute, a private think tank in South Korea that is dedicated to conducting research and analysis on the past, present and future mid- and long-term national policies in the areas of security, national unification, and foreign affairs.

Conference Agenda

8:30 - 9:00 a.m. - Registration

9:00 - 9:30 a.m. - Opening Ceremony

Welcoming Remarks

Carl Gershman, President, NED
Sae Hee Yoo, Chairman, NKnet
Dae Sung Song, Director, Sejong Institute
Robert King, US Special Envoy to North Korean Human Rights Issues

9:30 - 10:15 a.m. - North Korea: Political Context

Chair: Dae Sung Song, Director, Sejong Institute

Presenters:

  • Young Hwan Kim, NKnet, “Possible Directions of the Human Rights and Democracy Movement with Leadership Succession in North Korea” (read remarks)
  • Gyeong Seob Oh, Sejong Institute, “North Korea’s Succession and Regime Building, and Suggestions for US and South Korean Policies Toward North Korea” (read remarks)

Discussants:

10:30 - 12:30 p.m. - Free Flow of Information in North Korea

Chair: Brian Joseph, Senior Director for Asia, NED

Presenters:

Discussants:

1:30 - 3:30 p.m. - Marketization and Social Change in North Korea

Chair: John Callebaut, Center for International Private Enterprise

Presenters:

  • Ju Hyun Shin, Daily NK, “North Korea’s Market Conditions and Social Transformation Since the Currency Reform” (read remarks)
  • Hyeong Jung Park, Korea Institute for National Unification, “Analysis and Prospects of North Korea’s Marketization: An Comparative Analysis with Former Socialist Regimes” (read remarks)

Discussants:

3:45 - 5:45 p.m. - Programmatic Opportunities to Promote Democracy and Human Rights in North Korea

Chair and Discussant: Roberta Cohen, Non-resident senior fellow, Brookings Institution

Presenters:

  • Ki Hong Han, NKnet, “The Current State and Future Prospects of North Korean Democratization and Human Rights Movement” (read remarks)
  • Ho Yeol Yu, Korea University, “The Role of South Korea in Improving North Korea’s Human Rights and Democracy” (read remarks)
  • Chuck Downs, Committee for NK Human Rights “Advancing Human Rights in the Closing Years of the Kim Jong-il's Regime”
  • John Knaus, NED, “Promoting Human Rights and Democracy in North Korea:  The NED as a Case Study”

About the Sponsors

The Network for Democracy and Human Rights in North Korea (NKnet) was founded in Seoul in 1999 by a group of citizens who wish to alleviate the suffering of the North Korean people and to promote human rights and democracy in North Korea.  The founders of NKnet are all veterans of the pro-democracy campaign against military dictatorship in South Korea.  NKnet is devoted to raising public awareness of the need to support democracy and human rights in North Korea. NKnet has made an important contribution to the North Korean human rights movement in South Korea, and has been an early mover and incubator of new ideas and initiatives, which have been adopted by many civil society organizations and NGOs working on North Korean human rights issues.

Established in 1983, the Sejong Institute is a private think tank in South Korea that is dedicated to conducting research and analysis on the past, present and future mid- and long-term national policies in the areas of security, national unification, and foreign affairs. As an affiliated organization of the Sejong Foundation, it has been active in developing policy alternatives for the promotion of security, peace, and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, particularly in the area of political and economic reform in North Korea.

The National Endowment for Democracy (NED) was created in 1983 as a private, nonprofit, grant-making foundation with a mission to strengthen democratic institutions around the world through nongovernmental efforts.  NED makes more than twelve hundred grants each year to support prodemocracy groups in nearly 90 countries. The Endowment supports projects that promote political and economic freedom and participation, human rights, a strong civil society, independent media and the rule of law.