Need for more human contacts
and international human rights network in Northeast Asia
Man-Ho Heo (Director of Asia Center for Human Rights)
Rapid economic growth in Northeast Asia has increased interdependence among nations within the area; thus expanding human contacts as well. The rise in human contacts is a natural consequence of increased social mobility but it’s important to note that the rise is directly related to human rights issues. It could also cause serious international conflicts on their sovereignties.
As people from the neighboring nations come to see each other more often, the need for institutional management for many off-the-record issues, such as large-scale population transfer, control over labor market due to the transfer, especially over North Korean Refugees in China, and ethnic Korean people and Chinese people illegally residing in Korea and Japan--and problems, due to these issues, like conflicts between nations and people domestic or foreign, personal communication problems, minority problems, and slave trades in women and children as well--will come to the surface to be settled, although some of them are brought forward already.
There are international and domestic laws concerning these issues, yet ineffective unless civil societies strive to enforce them. So it is crucial for Northeast Asia to reinforce the effectiveness of current domestic and international regulations and build supranational network, which can provide institutional devices to protect human rights regionally and monitor execution of the agreed terms. Lessons from the war in Kosovo tell us international society’s intervention in those countries habitually violating human rights will be inevitable, bringing other political conflicts, when governments and local civil society organization fail to respond to the huge and obvious abuses.
Keeping this in mind, we need to reach a consensus necessary to establish a multilateral human rights system and discuss on how to construct sub-local networks of human rights organizations and activists, which can complement governmental organizations on such issues.
Nowadays, political scientists and social scientists in other academic fields are gradually showing more interests in spread of international norms and principled ideas. Especially in Asia, where regional and ethnic peculiarities with different historical, cultural, and religious backgrounds are supposed to be taken into account for international human rights standards, along with the universality of human rights, as claimed in the Human Rights Declaration by the ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Organization (1993), spreading ideas, which can be universally accepted is the first priority of human rights improvement. Researchers have developed the five-phase spiral model by researching how the ideas influence domestic institutions with focus on causal mechanisms of the idea expansion. According to this theory, there are five phases for states with serious human rights violations: Suppressing human rights(1), denying obeying international norms of human rights by adhering to principal of non intervention(2), partly accepting international human rights norms and organizations pursuing such values for strategic reasons(3), ratifying international treaties, institutionalizing international human rights norms, and sporadically conducting according to such norms, as a prescriptive status(4), and taking rule-consistent behaviors in the end(5).
When we apply this five-phase spiral model to North Korea, we can see North Korea has been in first three stages back and forth, sometimes showing the prescriptive status of the fourth phase. In other words, they partly cooperated with international societies in order to earn food support after the food crisis until early 2000s. However, as they overcome the food crisis, North Korea retrogressed to the second phase, where North Korea cuts themselves from the relationship with UN and EU and denies accepting the international norms as a result of the emphasis on human rights from UN and EU. China and South Korea were supporting North Korea unconditionally in the meantime. China seems to be closer to the fourth phase of the model than North Korea is. China, however, is very similar to North Korea; as they carried out Reform and Open policy, political prisoners are again sentenced to hard labor.
According to the five-phase spiral model, countries can enter the third phase when they obtain information from national resistance by building international network, appeal to international human rights organizations, and mobilize international organization and liberal states to pressure countries where human rights are violated continuously with multilateral network in the first two phases. In other words, international and domestic network of civil organizations is one of the most influential factors in changing human rights policies of the countries in violation of human rights.
If these presumptions are right it will be essential to let North Korea and China to reach Prescriptive Status, which is the consolidation phase, and Rule-consistent Behavior by inducing them to revise their policies regarding human rights via multilateral approaches, just as Human Dimension of Helsinki Process had allowed resistance forces and human rights organizations to survive in the midst of the communist system of Central and Eastern Europe. Especially for North Korea, domestic civil society organizations with connection to international human rights organizations should work to provide a suitable environment for them to stand independently and induce personnel concerned with Worker’s Party to act likewise. In addition, North Korea Support policy should allow international aid organizations to work as a substitute for them to a certain level.