Understanding the North Korean Human Rights Abuses and Moving Forward

By: Jim Blazey

On February 17, the United Nations released the most recent report  on human rights abuses occurring in North Korea. The report covered the starvation, violence, mistrust and exhaustion that occur within North Korean labor camps. The prisoners in these facilities range from South Korean soldiers and their descendants to people who have spoken out against the ruling Kim family or the government as a whole.

In addition, severe droughts in the 1990s coupled with the absence of Soviet-subsidized goods caused the North Korean economy to collapse and malnutrition to expand throughout the country.

This led me to consider: how can NGOs or governments possibly provide relief to individuals within these camps when they don’t have any access? How can these organizations provide food to individuals within the country while also creating opportunities for North Koreans to become self-sustaining? If I, the public manager of a nonprofit or government agency, am trying to consider the proper strategy to deliver value to these individuals, how can I make an influence on a country where the government is very suspicious of the outside world?

The seminar in Public Administration (MPA 6800) taught by Marsha Lewis at the Voinovich School helped me develop a strategy when tackling complex issues such as providing humanitarian aid to countries like North Korea. We discussed public value chain, a model that identifies the partners and co-producers in a situation, as well as the necessary inputs to solving a problem.

The example used in class was the Gates Foundation and its attempt to decrease malaria in sub-Saharan Africa and southern Asia. The partners the Gates Foundation sought were humanitarian groups in these countries, the manufacturers of mosquito nets, and volunteers. The inputs were the mosquito nets and malaria vaccines. The combination of the partners and the inputs leads to measurable outputs, such as reduced cases of malaria. After the output is measured, the long-term outcomes would be a healthier and more productive society.

So how does this model apply to North Korea?

In the case of alleviating the malnourishment that plagues North Korea, the right partner is China. If organizations collaborate with China to put pressure on North Korea, more aid can be provided to vulnerable citizens in the country. An example of this pressure is China not vetoing any proceedings of the U.N. Security Council on North Korea in March.

Successful implementation of smaller goals like this can then be used to assess how NGOs or agencies should proceed with long-term goals, such as laying the foundation for sustainable food sources that the country and eliminating the labor camps. This leads me to the last part of the public value chain: evaluating external environmental influences.

The external political influences are plentiful in the case of North Korea. The United States and North Korea have a contentious relationship, which could affect the way a U.S. organization works within the country. American NGOs and agencies are not alone in their concern about the humanitarian crisis in North Korea; China, Japan, South Korea and Russia are all interested as well. Another political influence is the provocative nature of the North Korean government itself. All of these factors must be considered

Issues regarding North Korea are not easy to solve. Public managers have to develop strategies to help their organizations successfully deliver value. Future public managers must be innovative, ambitious and willing to change the world for the better. No matter how daunting the task, the long-term positive outcomes will be well worth the effort in the end.

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One thought on “Understanding the North Korean Human Rights Abuses and Moving Forward

  1. China probably can’t, and probably won’t, pressure North Korea on human rights. After the execution of the Uncle, China called for Kim Jong Un to come to Beijing, he never came. Also, human rights issues are sensitive enough already for China, so they won’t ever collaborate with the US, or with NGO’s on this. Especially given their views on interference in other countries domestic affairs.

    Currently, China deports North Korean refugees, where they get put into camps or executed when they get back to North Korea. Perhaps the only worthwhile aid to North Korea is things like direct medical care, pretty much everything else is just diverted by the regime for its own ends.

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