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The Role and Limits of Civil Society on North Korea: A Case Study of Multi-dimensional Approaches toward North Korean Defectors


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Other Title
  • 北朝鮮問題における市民社会の役割と課題
  • 北朝鮮問題における市民社会の役割と課題 : 脱北者問題への多角的な取り組みを事例に
  • キタチョウセン モンダイ ニ オケル シミン シャカイ ノ ヤクワリ ト カダイ : ダッポクシャ モンダイ エ ノ タカクテキ ナ トリクミ オ ジレイ ニ
  • 脱北者問題への多角的な取り組みを事例に

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This article tries to re-examine the role and limits of civil society such as NGOs, religious organizations, and local civil associations on North Korean issues. Since the mid 1990s, North Korea is facing serious complex emergencies caused by both natural and man-made disasters, and as a result, the international community has been taking various actions from humanitarian assistance to advocacy on human rights issues. The case of North Korean defectors is one of these matters, in which together with state actors and international agencies, civil society plays a pivotal role. Therefore, I will attempt to focus on the role and limits of civil society from the viewpoint of International Relations.<br>It is often said that the role of civil society in authoritarian regimes is rather more limited than in democratic societies or than that of state actors. However, the case study proves that civil society can play an important role in field operations and advocacy for helping North Korean defectors. Indeed, without civil society playing a role, field operations cannot be implemented or accomplished systematically at all.<br>In other words, we can conclude that without civil society involvement, North Korean defectors can neither be rescued, nor protected in safe conditions, and moreover they will not be able to resettle in South Korea or in other third countries after arrival in safe areas. As the case of South Korean civil society shows, civil society actors often experience political obstacles when their policy does not meet with their governments'; however, even in such cases, transnational NGO networks can remove or ease those barriers, and promote the integration of North Korean defectors at the field level.<br>The North Korean defector issue is often treated as a political one, requiring defectors to be labelled as refugees, migrants, or illegal cross-borderers according to the interests of stake holders. However, I would like to point out that this issue should be understood within broader perspectives and multidimensional approaches. We should bear in mind that the North Korean defector issue cannot be solved if it is dealt with only as a political concern.<br>Adding to the above findings, I would like to mention that civil society actors, especially religious organizations and NGOs, should be concerned with the risks faced by defectors when collaborating with brokers, because using brokers may cause other serious related problems, such as the risk of human trafficking for example. Also, civil society should keep in mind that their activities may endanger the security of defectors, especially in China.<br>This study does not cover the status of resettled defectors in Europe, North America and so on, thus further study is urgently necessary for a better understanding and resolution of the matter of North Korean defectors.


  • International Relations

    International Relations 2012 (169), 169_30-44, 2012



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