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The Response to Human Rights Abuses in North Korea: Problematizing Accountability

Wolman, A. (2017). The Response to Human Rights Abuses in North Korea: Problematizing Accountability. Korean Yearbook of International Law, 5, pp. 109-132.


In the past few years, one deceptively simple concept has come to dominate the international discourse on human rights in North Korea: accountability. On first glance, this seems entirely appropriate, given the severity of the crimes committed by Kim Jong Un and his associates. In this essay, however, I will take a step back, to problematize the concept of accountability. Specifically, I will address five questions that have to date been largely ignored. First: what does accountability mean? Second: why is it desirable? Third: does the emphasis on accountability have any potentially negative consequences? Fourth: when is the right time to focus on accountability? And fifth: who benefits from the turn to accountability? While I do not intend this essay to imply that accountability is undesirable in any way, I do aim to show that it is a more complex principle than is often assumed, and should be the subject of serious thought and discussion, rather than unthinkingly adopted as the core objective for North Korean human rights advocates.

Publication Type: Article
Subjects: H Social Sciences > HV Social pathology. Social and public welfare
J Political Science > JX International law
Departments: The City Law School > Academic Programmes
The City Law School > International Law and Affairs Group
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