Home International engagement with North Korea: disability, human rights and humanitarian aid

This article examines disability rights in North Korea as an area of shared interest between humanitarian workers (who operate inside, with the consent of North Korean authorities) and human rights actors (who work outside, in defiance of the regime).

Disability issues represent a notable deviation from the usual separation evident between these actors when it comes to their work on North Korea, insofar as the issue is one that both groups agree represents a critical area for engagement.

Developments in the disability rights space, however incremental, are noteworthy precisely because they represent a departure from North Korea’s usual pattern of behaviour.

Drawing from a small but deep pool of expert interviews, this article argues that international practitioners across these approaches recognise evidence of improvements in the area of disabilities inside North Korea and perceive potential for further meaningful change in a country that can be difficult to understand and challenging to achieve progress within.

It further argues that the human rights model of disability provides a conceptual framing rooted in the disability studies literature, which allows for a clearer articulation of the shared meanings embedded in the different approaches to disability in North Korea.

International engagement with North Korea: disability, human rights and humanitarian aid was first published in Third World Quarterly on November 18, 2022.

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Photo credit: ECHO Health expert, Marie-Theres Benner speaks to a mother who has brought her child to Pukchong hospital. Photo: Devrig Velly EU/ECHO

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