Since the outbreak of COVID-19 led the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, also known as North Korea) to close its borders in January 2020, the country has become progressively more isolated from the rest of the world. Cross-border migration has dropped dramatically and the movement of aid workers and diplomats is also constrained.
For human rights activists, humanitarians, and policy makers who seek to improve the lives of the North Korean people, these developments are a stark reminder of how wedded the elite is to existing structures of power and how resistant the regime is to change. However, even in this era of isolation and challenging circumstances, the international community must keep thinking about how to support possible futures of the North Korean people both in the short and long term. This includes potential pathways beyond the current regime, as should a change take place, ordinary North Koreans will likely face challenges due to generations of isolation leaving them ill-prepared for engagement with the outside world, as well as urgent humanitarian and human rights-related needs.
In this article, the authors argue that preparations for a just future transition on the Korean peninsula must start now. This commentary considers the possibilities for Australia to support just transition, in whatever form it may take, through immediate action not focused on bilateral or state-centric relations, but instead through other spaces in a broadly defined civil society.
Effective Australian support for transitional justice and overall wellbeing of North Koreans must overcome structural barriers to opportunity for North Koreans within Australia, as well as barriers of overly securitised paradigms.
Preparing for transitional justice in North Korea was published in the Australian Journal of International Affairs in January 2022.