August 11, 2022

Kim Young-hwan: From Juche Evangelist to North Korean Human Rights Activist

In a continuation of their North Korean Human Rights Speaker Series, the Network for North Korean Democracy and Human Rights (NKnet) invited Kim Young-hwan to talk about his experiences as a student activist and the future of the North Korean human rights movement. The event was held on September 12th in conjunction with Yonsei University’s Graduate School of International Studies. The Dean of Yonsei’s GSIS, Sohn Yul, kicked off the event by reminding everyone of Kim’s unique history; having transformed himself from a prominent leader in South Korea’s Juche influenced student movement to an activist promoting democracy and human rights in North Korea.

At the beginning of the talk, Kim confessed that this was his first experience lecturing with an interpreter and would therefore keep his comments brief, leaving ample time for Q&A. Kim started by explaining how he became involved in the underground South Korean democracy movement of the 1980s.  He said that although some of his motivation was derived from his “anger at the dictatorship,” his primary source of motivation was “solidarity with the weakest most depressed part[s] of South Korea.” He shared several stories in order to illustrate the severe level of oppression South Korean citizens endured under subsequent military dictatorships. One of which, was about a teacher at his middle school was tortured and then fired for criticizing the Yushin Constitution.