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A Champion of Justice in Korea

Michael I. Choi, Michael (2006) “A Champion of Justice in Korea.” Public Justice Report. Quarter 1.

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Woo-Yea Hwang’s inspiration was the unimaginable plight of North Korean refugees.  Plagued with hunger, economic depravity, and political and religious persecution, thousands of North Koreans have attempted the perilous border crossing into China. Escape from the oppressive regime means only a partial and uneasy freedom in China, whose government forcefully seeks out and sends back those who escape from North Korea. There, they face imprisonment and probable death.  As a former member of South Korea’s National Assembly, Hwang stands as a positive example of a public official who took a stand for justice and faith. 

In his own country of South Korea, Hwang introduced legislation that would strengthen national policies and initiatives towards helping North Korean refugees.  These reforms include:

o   “The immediate issuance of South Korean passports to refugees in order to ensure safe passage into South Korea”

o   “The immediate protection of a refugee prior to an investigation of his or her case”

o   “Financial support of NGOs that assist refugees”

o   “The lengthening to ten years of education for North Korean refugees in order that they might become self-sufficient”




In addition to these efforts, it was clear that there was a pressing need for an organization that would officially coordinate the efforts of parliamentarians around the world who were working toward bringing justice for North Korean refugees. In 2003, with the participation of five concerned national governments, the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights (IPCNKR) was established under Hwang’s initiative. In 2004, a conference of parliamentarians from Asian nations was hosted by the South Korean National Assembly to address the refugee issue. Soon after, the Chinese Embassy in Seoul demanded that Hwang stop his efforts to resolve the issue.




The Chinese government has justified its repatriation of refugees by insisting that all of the North Koreans who come into their country are “economic migrants”, not refugees. In a speech given by Hwang at the Second General Meeting of the IPCNKR, he insisted that China respect the human rights of the North Koreans by recognizing them as refugees and abiding by the 1951 U.N Convention on Refugees. His and other efforts by parliamentarians around the world through the IPCNKR have had positive influential success.  With the coordination of the IPCNKR, the U.S. North Korean Human Rights Act was passed, as well as similar legislation in South Korea and Japan. For the first time, the U.N. Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea have called the North Koreans in China “refugees”. Finally, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution in 2005 demanding that the North Korean human rights crisis be addressed. 

When asked about Hwang’s motivation, he replied that it is “a matter of Christian service arising from his commitment to God.” He bases his work on four biblical principles: faith, justice, peace, and joy. His passion for justice is reflected in the way he strives to shape public policy, both on the national and international level. “Hwang is working to chart a Christian-democratic course in a country where both democracy and Christianity are relatively new.” 


1. What new information have you learned about the North Korean refugee crisis in China?

2. In what ways has Woo-Yea Hwang sought to bring about justice for North Korean refugees?

3. Do you think that all politicians should be involved in issues of justice? Why do you think more politicians are not involved with the North Korean human rights crisis?

4. What can you, as a student, teacher, or minister, do to help bring justice to North Koreans?



1. There is much to be done to bring about justice for the issue of North Korean human rights, but coordinated efforts, both large and small, are making a difference.

2. Faith can be a tremendous force of motivation for bringing about justice in the lives of those who are suffering. 

Hae-Rin Choe cCYS