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Human Rights Discourses on North Korea (ResMA)


Admission requirements

Admission to the MA Asian Studies (research) or another relevant research MA. Students of other MA programmes are kindly referred to the regular MA course

Previous knowledge on North Korea or East Asia and/or on human rights is recommended, but not necessary.


This course examines how discourses on human rights in North Korea from different perspectives. This course will look into the actual (empirically verifiable) human rights abuses in North Korea during the past four decades. It will examine the discourses surrounding HR in the DPRK by looking at North Korean responses to international criticisms; to the UN COI on HR in the DRPK; to the various state and non-state actors that contribute to the discourses; and lastly and importantly, it will engage with victims of HR abuses in North Korea through their testimonies. The course will examine the different definitions of HR; its uses (including securitization); and its position in the broader discourses on North Korea.
As a part of this course, Professor Jang Jin-Sung (former high-ranking North Korean official, now in exile abroad and an advocate for the amelioration of HR in the DPRK) will host a number of guest lectures during the course.

Course objectives

Objective 1: This module is designed to introduce MA students to important scholarly arguments and research findings on human rights in North Korea and on the politics of human rights in North Korea.

Objective 2: This module trains MA students to do research on human rights in North Korea, both empirically and discursively, and to evaluate scholarship and discourses using a wide variety of research methods.

Objective 3: During this course students will gain an up-to-date understanding of the different perspectives on what human rights are or are expected to be; an understanding of the human rights situation in North Korea, past and present; insights into how the DPRK human rights debate is viewed and used by different actors, both states and non-states in the international arena.

The pedagogical aims of the seminar include developing student’s ability to carry out semi-independent research on topics related to human rights in North Korea

  • present research in a cross-area and cross disciplinary environment

  • perform discourse analysis

  • write critically and informed academic essays on assigned readings

  • originate and orally present a plan for an original, small piece of research

  • present a small research project outcome in a professional written format.



Mode of instruction

  • Seminar
    Attendance and participation are obligatory for seminars. Students are required to attend all sessions. The convenors need to be informed without delay of any classes missed for a good reason (i.e. due to unforeseen circumstances such as illness, family issues, problems with residence permits, the Dutch railways in winter, etc.). In these cases it is up to the discretion of the convener(s) of the course whether or not the missed class will have to be made up with an extra assignment. Being absent without notification can result in a lower grade or exclusion from the term end exams and a failing grade for the course.

Course Load

(280 hours for 10 EC):
1. a) 13 × 2-hour seminar sessions (26 hours); b) 6 hours of ResMA seminar
2. Weekly readings (5 hours*13 weeks=65 hours);
3. Two oral presentations (30 hours);
4. Two critical reviews of assigned readings (65 hours)
5. Write research essay of 3,500 words, based on the material covered in the module (88 hours).

Assessment method


  1. two critical reviews of assigned readings
  2. consistent and informed participation in seminar discussions
  3. Two oral presentations
  4. Research essay


Grades are calculated as follows:
1. two critical reviews of assigned readings ( 30%)
2. consistent and informed participation in seminar discussions (20%).
3. Two oral presentations (20%)
4. Research essay (30%)


The final paper is written in two stages: a first version which will be commented on and a final version. Students who do not meet the deadline for the first version will lose the right to get comments and will only be graded based on their final version. (The paper deadline mentioned in uSis is a fictional date for administration purposes only. The actual date will be communicated by the convenor of the course.)
In order to pass the course, students must obtain an an overall mark of 5.50 (=6) or higher.

The course is an integrated whole. The final examination and the assignments must be completed in the same academic year. No partial marks can be carried over into following years.

Exam review

If a student requests a review within 30 days after publication of the exam/paper results, an exam/paper review will be organized.


The course uses Blackboard for announcements, course documents, and assignments, etc.

Note: there is no separate Blackboard page available for this ResMa course. Please subscribe to the Blackboard page of the regular MA course.

Reading list


For the Research MA students additional readings will be determined by the convener at a later stage taking into account the students’ fields of interest. Extra sessions will be organized to discuss this extra literature.


Students are required to register through uSis. To avoid mistakes and problems, students are strongly advised to register in uSis through the activity number which can be found in the timetable in the column under the heading “Act.nbr.”.

Not being registered, means no permission to attend this course. See also the ‘Registration procedures for classes and examinations’ for registration deadlines and more information on how to register.

Registration à la carte or contractonderwijs

A la carte nor contractonderwijs is possible for this course.


Prof.dr. Remco Breuker


Students with disabilities

The university is committed to supporting and accommodating students with disabilities as stated in the university protocol (especially pages 3-5). Students should contact Fenestra Disability Centre at least four weeks before the start of their courses to ensure that all necessary academic accommodations can be made in time conform the abovementioned protocol.

Academic Integrity

Students are expected to be familiar with Leiden University policies on plagiarism and academic integrity. Plagiarism will not be tolerated. If you submit any work with your name affixed to it, it is assumed to be your own work with all sources used properly indicated and documented in the text (with quotations and/or citations).