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Human Rights Discourses on North Korea


Admission requirements

MA students. 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 discours 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.


The timetable is available on the Asianstudies website

Mode of instruction

As this is a seminar course, every student should come to class prepared to make a substantive contribution to discussion of the assigned readings, which are both numerous and intellectually demanding.

Course Load

(280 hours for 10 EC):
1. 13 × 2-hour seminar sessions (26 hours);
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 3,000 words, based on the material covered in the module (94 hours).

Assessment method

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.
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

Students may request an oral elucidation of the assessment within 30 days after publication of the grade.



Reading list

The booktitles and / or syllabi to be used in the course, where it can be purchased and how this literature should be studied beforehand.


Enrolment through uSis is mandatory.

General information about uSis is available in English and Dutch


Email: Dhr Prof. dr. R.E. Breuker