What is FOOTPRINTS: Database of those taken by North Korea?
FOOTPRINTS is a joint civil society project to document and publish information concerning reported cases of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearances committed in and by North Korea, including the victims, perpetrators, proceedings to seek redress, relevant human rights instruments and North Korean resources.
Since September 2017, the Transitional Justice Working Group (TJWG) and the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR) have been working with partner organizations to create an open, accessible and searchable online database. The Korean War Abductees' Family Union (KWAFU) in March 2019, the Justice for North Korean (JFNK) and the 1969 KAL Abductees’ Families Association (victim families of the Korean Air Lines YS-11 hijacking in 1969) in April 2019, Mulmangcho in November 2020 and No Chain in January 2021 joined the project.
FOOTPRINTS utilizes the UWAZI, an open-source solution for building and sharing document collections developed, provided and upgraded by HURIDOCS, to meet its evolving technological needs. The project has received funding from the Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor (DRL), U.S. Department of State for its creation and development.
Since 2020, TJWG’s global project Access Accountability has been promoting and disseminating the lessons learned, practices tested and expert networks built from FOOTPRINTS to grassroots victim groups in other parts of the world.
What are the key features of FOOTPRINTS?
Efficient keyword/filter search The user can search the reported cases of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance and proceedings made public on FOOTPRINTS by name using the keyword/filter search function.
Counters and bar/pie charts FOOTPRINTS visualizes the number of victims by year, type, sex, age group and occupation, the number of perpetrators by type and the number of proceedings by forum with counters and bar/pie charts to provide overall perspectives.
Location mapping FOOTPRINTS provide maps to visualize information about where the victims lived, where they were taken and where they were last seen.
What are the goals of FOOTPRINTS: Database of those taken by North Korea?
Preserve, integrate and share information and data
FOOTPRINTS documents and preserves information concerning reported cases of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance committed in and by North Korea such as personal letters, photos, footages, official documents, news articles that may otherwise be lost in time. There are hundreds of thousands of cases over several decades that remain unresolved and many victim families and information-holders are aging and passing away.
The documents and information published in FOOTPRINTS are made public with the consent of the participating organizations or individuals. If the information-holder does not wish public disclosure, the materials will be preserved separately in a secure manner.
In addition to the victims and perpetrators, FOOTPRINTS also tracks and records the proceedings taken in various international and domestic forums, including the UN human rights mechanisms and national courts, to seek redress. FOOTPRINTS visually integrates the information concerning the victims, perpetrators and proceedings for respective cases.
FOOTPRINTS also provides information on the human rights instruments and North Korean resources that are relevant to the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses in and by North Korea and may be cited in the proceedings to seek redress.
The data visualization and keyword/filter search function supported by FOOTPRINTS makes the information collected and filed in its open, online database accessible to the general public, interested researchers, journalists and officials.
The personal letters, photos and video footages shared by FOOTPRINTS tell the human stories and pain of North Korea’s systematic, widespread and gross campaign of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance.
Ensure accountability and redress
FOOTPRINTS documents and preserves information concerning reported cases of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance committed in and by North Korea to ensure accountability for the perpetrators and redress for the victims in the future.
Based on the extensive findings by the Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK in 2014, the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council have repeatedly condemned the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations in and by North Korea that may amount to crimes against humanity, and have called for measures to seek accountability and secure truth and justice for all victims.
While accountability and redress for North Korea’s arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance appear elusive for now, there have already been a number of significant cases brought before the UN human rights mechanisms and domestic courts and a political transition in Pyongyang in the future may open opportunities to realize accountability and redress.
FOOTPRINTS will facilitate transitional justice in North Korea by compiling and making accessible to the law enforcement officials, policymakers, academics and journalists the information concerning reported incidents of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance and the criminal, civil and UN actions addressed to the North Korean government as well as the responsible groups or individuals.
Advocacy for North Korean human rights
FOOTPRINTS seeks to raise the public profile and awareness of the long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations and abuses in and by North Korea by shedding light on decades of documented cases of arbitrary detention, abduction and enforced disappearance in and by North Korea.
The user-friendly and visualized presentation of the contents available at FOOTPRINTS may be used for media reports, in-depth analysis and interdisciplinary research, educational services, policy debates, legislative initiatives, legal actions and UN petitions.
In other words, FOOTPRINTS serves as an advocacy tool for the victims and their families, human rights groups and experts, lawyers, journalists and academics, and national and international policymakers to engage the public and to advance North Korean human rights.
Who are the victims documented in FOOTPRINTS: Database of those taken by North Korea?
Korean War ROK POW
At the end of the Korean War, North Korea refused to repatriate at least 50,000 South Korean POWs in violation of the Armistice Agreement of 27 July 1953 as well as the Geneva Convention (III) relative to the Treatment of Prisoners of War of 12 August 1949, according to the commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (COI). 80 South Korean POWs and over 430 family members have escaped and arrived in South Korea since the mid-1990s.
Korean War ROK abductee
Also during the Korean War, North Korea abducted 80,000-100,000 South Koreans in occupied areas including Seoul, and refused to return them after the war in violation of the Armistice Agreement of 27 July 1953 as well as the Geneva Convention (IV) relative to the Protection of Civilian Persons in Time of War of 12 August 1949. The commission of inquiry on human rights in the DPRK (COI) found that “the abductions were widespread and organized, indicating that they were planned and conducted in line with States policy”.
Post-war ROK abductee
According to the COI, “Abductions and enforced disappearances of persons from the Republic of Korea have continued long after the signing of the Korean War armistice”. North Korea is known to have abducted 3,835 South Korean citizens, of which 3,319 were returned to South Korea within a year and 9 have subsequently escaped and returned to South Korea. This leaves 516 South Korean citizens forcibly disappeared in and by North Korea. In addition, North Korea has subjected at least 7 South Korean citizens to arbitrary detention and enforced disappearance since 2013.
“Returnees” from Japan
Furthermore, 93,340 ethnic Koreans and their Japanese family members “returned” to North Korea from Japan under the “Return to Paradise” propaganda campaign, which began on 14 December 1959 and officially ended in 1984 although 81 percent of the “returnees” had left for North Korea by 1961. Most of the ethnic Koreans, who had originally migrated to mainland Japan from the southern half of pre-partition Korea during the Japanese colonial rule of Korea (1910-1945) but were unilaterally deprived of their Japanese nationality overnight by administrative fiat on 28 April 1952, faced racial discrimination and economic hardship. The North Korean government and the pro-North Korean Chongryon (General Association of Korean Residents in Japan), with the blessing of the Japanese government and media as well as the Red Cross, enticed and exhorted the ethnic Koreans to “return” to the motherland to enjoy economic prosperity without discrimination. The “returnees” included 6,730 Japanese nationals, of whom 1,831 were wives of Korean men and an indeterminate number were husbands and children. According to the COI, “although they had travelled to the DPRK voluntarily, by the mid-1960s the majority were effectively being retained there against their will and were no longer allowed to have any contact with family members they had left behind”.
In September 2002, North Korean supreme leader Kim Jong-Il admitted to visiting Japanese prime minister Koizumi Junichiro that North Korea had abducted 13 Japanese nationals (seven women and six men) in the 1970s and 1980s. North Korea permitted five of them to visit Japan, all of whom remained there, and claimed that the other eight were already dead without providing plausible evidence. Japanese nationals were commonly kidnapped to further espionage and terrorist activities and to be “given” in marriage to foreigners in North Korea. Japan “has satisfied itself beyond reasonable doubt that 17 Japanese nationals (nine women and eight men) have been abducted” while the COI found that “it is probable that at least 100 Japanese nationals have been abducted by the DPRK”.
Other foreign abductee
From 1977, foreigners of other countries were abducted by North Korea. According to the COI, “reasons for the abductions include teaching foreign languages in spy and military training schools, for technical expertise, and, in the case of many abductees, to be “given” in marriage to foreigners in the DPRK, to prevent inter-racial marriage with ethnic Koreans” to maintain the "pure Korean race”. Lebanese women who escaped North Korean captivity “reportedly told the Lebanese media they were held in a camp with 28 foreign women, including three French women, three Italian women, two Dutch women and other women from Europe as well as women from the Middle East”.
DPRK internal detention/disappearance
The largest victim class of North Korea’s abduction and enforced disappearance is undoubtedly the countless North Korean people, especially the political prisoners. The COI has found that “the refusal to disclose information about the fate of persons arrested for suspected political wrongs appears to be a deliberate feature of the system” which “puts the population on notice that anyone who does not demonstrate absolute obedience can disappear at any time for reasons determined solely by, and known only to, the authorities”.
Forced repatriation of escapees
Since the 1990s, North Korean operatives have executed organized abductions of the North Korean escapees in China and their subsequent enforced disappearance in North Korea. According to the COI, “former DPRK officials and others whose flight might reveal sensitive information to the outside world or ROK authorities have been among the primary victims, in addition to nationals of China and ROK who help DPRK citizens escape to China and from there to the ROK”.
Who and what are the perpetrators documented in FOOTPRINTS: Database of those taken by North Korea?
- Ministry of State Security [국가보위성]
- Ministry of Social Security [사회안전성]
- Korean People’s Army [조선인민군]
- Office of the Prosecutor and the court system [검찰소 및 재판소 체계]
- Workers’ Party of Korea [조선로동당]
- National Defence Commission [국방위원회]
- State Affairs Commission [국무위원회]
- Supreme Leader [최고령도자]
- Chinese People’s Volunteers [중국인민지원군]
- Local communists [지방 공산세력]
- Internal security [내무서원]
- Unknown [모름]
What are the proceedings documented in FOOTPRINTS: Database of those taken by North Korea?
- UN WGEID [UN 강제적•비자발적 실종 실무그룹]
- UN WGAD [UN 자의적 구금 실무그룹]
- South Korean courts [한국 법원]
- US courts [미국 법원]
- Japanese courts [일본 법원]
- Chinese courts [중국 법원]