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Dying for Rights: Putting North Korea’s Human Rights Abuses on the Record, Sandra Fahy

Reviewed by Yangmo Ku

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An anthropologist, Sandra Fahy addresses one of the most pressing human rights issues in the contemporary global community. In Dying for Rights, Fahy begins with a historical record of North Korea’s human rights violations under the rule of Kim Il-sung (1948–1994). Among them are the removal of political plurality, Kim’s personality cult, population and information control, and the elimination of Christian believers. She then highlights serious violations of socioeconomic rights stemming from a famine from 1995 to 1998 that resulted in the death of 500,000 to 1,000,000 people. Fahy argues that this tragedy was mainly caused by the North Korean government’s mismanagement of economic policies and international aid, while the abrupt collapse of the Soviet bloc and natural disasters worsened the condition.

Fahy also stresses that many North Koreans have suffered long-standing discrimination given a social classification system called Songbun, which refers to “a person’s genetically inherited political destiny, with all of North Korean society stratified into three basic groups: core, wavering, or hostile” (p. 60). Songbun stratification limits people’s opportunities for education, profession, marriage, and residence according to their loyalty and usefulness to the state.

Fahy points out that most N

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