Mapping Mass Graves in North Korea
Korean: 북한 반인도범죄 매핑 (TJWG)
Sparked by the February 2014 publication of the Report of the Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (UN COI), TJWG began mapping the locations of suspected mass graves, sites of human rights violations, and possible repositories of documentation relating to abuses in 2015.
In a transitional context, quickly identifying these sites will be important for identifying victims of human rights abuses, and for securing justice for both victims’ families and the perpetrators of the violations. Conducting this work in advance of any transition serves the dual purposes of increasing the efficiency and therefore effectiveness of locating remains and collecting physical and documentary evidence of abuses in the future, while also sending a strong message to perpetrators of violations in the DPRK.
Planning and Preparation
Founded in September 2014, TJWG started to consult with experts in the fields of IT, human rights documentation, international law, and transitional justice. From April of 2015, with funding from the National Endowment for Democracy, TJWG began its pilot interview project. In the first year, TJWG interviewed 100 defectors to solidify survey techniques, and records management.
Rolling out from the pilot phase, TJWG interviewed 275 defectors in year 2 and plans to interview an additional 300 persons per year in the future.
Interviewees are selected by recommendation from previous interviewees – the snowballing method. Interviewees receive a small stipend for attending interviews – enough to cover travel expenses and a meal.
Prior to interview, the participants are asked to provide informed consent, complying with international standards of human rights documentation. They are fully aware of their right to withdraw their participation at any time, and we explain clearly the intended application of the data they provide us. We also take time to explain our security procedure to reassure them of any concerns they may have about the security of their testimony. During the interview, participants are shown digital satellite maps of geographical locations familiar to them – typically their home village or town, or town of longest residence – and asked to identify locations that are of interest to our research.
Data security has been a high priority in the design of the system to reduce the risk that the information we collect could be hacked and/or the identified grave sites tampered with by the North Korean authorities. While actively seeking and receiving advice from technology-based organizations and experts in the field of geospatial information systems and digital security, we are furthering our technological knowledge and advancing the system’s design.
In our data management systems, we aim to respect the “do not harm” principle, where we do our utmost to ensure that the participants are protected. The focus of our data-gathering is on locations, in the sphere of interviewees’ immediate knowledge, which allows us to feel confident in the information we gather.