Geospatial Mapping in North Korean Human Rights Monitoring

Key information

5:00 PM to 7:00 PM
Paul Webley Wing (Senate House)
Alumni Lecture Theatre

About this event

Dr Sarah Son (Sheffield University)


For organisations committed to documenting human rights abuses in North Korea, gathering relevant data is an ongoing challenge. Faced with the lack of access to the country, as well as the problems inherent in verifying or corroborating testimonies given by North Korean escapees, some organisations have turned to hybrid methodologies, including pairing geospatial information systems (GIS) technology with testimonial data. GIS technology and satellite imagery analysis has been deployed in a number of settings globally to assess and investigate mass atrocities, both historical and ongoing. The use of satellite imagery has also become popular in work on North Korea, particularly in the area of monitoring nuclear and conventional weapons infrastructure development. Such work has at times sparked controversy, given the scope for analytical error and the high stakes associated with flawed analysis. In light of these developments, this talk discusses the potential of GIS to support human rights research on North Korea. Specifically, it presents the interim findings of the first ongoing project developed in South Korea using GIS mapping technology to document human rights abuses in the North. While considering the drawbacks and risks involved in using GIS technology for such work, the talk will cite key advantages to be had from piloting new methods of this nature. It also describes some of the practical considerations involved in applying this method to the North Korean context and will suggest avenues for ways this work could be expanded through partnerships with interdisciplinary expertise.

Speaker Biography

Dr Sarah Son completed her PhD on national identity and inter-Korean relations at SOAS in 2014, before spending five years working in South Korea in the non-profit sector on North Korean human rights issues, as well as on human rights documentation practices more broadly. She has been the recipient of a number of research grants and has worked on these issues with various NGOs, foreign government missions to Korea and the United Nations Human Rights Office (Seoul). She joined the School of East Asian Studies at the University of Sheffield in August 2019.


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Organiser: SOAS Centre of Korean Studies

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Contact Tel: +44 (0)20 7898 4893