MLA Research Paper


Web-based Research Paper

In this paper you are asked to analyze a major human rights problem in a particular country (I prefer North Korea, but if you have a better country, go with that country).  The purpose of this exercise is to use a human rights perspective for understanding and seeking to remedy a severe social injustice.

In researching and compiling your paper, please follow the instructions below.  You must cover the specified elements (ordered as you prefer), but try not to submit a paper that reads like a check-list.  You are expected to fashion a coherent narrative, and to identify the most significant overall findings of your investigation.  Those findings should be stated in the introduction of your essay, and reviewed in the conclusion.

  1. Describe a human rights problem in a particular country.  For information, consult one or more of the following sources.
  2. Amnesty International to an external site.) (Go to “Our Work” and click on “Countries.”) Or go directly to (Links to an external site.)
  3. Human Rights Watch to an external site.)  (Use the “Browse by Country” button at the very bottom of the page.)
  4. American Civil Liberties Union to an external site.) (limited to the US)
  5. US State Department Country Reports to an external site.) (does not include the US)

In addition, you may want to consult the annual world reports of Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, also available online.  Lexis-Nexis (UW restricted) will help you locate relevant news articles.  You may consult other sources if you wish.

  1. Identify the specific human rights that are being violated.  Be alert to all the relevant human rights, and think about how violations of one human right can undermine others.  Discuss how the relevant rights are defined (or ignored) in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
  2. Read the national constitution, and discuss what protections it does or does not promise for the right in question. to an external site.), to an external site.) (Links to an external site.)/, or a similar page.
  3. Identify any relevant UN human rights treaties, and describe how the rights are defined in those treaties. In most cases you should confine your attention to the “Core International Human Rights Instruments” listed here: to an external site.). In rare cases, you may want consult this longer catalogue: to an external site.). Here is the portal to the UN page on international human rights law: (Links to an external site.).
  4. State whether the country has ratified the relevant UN treaties.  You will find this information here: to an external site.).  (This chart includes far more treaties than you should examine.  Consult the majortreaties that are relevant to your topic.)  A country has ratified a treaty if there is a date appearing in the “Accession, Succession, Ratification” column.
  5. Find out if the country has ratified the regional human rights treaty (if any) in its geographic area: the European Convention on Human Rights(Links to an external site.), the American Convention on Human Rights(Links to an external site.), or the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights (Links to an external site.). Ratification lists can be found at:
  6. Africa: to an external site.)  or
  7. The Americas: to an external site.) .  A country has ratified if there is a date appearing in the “Ratification/Accession” column. Two countries, Trinidad and Tobago and Venezuela have withdrawn their ratifications.
  8. Europe: to an external site.)

Discuss how the relevant rights are defined in the relevant regional treaty.

  1. Note: Here’s a convenient way to find out which human rights treaties, international and regional, the country has ratified: to an external site.). (Only a few years out of date.)
  2. Note: Some of you may choose to write about abuses committed by insurgent groups or rebel armies.  Though such organizations do not ratify international treaties, they are still governed by human rights law.  You should refer to the Universal Declaration and any treaties that seem relevant.  Moreover, insurgent organizations, like states, are governed by the law of armed conflict.  You may therefore want to consult Articles 6-8 of the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court.  To read the treaty, please paste the link to an external site.)into your browser, click on “Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court” (under “Documentation”) and then click on “Entire Statute.”
  3. Discuss whether and in what way the government’s (or insurgency’s) conduct is in violation of domestic law, the nation’s treaty obligations, and customary international law.  Is the relevant human rights law, at the national and international levels, adequate and appropriate, and if not, how should it be improved?
  4. Discuss what you think government officials (or insurgent leaders), national citizens, and international actors should do in light of your findings.

NOTE: You must document sources for all specific information provided in your essay.  You may use either footnotes, endnotes, or parenthetical references that refer to a bibliography on the back page.  Use a standard format (e.g., Chicago or MLA) and be consistent.  Your citation should include enough information to identify the source clearly; please also list the web-page address.  Subsequent citations to the same report should be abbreviated.  Examples:

  1. Amnesty International, “Dissent and Impunity in Belarus,” 21 June 2002,\BELARUS.
  2. Amnesty International, “Dissent and Impunity in Belarus.”
  3. International Covenant on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination (CERD), art. 3.
  4. CERD, art. 9.


First Name Last Name

Name of Professor

Political Science Paper


Title: Human Rights Problem in North Korea

North Korea has encountered many years of human rights violations. The aim of this paper is to adopt the human rights perspective in creating a better understanding of the severe social injustices associated with North Korea. An evaluation of the human rights situation in North Korea exposes several findings. To begin with, the totalitarian governments of the North Korea’s ruling dynasty have maintained a very poor human rights record in recent years. Moreover, the violation of the freedom of speech violates both the national constitution of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea and the UN treaties the country has ratified (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression 2). To deal with this problem, the intervention of the international community, entailing a transition from totalitarianism to democratic governance, is required.


North Korea has attracted the international community as well as human rights organizations because of its poor human rights record (Amnesty International UK 3). Successive North Korean governments have failed to protect the fundamental rights of citizens, including the right to healthcare and food. Moreover, torture is a common phenomenon in the country’s prisons. Some of the most common forms of punishment in the country’s prisons include beatings, unhygienic conditions, inadequate food, and forced hard labor. This means that going to prison is one of the most dreaded things among North Koreans.

The North Korean government has continued to face numerous accusations of carrying out abductions of both its citizens and foreigners (Jeffries 102). At the same time, it has continued to maintain an environment of extreme hostility against political dissidents as well as members of their families. Family members, relatives, and friends of these dissidents are routinely punished by the government for being “guilty by association”. The human rights violations make North Korea one of the worst places to live. Serious hunger spells have become a common phenomenon for the country’s vulnerable citizens especially the elderly, women, and children.

Things have been made worse by the government’s inability to mobilize international assistance. This failure is attributable mainly to the political leaders’ tendency to adopt policies that put them at loggerheads with other countries. For this reason, North Korea is increasingly being transformed into a pariah state by its ruling class.

Moreover, lack of freedom of movement is a major human rights violation that is being meted against North Koreans (Amnesty International 2). North Korean law requires citizens to obtain permission whenever they are travelling both within the country’s borders and abroad. Anyone who travels abroad without permission from the state risks facing the death penalty. Despite this restriction, thousands of North Koreans routinely cross the country’s border into China to escape poverty and desperation in their homeland.

Dissenting voices in North Korea are not tolerated by the government (U.S. Department of State 4). One can easily land in jail for listening to broadcasts or simply disseminating information via the mass media. Although North Korea is a state party to various treaties, including the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it has continuously refused to protect the citizens’ fundamental rights and freedoms through domestic legislation.

Political prison camps are a dominant manifestation of human rights violations in North Korea (Chen and Lee 469). For a long time, these violations have been reported by survivors. Conditions in these prisons are deplorable, and may in some cases be classified as crimes against humanity. Human rights groups have also been compelled to rely on satellite imagery as evidence of the ongoing perpetuation of human rights abuses. The fact that more citizens continue to languish in prisons merely because of their perceived political inclinations only reinforces the urgency of the measures that the international community should take to rectify the situation in North Korea.

The situation in North Korean political prison camps is so dire that the UN has already established a Commission of Inquiry aimed at investigating them and piling pressure on the country to improve its human rights record. Even as efforts to pile pressure on North Korea continue, the need to corroborate the shocking stories of poor human rights conditions has become a matter of even greater urgency. Unless such efforts are taken, North Korea will continue to be a safe haven for a ruling elite that is determined to silence political dissidents by violating their fundamental human rights.

Chapter 5 (Article 67) of the North Korean constitution guarantees all the country’s citizens the freedom of speech, assembly, press, association, and demonstration (Naenara 5). It expressly states that the conditions of all free activities undertaken by social organizations and democratic political parties are guaranteed by the state (Naenara 5). Yet successive North Korean governments have continued to violate these rights by imprisoning dissidents and activists. Any citizen who attempts to assert a view that differs from that of the country’s supreme leader is arrested, tortured, or even killed. The country scores dismally in terms of free expression. This is demonstrated by its tradition of maintaining a highly secretive society, where a highly centralized familial regime maintains tight control over the way information is disseminated to the public.

The restrictions on freedom of speech, expression, and association clearly violates Chapter 5 (Article 67) of the country’s constitution (Naenara 5). It is against the spirit and letter of the North Korean constitution for the government to own all media outlets by simply prohibiting private investors from venturing into the business. Similarly, the tradition of compelling all journalists to register as members of the North Korean ruling party is aimed at restricting the way they report news to the public. As members of the ruling party, the journalists are obliged to report only those news items that help to promote the image of the government and the ruling family. This contravenes the constitution just in the same way as the censorship that makes it virtually impossible for North Koreans to news and information from other parts of the world.

The freedom of speech and expression is clearly stipulated in various UN treaties that address aspects of human rights. One of these treaties is The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 7). Article 19(2) of this treaty states that every person has the right to the freedom of express, which includes the freedom to seek, obtain, and disseminate all kinds of ideas and information, regardless of frontiers, either in writing, in print orally, or in the form of artistic expression, or any other media that the person deems appropriate (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 7). Article 19(3) indicates that the rights stipulated in Article 19(2) may be restricted because they carry with them certain duties and responsibilities (UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights 8). However, this paragraph reiterates that any restrictions that may be imposed must be provided by law and must be necessary. It is unfortunate that North Korea ratified this treaty on 14 September 1981 but has never missed an opportunity to violate it.

The General Assembly Resolution 53/144 of 9 December 1998 also provides for the protection of the freedom of speech and expression (Canadian Journalists for Free Expression 1). It states that all persons have the right, in association with other people or individually, at local, national, or international levels, to communicate with inter-governmental and non-governmental organizations. The rationale for allowing for this right is to enable people to promote and protect fundamental freedoms and human rights. North Korea’s practice of prohibiting journalists from belonging to any other party apart from the ruling party violates their rights as provided for in the General Assembly Resolution 53/144 of 9 December 1998. With such restrictions in place, it becomes impossible for the journalists to promote and protect the fundamental freedoms and human rights of the North Korean people. As a member of the UN General Assembly, North Korea is party to this Resolution. This means that in all matters relating to the freedom of speech, the country has established a culture of not only violating the national constitution but also UN treaties and resolutions.

After successfully restricting the activities of journalists in North Korea, the country’s regime has been at pains to restrict foreign media’s coverage of human rights abuses there as well. One approach entails defaming foreign journalists in North Korean media. The government-controlled media in North Korea portrays them as liars who only want to destabilize the country’s government. In an environment of such hostility, foreign journalists find it extremely difficult to gather information in the country. For example, they are not allowed to have GPS devices or phones. Moreover, citizens are sternly discouraged from speaking to the journalists, particularly whenever the topic of discussion involves political issues. At the same time, physical movement across the country is a nightmare for these journalists. This are particularly prohibited from touring the countryside without consent from senior government officials.

These restrictions contravene the UN conventions that North Korea has already ratified. This situation has greatly contributed to the country’s poor human rights record in the eyes of the international community. In March 2009, two American journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling, were arrested and detailed after allegedly crossing the border between North Korea and China at night. They were charged with illegal entry into North Korea with the intention of propagating a smear campaign against North Korea’s ruling family. They were handed a prison sentence of 12 years. Fortunately, President Bill Clinton launched a successful campaign that led to them being pardoned by the then North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il.

International organizations seeking to draw attention to the violation of the freedom of expression as provided for in Article 19 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights have been compelled to rely on refugees who now live in other parts of the world, notably South Korea (Cha and Anderson 15). These refugees provide crucial information on the various ways in which the North Korean government violates citizens’ right to free speech. Moreover, some of these refugees have launched independent radio stations that broadcast to North Korea, acting as the only source of independent news for the citizenry.

The actions of the North Korean regime to curtail the freedom of expression violates both domestic law and customary international law. The national constitution of the Democratic Peoples’ Republic of Korea did not envisage a situation where citizens’ rights to free speech and expression would be violated. Similarly, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights is clear on the right of every individual to gain access to news and information through various means, including mass media and the internet.

In the totalitarian regime of North Korea, the use of fear to oppress citizens has been a tried-and-tested tactic. Public executions are a common phenomenon. The same case applies to the use of mass recruitment drives aimed at confining certain sections of the population to forced-labor camps. All these are criminal activities whose objective is to instill fear, discourage dissent, and propagate sycophancy. The establishment of a large network of informants who always monitor and report the activities of dissidents and all people suspected of subversive behavior to government officials exemplifies a criminal approach to governance. This element of criminality is confirmed by the severe punishment that is routinely being meted on these suspected dissidents by the government.

The solution to the serious human rights violations taking place in North Korea is in the hands of the international community. The international community should form a coalition aimed at liberating the people of North Korea by toppling the totalitarian government and replacing it with a democratic regime. Such a coalition should be sanctioned in international law in the same way that NATO’s intervention in Kosovo amounted to a legal move that safeguarded the Kosovars’ right to live in the face of imminent genocide in the hands of a dictatorial regime.

Unfortunately, it is easier said than done as far as the task of toppling the totalitarian regime is concerned. Ejecting a bad regime and replacing it with a good one is a process rather than an event. The international community must take care of several things to make this process a success. First, it must ensure that the intervention does not violate international law. Two wrongs do not make a right. By violating international law, the intervening entities will be put in the category of the abusers of fundamental human rights as stipulated in the Universal Declaration on Human rights.

Additionally, the UN will need to address the issue of how a democratic regime will be installed the country. It is important to take care not to trigger an insurgency that may throw the country in civil war. Lastly, the issue of nurturing democratic institutions must be given the attention it deserved; this is the only way through which a sustainable framework of democratic governance in the country can be established.

In conclusion, North Korea faces a serious problem of human rights abuses. The country is clearly in a league of its own in terms of the poor human rights record that it has maintained for a long time. Specifically, restrictions on the freedom of free speech and expression violates both the national constitution and the UN treaties the country has ratified. To solve this serious problem, the international community must move in with speed, forcefully eject the totalitarian regime, and replace it with a democratic government.

Works Cited

Amnesty International UK. UN report exposes North Korea human rights abuses. 26 March 2014, retrieved from  on November 18, 2014.

Amnesty International. North Korea country profile. 07 February 2014, retrieved from  on November 18, 2014.

Canadian Journalists for Free Expression. North Korea exposed: Censorship in the world’s most secretive state, 17 March 2014, retrieved from  on November 15, 2014.

Cha, Victor and Anderson, Nicholas. “A North Korean Spring?” The Washington Quarterly, 35.1 (2012): 7-24.

Chen, Cheng and Lee, Ji-Yong. “Making sense of North Korea: “National Stalinism” in comparative-historical perspective” Communist and Post-Communist Studies, 40.4 (2007): 459–475.

Jeffries, Ian. North Korea, 2009-2012: A guide to economic and political developments. New York: Routledge, 2012. Print.

Naenara. North Korean Constitution of 2009. 28 September 2009, retrieved from November 16, 2014.

U.S. Department of State. Travel of Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights Issues Robert King. 11 November 2014, retrieved from  on November 17, 2014.

UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights. Universal Human Rights Instruments. 28 January 2013, retrieved from  on November 17, 2014.

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