[INTERVIEW] 'North Korea willing to learn international law'

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[INTERVIEW] 'North Korea willing to learn international law'

This September photo shows a street in Pyongyang near Kim Il Sung Square. At right is the headquarters of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). Numbers painted on the road indicate where to stand when there is a big gathering. Courtesy of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea office

By Jung Da-min

North Korea is willing to learn international law, which boosts the claim that the once-reclusive nation is serious this time about opening up, a German lawyer said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

"North Koreans are interested in legal issues as they want to do international business that requires understanding of international mechanisms like economic laws and taxation laws," said Stefan Samse. "The role of lawyers would be more important in setting up an international framework in terms of dealing with potential legal disputes."

Stefan Samse in his Seoul office. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min
Samse is the Korea-resident representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation that organizes meetings for politicians and runs scholarship programs.

Samse said foundation officials could discuss legal issues with North Korean lawyers during the foundation's visit to the North in March and September last year.

"We visited the supreme court of the DPRK and talked to lawyers there," he said. "We went there twice and were able to discuss the Otto Warmbier case, for example.

"In March, we touched on the issue and in September they started to discuss it as they knew we were interested. But what was remarkable for me was that they were not reluctant to discuss the issue."

The sign at the entrance to the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea office. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min
The two sides had 90 minutes of discussion, Samse said, talking about the gap between North Korean laws and those of other countries.

He noted that although they did not reach an agreement, the fact they talked about it showed there could be more interaction with North Koreans to bridge the gap between the different systems.

The German foundation has also been supporting students at Kim Il Sung University's law faculty for more than a decade. Selected students, one or two at a time, get a full-year stay in Germany.

A view of Pyongyang in September. Courtesy of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

"We have law students from Pyongyang and Wonsan in German universities," Samse said. "Law is an easy entry topic in communicating with North Korea because it would have been in breach of the sanctions if we granted scholarships to those studying natural science like physics or chemistry."

Samse said social science or environmental issues were the first topics that East and West Germany could talk about when the country was divided. Law was also one of the social science topics.

"Talking to the students who studied in Germany gave me the feeling that there was an imminent need for North Korean students to study abroad," Samse said. "Those who studied in Germany have become instructors at Kim Il Sung University's law faculty and Kim Chaek University of Technology's economics faculty."

Samse felt that the North Koreans were at ease communicating with their German counterparts as Germany is a third party, but at the same time a country that shares the experience of division.

He said the foundation would continue the scholarship program with the North Korean students to study in Germany.

It is planning to visit North Korea two or three times this year and will seek to regularize exchanges in the areas it is focusing on, including law and sports.

"One of the goals this year is to set MOUs (memorandums of understanding) in sports exchanges with North Korea," Samse said.



This September photo shows a street in Pyongyang near Kim Il Sung Square. At right is the headquarters of the Workers' Party of Korea (WPK). Numbers painted on the road indicate where to stand when there is a big gathering. Courtesy of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea office

By Jung Da-min

North Korea is willing to learn international law, which boosts the claim that the once-reclusive nation is serious this time about opening up, a German lawyer said during a recent interview with The Korea Times.

"North Koreans are interested in legal issues as they want to do international business that requires understanding of international mechanisms like economic laws and taxation laws," said Stefan Samse. "The role of lawyers would be more important in setting up an international framework in terms of dealing with potential legal disputes."

Stefan Samse in his Seoul office. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min
Samse is the Korea-resident representative of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung, a German political foundation that organizes meetings for politicians and runs scholarship programs.

Samse said foundation officials could discuss legal issues with North Korean lawyers during the foundation's visit to the North in March and September last year.

"We visited the supreme court of the DPRK and talked to lawyers there," he said. "We went there twice and were able to discuss the Otto Warmbier case, for example.

"In March, we touched on the issue and in September they started to discuss it as they knew we were interested. But what was remarkable for me was that they were not reluctant to discuss the issue."

The sign at the entrance to the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung Korea office. Korea Times photo by Jung Da-min
The two sides had 90 minutes of discussion, Samse said, talking about the gap between North Korean laws and those of other countries.

He noted that although they did not reach an agreement, the fact they talked about it showed there could be more interaction with North Koreans to bridge the gap between the different systems.

The German foundation has also been supporting students at Kim Il Sung University's law faculty for more than a decade. Selected students, one or two at a time, get a full-year stay in Germany.

A view of Pyongyang in September. Courtesy of Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung

"We have law students from Pyongyang and Wonsan in German universities," Samse said. "Law is an easy entry topic in communicating with North Korea because it would have been in breach of the sanctions if we granted scholarships to those studying natural science like physics or chemistry."

Samse said social science or environmental issues were the first topics that East and West Germany could talk about when the country was divided. Law was also one of the social science topics.

"Talking to the students who studied in Germany gave me the feeling that there was an imminent need for North Korean students to study abroad," Samse said. "Those who studied in Germany have become instructors at Kim Il Sung University's law faculty and Kim Chaek University of Technology's economics faculty."

Samse felt that the North Koreans were at ease communicating with their German counterparts as Germany is a third party, but at the same time a country that shares the experience of division.

He said the foundation would continue the scholarship program with the North Korean students to study in Germany.

It is planning to visit North Korea two or three times this year and will seek to regularize exchanges in the areas it is focusing on, including law and sports.

"One of the goals this year is to set MOUs (memorandums of understanding) in sports exchanges with North Korea," Samse said.



Jung Da-min damin.jung@koreatimes.co.kr


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