Post by: Sherri Sturgeon
As I was leaving South Korea this summer, my mind was brought back to the intricate needlework that is a tradition on this little peninsula. Dating back centuries, this beautiful art is one originally displayed on the tapestries of royal families, but today finds its way to the streets of Insadong where artists showcase their talents in hopes some passerby will appreciate their artistry and buy their works. A funny thing to think of after a summer spent knee-dip in research on varying international topics, yet somehow, a fitting analogy. You see, each of these delicate works of art requires signal strands, intentionally and thoughtfully placed over and over until a beautiful piece of artwork emerges. This was precisely how I felt this summer at Handong International Law School – I was a thread placed with care and intentionality in the tapestry of human rights work, fulfilling a role that without, the piece would be askew – not quite complete.
I had the privilege of playing a role – being a thread – in several substantial issues this summer. One issue revolved around the rights for persons with disabilities in North Korea. North Korea is well-known for its issues in protecting the basic human rights of its citizens as well as its apprehension towards engaging the international community. What is lesser known is its positive attempts to seek to protect the rights of its citizens. In one such effort, the “Hermit Kingdom” ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. In ratifying this convention, North Korea came into agreement in an unprecedented manner with the international community in seeking to protect the rights of persons with disabilities. My research focused on the progress they have made, according to their own reports, reports from the UN, as well as eye-witness reports from refugees. While their efforts have not been perfect, it is shocking and positive to see North Korea interact with the international community in this arena and make positive efforts to protect its citizens. This evaluation of codified law in conjunction with implemented programs evolved into a report that will hopefully be published, having the potential of being put into the hands of policy makers who can help further North Korea’s efforts to protect its citizens. Though just a thread, this small effort may play a bigger role in a tapestry of hope for the people of North Korea.
I further had the opportunity to do research regarding the adoption of South Korean children by American families living in South Korea. Adoption is a complicated issue in South Korea as the government has restricted the adoption of South Korean children by foreigners. Unfortunately, this has led to an increase in orphans as adoption of Korean children by South Koreans is incredibly uncommon. As a result, most adoptions of South Korean children occur through agency adoptions, which is a very defined, expensive process, and limited by the South Korean government. As a result, many children are unable to be adopted, continuing through the governmental system until they reach the age of majority, where they are vulnerable to homelessness and trafficking. My research this summer was part of a bigger work to develop an adoption manual which will seek to help American families residing in South Korea to adopt a South Korean child. This traditionally has been impossible but through a relatively unknown part of South Korean law, this is becoming a possibility for families, paving a way for orphans to find love and safety in a family. One question the courts look to in this “private adoption” process is whether these children, in being adopted by American families, will be able to become U.S. citizens. Researching the depths of U.S. law in regards to how to citizenship is acquired and specifically the bars to citizenship was an exhausting and enlightening process. Given the current climate surrounding immigration in our nation, my research into the depths of immigration law was fascinating to me and has further shifted my plans for my 2L year as I seek to learn more about this field and the manner in which immigration laws intersect with basic human rights.
I am thankful to have been a tiny thread in the bigger tapestry of human rights work this summer. I learned so much through this opportunity, grew in my capacity, and was exposed to issues that have broadened my perspective on my career moving forward. Though I have no idea what significance my part in this immense field may have, every thread, no matter how big or small, is a necessary part of a beautiful tapestry. I am grateful for the opportunity to be a thread this summer, placed with intentionality, and for the opportunity to glimpse the bigger purpose each small stitch can have in seeing that all are treated with equal value and dignity.
This post was written by a Center for Global Justice Intern. The views expressed in this post do not necessarily reflect those of Regent University, Regent Law School, or the Center for Global Justice.