Earnest protesters carry placards showing human-eating dogs outside Aotea Square, but no Aucklanders stop.
The violence shown on their posters contrasts with the meekness of their vigil. The mainly young Korean faces lit by candlelight come most Monday evenings at 7pm, with pamphlets for the few who stop.
The protest is part of international movement SAGE, which began at Handong University in Seoul in 2008. SAGE alleges gross human rights violations by the North Korean Government, including prisons for political opponents, forced labour and genocide.
Protester Saemi Jang has lived in New Zealand for the past 10 years and got involved through her church.
“As time passes, more and more South Koreans realise what’s going on in North Korea.
“Even for me, one year ago I didn’t care what was going on there. But I think it’s time for North Korea to open up, and also South Korea open up,” she says.
But fellow protester Eunice Jeon says some people are sceptical of the group’s claims.
Professor Stephen Epstein, director of Asian Studies at Victoria University, says it is difficult to navigate between propaganda and fact.
He says protests about human rights in North Korea are common, estimating there would be one a week in Seoul.
They are often organised by religious groups, and vary in the validity of their claims about the northern regime, he says.
“I would discount the more sensationalist stories. But labour camps that are absolutely horrific in North Korea are certainly well-documented. There is no dispute about that,” says Epstein.
“Genocide, in a certain sense is the wrong word, because that would be like self-cannibalisation.
“So it’s not genocide, but the regime is completely willing to allow hundreds of thousands of its own people to suffer to maintain its own survival, absolutely. I believe that 100 per cent.
“But it’s not a policy of trying to seek out and put to death large masses of the population.”
Although the country is seemingly closed to the world, Epstein says the reality of technology means North Koreans increasingly have access to outside information, albeit clandestinely.
“It’s by no means as closed off as people suggest. I’ve been myself. So you can get in and people are escaping and getting out. It is a fairly porous border.”
Epstein says that as of this year there are 25,000 North Koreans living in South Korea – providing extensive information about the society, although the upper echelons of the Government remain unclear.
“When it comes to the workings of the inner circle of power, I would say we know next to nothing.
“[New Zealanders] should care because it’s humanity, and because we have increasingly very significant ties with South Korea and China, the two countries on its border. The fact that it remains a geopolitical flash point in one of the, if not the most important regions in the world.”
“This is one of the reasons North Korea won’t change, or can’t change.
“Too many people have a vested interest in making sure there is stability.”