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Human Rights in North Korea and U.S. Policy: 

Human Rights in North Korea and U.S. Policy Sun Song PARK Dongguk University, Seoul, South Korea

Different Views and Policy Proposals concerning the N. K. Human Rights Problems: 

Different Views and Policy Proposals concerning the N. K. Human Rights Problems Two Questions What is the exact situation of human rights in North Korea? How can the situation of human rights in North Korea be improved?

Table of Contents: 

Table of Contents 1. Situation and Changes of the N.K.H.R. i. Assessment and measurement ii. Nature and causes iii. Recent changes 2. How to Improve the Situation i. Theories and experiences ii. Critical assessment of U.S. policy iii. Policy alternative: principles/measures

Attitudes toward the Human Rights Problem in North Korea: 

Attitudes toward the Human Rights Problem in North Korea Before the late 1980s political and ideological approach domination of security strategy After the end of the Cold War and the democratization of South Korea regime change versus humanitarian assistance pressure/containment versus engagement


ASSESSMENT & MEASUREMENT Of the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

U.N. on the N.K.H.R. Situation: 

U.N. on the N.K.H.R. Situation Resolution 2004/13 of the U.N.C.H.R. - “its deep concern about continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights in the D.P.R.K.” - a request for the appointment of the Special Rapporteur U.N. Initiative “as a window of opportunity to engage with the world, particularly with the U.N., to improve the human rights situation in the country” for North Korea

Human Rights Situation in North Korea by the Special Rapporteur: 

Human Rights Situation in North Korea by the Special Rapporteur Catastrophic food shortages and subsequent food crisis Restriction of basic freedom, detention centers, and political discrimination Control of movement, and refugees or displaced persons Dismantlement of basic social service (health, education) Restriction of political participation and non-access to information Rise in infant mortality, malnutrition, trafficking, inhumane punishment upon return

Two Provisos: 

Two Provisos Credibility of Testimonies Distinguish between system-specific abuses and general-but-individual abuses In the latter cases, we need to approach the testimonies more carefully. Danger of Comparison Two negative influences (1) Reversal of priority between famine and other abuses (2) Demonizing N.K. and inducing excessive policies

How to measure the N.K. Human Rights: 

How to measure the N.K. Human Rights Human Rights in Principle - insufficient legal protection and compliance with international norms - negative gap between de jure / de facto Human Rights in Practice - a lot of event-based reporting of H.R. violations - Freedom House: N.K. as ‘not free’ state Policy Outcomes related to H.R. - UNDP categorized N.K. as ‘high priority country’ - Bank of Korea: economic recession in the 1990s


NATURE AND CAUSES Of the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

Character of the N.K.H.R. Situation: 

Character of the N.K.H.R. Situation System-specific Characteristic - A typical “centrally controlled bureaucracy” or classical socialist system - Especially, after the late 1960s, the “unitary ruling regime” with the ideology of “Juche”

Three Contextual Qualifications: 

Three Contextual Qualifications System of Division - Korean war and division directly influence the N.K.H.R. situation. See V. Muntarbhorn. Change of Political Regime - The unitary ruling regime rose in the 1960s and began to weaken from the mid 1990s. Economic Crisis in the 1990s - Economic crisis provoked a humanitarian disaster and weakened governmental control.


No attempt to understand the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can be totally separated from the challenge of peace and human security in the region. … The fact that the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea is heavily militarized raises a question concerning equitable allocation of resources - the need to reallocate those resources to promote and protect human rights. No attempt to understand the human rights situation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea can be totally separated from the challenge of demilitarization and disarmament in the region. Muntarbhorn, 2005, p.8, paragraphs 23 & 24.

Complexity of the N.K. Situation Policy Implications: 

Complexity of the N.K. Situation Policy Implications Military tensions and security crises as a pretext for repression. => Improvement of inter-Korean relations and détente in the Korean Peninsula as a key factor for the alleviation of the N.K.H.R. situation. From a “strong, intolerant, and oppressive state” to “state failure” => Economic and social restoration as a point of departure for human rights improvement.


RECENT CHANGES Related to the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

Even small changes are important.: 

Even small changes are important. The process of improving the human rights situation is a long, phased, and complex process of system-and-norm change. => Even small changes could be important signs of the beginning of norm compliance and system change.

Three Significant Changes: 

Three Significant Changes Continued contact with international society on the subject of human rights - UN, AI, EU, etc. Human rights-oriented establishment, amendment, and supplementation of laws. Economic reforms and open door policies since the early 2000s.

Meaning of Changes: 

Meaning of Changes All these changes would be part of the N.K. authorities’ survival strategy. But, they show: N.K. is changing in the progressive direction. N.K. is attempting economic reforms as other socialist countries did. The insufficiency and inefficiency of changes and reforms will eventually provoke more radical changes.

Premises of Discussion Following: 

Premises of Discussion Following We tried to show in the first part: The North Korean authorities behave within the general maxims of political regime and international relations. North Korea is changing and the appropriate and continuous efforts of international society will probably result in the peaceful transformation of its regime. In the second part, we discuss how to improve the N.K. human rights situation.



Dynamics of International Human Rights Compliance: 

Dynamics of International Human Rights Compliance What is the relative role of external pressure versus internal commitment? Three Explanatory Factors: Power, Self-Interest, Norms Three Levels of Actions: International/Regional, Domestic, and Domestic-International Interactions Cardenas, 2004, p.214.

Five Conditions of Compliances: 

Five Conditions of Compliances Existence of relevant international norms Material interests of a major power Transnational network activism Domestic allies in target states Domestic political elites who either view themselves as being vulnerable internationally or care about their international reputations Cardenas, 2004, p.219.

Logic of Violation Three Closely related Conditions: 

Logic of Violation Three Closely related Conditions National security threats Pro-violation constituencies (for example, members of the coercive apparatus and domestic economic elites) Rules of exception (i.e. certain legal and belief systems, which support oppressive institution)

Policy Implications: 

Policy Implications International threats and coercive sanctions as security threats could aggravate the N.K.H.R. situation. Economic development is the sine qua non of the amelioration of H.R. situation. A first step for N.K. is creating material and moral conditions necessary for the rise of civil society.

Experiences of South Korea and China: 

Experiences of South Korea and China The policy of “pushing violations” is more effective than that of “pulling compliance”. South Korea: diminution of security threats, economic development, civil movement, and democratization China: economic reform, open door policy, economic development, and amicable foreign policy


CRITICAL ASSESSMENT Of U.S. Human Rights Policy toward North Korea

Bush Administration’s Policy: 

Bush Administration’s Policy To raise the tone of criticism and international pressures toward the N.K.H.R. situation. To connect the issue of H.R. with a settlement of nuclear conflict and an improvement of diplomatic relations. To have established a law called the “N.K.H.R. Act of 2004” that directly influences the N.K. domestic situation.

Types of Human Rights Policy: 

Types of Human Rights Policy


WEAKNESS 1 Inconsistency between policy objectives - Security or Human Rights? - We are not sure if security-based and human-rights based policies can go together. - The U.S. seems to take advantage of the N.K. human rights situation in order to justify the hawkish policy toward N.K.


WEAKNESS 2 Inconsistency between end and means - Hawk engagement is not suitable to improve the N.K.H.R. situation. - Without diplomatic relations, expressing hostile intention will result in negative consequences. - To spread radios and facilitate North Korean’s acquisition of refugee status in the U.S. may be a security threat to N.K.


WEAKNESS 3 Misconceptions of situation, process, and human rights - The U.S. thinks of the human rights problem as an issue separated or separable from the general situation of N.K. - The long process of compliance requires consistency and patience of policy. - The Bush Administration has a narrowly defined understanding of human rights.


POLICY ALTERNATIVE Principles and Measures

Comprehensive and Practical Approach: 

Comprehensive and Practical Approach Principle 1: Structural and Historical Approach to the N.K.H.R. Situation => Economic Restoration and Détente Principle 2: For reasons of emergency, more urgent consideration should be given to the subsistence rights. Principle 3: A pragmatic approach, i.e. “ a constructive step-by-step approach”


Measures Measure 1: To begin real negotiation with N.K. and to separate security issues from human rights problem. Measure 2: To increase humanitarian assistance and to let international actors offer more economic aids to N.K. Measure 3: To accept the concept of “division of roles” and to permit international human rights actors to do their jobs.


Criticism of Hazel Smith By introducing policy initiatives based on ostensibly humanitarian principles but designed to be rejected by Pyongyang, combined with security demands that would in effect mean a voluntary dismantling of what North Korea considers is its only negotiating card, the U.S. administration is able to avoid negotiation while appearing to act in good faith. … Unfortunately, the idea that the use of coercion instead of persuasion, and rhetoric rather than reality, will bring security to the Korean Peninsula is mistaken. Smith, 2004, p.45.

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