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Challenges in Designing an Effective North Korean Human Rights Policy

by Scott A. Snyder
December 3, 2013

refugee-interview-photos North Korean refugees provide some of the mounting evidence against systemic human rights abuses in North Korea. Here, one refugee shows pictures of his family in North Korea. (Kim Hong-Ji/Courtesy Reuters).


There is no more vexing issue than the challenge of how to support the improvement of human rights in North Korea, a country that has consistently ranked at the bottom of international indices rating human freedom around the world.  The U.S. Congress passed the North Korea Human Rights Act almost a decade ago, the United Nations has appointed a rapporteur to examine the human rights situation inside North Korea for almost as long, and the Korean Institute for National Unification has published an ever-growing annual white paper on North Korean human rights since 1996.  This year the UN Human Rights Council appointed a Commission of Inquiry that has held public hearings in Seoul, Tokyo, London, and Washington, DC; the commission will report back to the UN Human Rights Council with its assessment and recommendations by spring of next year.  But the stream of North Korean refugee testimony to unspeakable atrocities and evidence of systemic abuses inside North Korea continues to grow.

The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea (EAHRNK) is a relatively new organization that itself represents needed momentum and commitment to this issue beyond governments.  EAHRNK’s Co-chair Shirley Lee invited Stephan Haggard and me to participate in an online forum to discuss the policy challenges and lessons learned by governments in their efforts to promote human rights in North Korea, the role of civil society, the moral hazards of engagement versus isolation, and the role of China, which according to the Korea Instititute for National Unification’s latest White Paper on Human Rights in North Korea hosts as many as 20-30,000 stateless offspring of trafficked North Korean refugees born in China.  The conversation is the second in a series that EAHRNK has sponsored on international efforts to improve North Korean human rights, and is available online here.

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