China, South Korea Urged To Press North Korea on Human Rights

United Nations - China and South Korea should play a more active role in pressing North Korea to end human rights abuses, says the United States' special envoy on human rights in North Korea, Jay Lefkowitz.

Lefkowitz participated in a panel discussion on North Korean human rights abuses at U.N. headquarters December 7.

"The countries that have the greatest amount of leverage with North Korea - South Korea and China - should share the greatest burden because they have the greatest opportunity to apply pressure," he said.  "In different respects, they could benefit the most by the right changes in North Korea."

The panel, organized by the U.S. Mission to the United Nations, included representatives from human rights organizations and North Koreans living in exile.

Human rights activists were particularly critical of China, accusing Beijing not only of doing little about North Korea's abuses, but of aggressively seeking out and arresting North Korean refugees who cross the border, and returning them to Pyongyang in violation of international human rights obligations.

China "needs to understand that North Korea is not helping it in the international community," Lefkowitz said.  As its economic power and diplomatic engagement in the world increase, he added, "the Chinese government needs to recognize that the international community … does not tolerate brutal dictatorship."  

Lefkowitz mentioned the Kaesong Industrial Complex, South Korea's collaborative economic development in North Korea, where more than 8000 North Koreans work for South Korean corporations.  The facility operates without regard for human rights or civil liberties, he said, and with no South Korean oversight of salaries, working conditions or freedom of movement.

"There is an opportunity for using a vehicle like Kaesong to actually be a force for positive change," Lefkowitz said.  He suggested that the South Korean government could press North Korea to open the complex to regular international inspection.


In November, the U.N. General Assembly's Third Committee, which deals with social, humanitarian and cultural matters, approved a draft resolution expressing very serious concern at "continuing reports of systemic, widespread and grave violations of human rights" in North Korea.  (See related article.)

The resolution would have the 192-member General Assembly call on North Korea to respect basic human rights and freedoms and to give full and free access to the U.N. special rapporteur on the human rights situation in North Korea.

Such actions demonstrate to North Korea that the international community as a whole is concerned about human rights, Lefkowitz said.

The United States must include human rights concerns in its agenda of strategic issues in discussions with Pyongyang, he said.

"In a world where we're dealing with a growing nuclear threat, human rights can … be a means to an end," he said, pointing out that human rights were an important part of the strategic dialogue between the United States and the former Soviet Union in the final years of the Cold War. 

For more information on U.S. policy, see The U.S. and the Korean Peninsula.