North Korean Human Rights Tied to Global Security

By Jim Fisher-Thompson and Peggy B. Hu
USINFO Staff Writers

Washington - Improving human rights in North Korea can make the Asia-Pacific region and the rest of the world safer while also making North Korean lives better, says a senior U.S. human rights official.

"In the struggle for human rights in North Korea, we not only can help try to save the lives of the North Korean people ... but we can also try to help make the region and world safer by helping to bring about a similar transformation," Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. special envoy for human rights in North Korea, said April 19 at the Heritage Foundation, a Washington-based policy research center.

"In this way, human rights can be a means to a greater end," he continued.

Lefkowitz said there is a strong correlation between human rights and security.

"Dictators often are deeply and necessarily invested in a confrontational posture toward the outside world, typically to justify their own strong-arm rule at home.  Conversely, democracies with the rule of law are invested in peaceful interaction among nations," he said.

Lefkowitz urged the North Korean government to make progress on human rights if it wishes to be seen as legitimate.  He noted that the February 13 agreement reached by the participants in the Six-Party Talks establishes working groups on the normalization of Japanese-North Korean relations and U.S.-North Korean relations through which North Korea could address human rights issues. (See related article.)

Lefkowitz said the promotion of human rights should not be considered a distraction from "the nuclear issue."

History has shown "there is nothing contradictory or incoherent with an approach that has as one of its components a discussion of human rights," he said.


Lefkowitz described North Koreans as living in a veritable "prison state." However, he said, there is an "increasing flow of information" to and from North Korea that potentially could affect conditions there.

According to Lefkowitz, President Bush has requested "a significant increase" for the Korean-language services of Voice of America and Radio Free Asia, from $4.6 million to $8 million a year.  Appropriated funds also have contributed to broadcasts by independent groups into the country - including Korean democracy activists, Korean-Americans and North Korean defectors. Grants also have gone to nongovernmental organizations.

"Some of the most persuasive voices are not those of U.S. government employees, but private individuals who can sympathize with those living under repression, and articulate a clear message for them," he said.


Lefkowitz also stressed the importance of helping North Koreans who have crossed the border into China and criticized China's treatment of such individuals.

"China prohibits the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees from accessing and protecting these individuals, despite its accession to a binding refugee protocol that calls for such protections," Lefkowitz said.  "The North Korean regime caused this problem, but China's conduct is unacceptable and untenable as a matter of international law." He said the international community will be paying close attention to China's behavior as the 2008 Olympics in Beijing approach, and warned that if China does not take action to address the North Korean refugee situation, it "will be an enduring black mark not only for North Korea, but for China too."

The envoy urged China to permit humanitarian organizations to help the hundreds of thousands of North Korean refugees in its border area with North Korea and said the United States also is "eager to help."

"Last year, we began admitting North Korean refugees to the United States, and we impose no quota and no limit on the number we are willing to accept," he said.


In the past 15 years, the United States, China, Japan, South Korea and others have given considerable humanitarian assistance to North Korea in the form of food and medicine.

"The problem - and it is a serious problem - has to do with the distribution of this aid in North Korea," he said.

Lefkowitz stressed the need for humanitarian assistance programs "to come with basic monitoring requirements" to be effective.  He added that "those who distribute the aid need to have access to all of those in need, regardless of where they live in North Korea."

The full text of Lefkowitz's remarks is available on the State Department Web site.

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