Over the last three years, the United States has done an about-face in terms of engaging North Korea on human rights. Some have argued that if we are to make progress on denuclearization with North Korea, we cannot press Pyongyang on human rights issues because we must develop a cooperative relationship. Raising human rights abuses will only make it more difficult to deal with security issues they argue. On the other hand, Ambassador King believes that human rights are not an issue that we raise after we have achieved our security goals. It is not just the right thing to do, it is an important and critical part of achieving real progress with North Korea on security issues and it is key to a better relationship between Washington and Pyongyang. Internal pressure from the North Korean elites and the public is necessary for positive change on security issues by the North, and this will only come about if there is progress on human rights. Furthermore, North Korea, like all UN member states, has agreed to observe UN human rights obligations. If the North fails to carry out its commitments on human rights, what assurance do we have that it will fulfill security obligations it accepts?
Ambassador Robert King is former Special Envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the Department of State (2009-2017). Since leaving that position, he has been senior advisor to the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies (CSIS), a senior fellow at the Korea Economic Institute (KEI), and a board member of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) in Washington, D.C. Previously, Ambassador King served for 25 years on Capitol Hill (1983-2008) as chief of staff to Congressman Tom Lantos (D-California), and staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee (2001-2008). Most recently, he was a 2019-20 Koret Fellow for the fall quarter at Stanford University.
This public event is part of the 12th annual Koret Workshop, "The Role of Human Rights in Policy Toward North Korea," and open to the general public with registration.
The event is made possible through the generous support of the Koret Foundation.
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