North Korea is consistently identified as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. However, the issue of human rights in North Korea is a complex one, intertwined with issues like life in the North Korean police state, inter-Korean relations, denuclearization, access to information in the North, and international cooperation, to name a few. There are likewise multiple actors involved, including the two Korean governments, the United States, the United Nations, South Korea NGOs, and global human rights organizations. While North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the security threat it poses have occupied the center stage and eclipsed other issues in recent years, human rights remain important to U.S. policy.
The contributors to The North Korean Conundrum explore how dealing with the issue of human rights is shaped and affected by the political issues with which it is so entwined. Sections discuss the role of the United Nations; how North Koreans’ limited access to information is part of the problem, and how this is changing; the relationship between human rights and denuclearization; and North Korean human rights in comparative perspective.
Robert R. King was the 2019–20 Koret Fellow for the fall quarter at Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center. From 2009 to 2017 King served as the special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the Department of State, an ambassadorial-ranked position. He has been senior advisor to the Korea Chair at the Center for Strategic and International Studies, a senior fellow at the Korea Economic Institute, and a board member of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea in Washington, DC. Previously, 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 (2001–08).
Gi-Wook Shin is the William J. Perry Professor of Contemporary Korea in Sociology; senior fellow at the Freeman Spogli Institute for International Studies; the director of the Walter H. Shorenstein Asia-Pacific Research Center since 2005; and the founding director of the Korea Program, all at Stanford University. As a historical-comparative and political sociologist, his research has concentrated on social movements, nationalism, development, democracy, and international relations.