Whoa. I Think We Just Found Robert King.

A U.S. envoy says that the human rights situation in North Korea must improve before the country can normalize relations with the United States. President Barack Obama’s special envoy on North Korean human rights Robert King is visiting South Korea this week to discuss the issue with government officials.

King said of North Korea, ”It’s one of the worst places in terms of lack of human rights. The situation is appalling.” He also said that the situation is preventing the normalization of ties between Washington and Pyongyang. King said, ”Improved relations between the United States and North Korea will have to involve greater respect for human rights by North Korea.” [AP, via N.Y. Times]

This is a good start — and a measurable improvement from where Chris Hill was taking us — but the lesson of the Bush Administration is that rhetoric is no substitute for action on practical, concrete proposals. Compliance with the North Korean Human Rights Act and Reauthorization Act (see sidebar) would be a good first step.

Let the theatrics begin!

7 Comments

  1. Asked if the U.S. plans to make human rights an agenda item at six-nation talks aimed at achieving the North’s denuclearization, King said Washington planned to raise the issue with North Korea at the forum.




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  2. “We will hold bilateral discussions in the context of the six-party talks, he said, referring to a U.S.-North Korea subgroup that is part of the forum.

    Whew, there. Was having copying and pasting crossed with blockquoting issues, as it were.




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  3. This is not a healthy view to take right now. We have normalized relations and peace with dozens of countries with terrible human rights records (China, Saudi Arabia, etc). The key is to end the Korean war and have a full time person in Pyongyang to build relationship, negotiate, deal with problems like that of the two journalists and, yes, discuss human rights in the DPRK and in the US. North Korea says they want peace and to denuclearize Korea. We should hold them to it and peace is a small price to pay. How do you negotiate with a country about human rights, nuclear issues and related matters if we have not joined the 158 other nations in recognizing their existence as a nation.




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  4. Are you the same Eric Sirotkin who led a National Lawyer’s Guild Delegation to North Korea and praised the fairness of its judicial and penal systems? Seriously. The North Korean penal system, no less:

    We were told that there was no death penalty and that the maximum penalty for any crime is 12 years, with the objective being to try to determine why the person committed the crime and to help that person become a productive member of society. A lack of a death penalty was seen by the delegation as a sign of a civilized nation. There appear to be labor camps where people work out their sentences. No effort was made to hide the presence of these camps. The U.S. media’s recent reports on the poor conditions, high mortality rate and lack of proper care or food, in the camps requires further investigation. In light of the false and exaggerated claims about starvation in the country in general, these reports must be viewed with a grain of salt. We will ask to visit these camps on future delegations.

    So it’s been nearly seven years now — please tell us about the progress of your efforts at “further investigation!” Have you had any luck refuting all of those “false and exaggerated” claims? I really, really can’t wait to hear it, Eric, because we all look on you as our lodestone of a “healthy” view of North Korea! Really, aren’t you the least bit apologetic?

    Advance warning to commenters: I will enforce the commenting rules strictly in this thread. Profanity in particular will get your comment deleted and might get you stuck in permanent moderation.




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  5. For anyone interested in a very well researched read on North Korean camps, I recommend David Hawk’s “The Hidden Gulag.” Ample testimony from North Korean refugees creates a very dismal picture of camp life. Another very good source from a former camp prisoner (now a naturalized South Korean citizen) can be found at dailynk.com a South Korean based online news agency. Most of his story is translated into English as a series and is quite telling.

    Eric’s comment about exaggeration has some validity. In some cases stories told by refugees at the Chinese border or later in South Korea have turned out to be exaggerations for the worse or in some cases entirely false. (it should be noted that they do get paid to sell their story to news and radio agencies in the South which are very often anti-Kim Jung Il regime politically. An embellished story sells better.) However, these cases are few and far between.

    Sadly, the issue of human rights is without exception at the bottom of the list of priorities during bi-lateral and six-party talk meetings. This is in part because the North is in total denial and even gentle allegations against North Korea on human rights issues would cause the North to withdraw from talks altogether. (its an oriental tradition to save face) To date, such venues have proven to be the wrong place to make any headway on human rights and will likely continue to be.

    The one card human-rights activists have to play is through the UN. North Korea is highly sensitive to external media and its perception in the world as a ‘backwards and failing state’. As human rights concerns continue to grow and gain a voice internationally, as stories from the inside leak out and gain popularity, this brings pressure to bear on the North Korean regime because these stories reinforce the backwards nation image which the North has been trying to free itself of since the collapse of the Soviet Union.




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  6. For anyone interested in a very well researched read on North Korean camps, I recommend David Hawk’s “The Hidden Gulag.”

    New here, eh? I know David Hawk well. I’m a friend of David Hawk. I taught David Hawk to use Google Earth. David Hawk is going to use much of this imagery in The Hidden Gulag II. David Hawk asked me to find this camp for him, and when I did, he found a witness to confirm the location. And Senator ….

    Eric’s comment about exaggeration has some validity.

    The fact that Kim Jong Il doesn’t allow us to verify what the witnesses tell us doesn’t give the slightest validity to anything Eric says, because Eric knows little and cares less about the truth of what’s going on in those camps. Kim Jong Il’s secrecy is the closest thing he can offer to a defense, not that Eric would ever expend any energy demanding that Kim Jong Il open the camps for the world to see. As his words amply illustrate, Eric is a willing propagandist for the North Koreans who praises the fairness and magnanimity of its judicial procedure and the tender mercies of its penal system. Seven years ago he feebly promised that one day, the NLG would look further into those *terrible* stories about the camps, and yet here we are in 2010, and Eric and the NLG haven’t breathed another word about any of it. If Eric had any defense to that charge, he’d come back here and make it, attempting to address the evidence I’ve presented. If he had any sense of honor, he’d apologize and correct the record for shilling for mass murderers. I suppose being caught and exposed here was too much for him.

    The one card human-rights activists have to play is through the UN.

    And how can you go wrong by sticking with what has worked so well before? Why, as we speak the UNHCR is feeding and comforting huddled masses in clean, efficient camps all along the Yalu — all because China could not withstand the withering righteousness of Ban Ki Moon, that charismatic global force majeure and moral compass for all Koreans.




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