Columbia International Affairs Online: Policy Briefs

CIAO DATE: 07/2013

South Korea's Response to Human Rights Abuses in North Korea: An Analysis of Policy Options

Andrew Wolman

June 2013

East-West Center


For decades, North Korea has been the site of brutal human rights violations, leaving the international community struggling to develop an effective response. This has been a particular policy dilemma in South Korea, where people are deeply sympathetic to those suffering, but are equally concerned about security and unification. In recent years, South Korea’s policy response has been characterized by partisan divisions and bitter disputes. The debate has centered on efforts to pass a North Korean Human Rights Act, and the question of whether the South Korean National Human Rights Commission should address issues in the North. As the Park Geun Hye administration establishes policy, four principles should guide the process: avoid using North Korean human rights as a partisan political tool; concentrate on promoting multilateral initiatives; mainstream attention to North Korean rights issues within all relevant South Korean agencies; and ensure that the focus on North Korea does not distract from needed attention to domestic rights issues.