Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov once said, a “country which does not respect the rights of its own citizens will not respect the rights of its neighbors,” note Victor Cha and Lindsay Lloyd. In other words, human rights and sustainable peace are connected. Sakharov’s observation perfectly captures the dynamics surrounding North Korea today and the growing bipartisan consensus in Washington that a nexus exists between human rights and national security, they write for Foreign Policy’s Democracy Lab:
This mindset was on display at a recent conference cosponsored by the George W. Bush Institute, the Center for Strategic and International Studies, the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the National Endowment for Democracy, and the Yonsei Center for Human Liberty. Keynote speaker Tom Malinowski, assistant secretary of state for democracy, human rights, and labor, noted that “many of [North Korea’s] human rights abuses underwrite the regime’s weapons program, including forced labor, through mass mobilizations, political prisoners, and overseas labor contracts, and food distribution policies that favor the military and lead to chronic malnourishment among its citizens.”
The United Nations Commission of Inquiry report on North Korea, released two years ago, is partly responsible for transforming the conversation on North Korea. It exposed Pyongyang’s nightmarish inner workings in a way that’s been impossible to ignore.
As former Assistant Secretary of State for East Asian and Pacific Affairs Kurt Campbell commented, “I know of no other issue [than North Korean human rights] in Asia that went from being a peripheral issue…to a central feature of the debate.”