Christian Whiton discusses Promoting North Korean Human Rights: What the Free World Can Do.
The Transatlantic Institute hosts Christian Whiton, the deputy to Jay Lefkowitz, the President's Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea. He discusses human rights abuses in North Korea, strategies to promote human rights in the region, and what others are doing to speak out against human rights violations.
Dr. Emanuele Ottolenghi is Executive Director at the Transatlantic Institute in Brussels. He previously taught Israel Studies at the Oxford Centre for Hebrew and Jewish Studies and at the Middle East Centre of St. Antony's College, Oxford University.
He holds a degree in Political Science from University of Bologna, Italy, and a Ph.D. in political theory from The Hebrew University in Jerusalem. Since 1998 he is at Oxford.
His research focuses on Israeli domestic politics, specifically coalition and party politics, and elections, post-Zionism, the Arab-Israeli conflict (mainly the Oslo era), Europe's new anti-Semitism and European attitudes to the Middle East. He is currently finishing a book on Israel's electoral reforms in the 1990s.
Christian Whiton is the deputy to Jay Lefkowitz, the President's Special Envoy for Human Rights in North Korea. In this capacity, Mr. Whiton advises the Special Envoy on policy, communications and programmatic activities related to the promotion of human rights for the North Korean people.
Previously in this Administration, Mr. Whiton was a speech writer and special advisor to the Under Secretary of State for Democracy and Global Affairs, who coordinates U.S. policy on a variety of transnational issues, including key parts of the President's freedom agenda. Prior to this, Mr. Whiton worked for the investment banking practice of KPMG LLP. He holds an MBA from UCLA Anderson School of Management and an undergraduate degree from Tulane University.
Thank you Emanuele for that introduction. It's an honor to be here at the Transatlantic Institute to discussthe steps that can be taken to promote the human rights of the North Korean people. The work you do hereat Transatlantic to foster the relationship among the nations of the West is commendable. I also want toacknowledge and thank my friend Willy Fautre of Human Rights Without Frontiers. I have come to knowhim and his colleagues as tireless and effective advocates for important freedom causes around the globe.The topic for our discussion is what can be done about North Korean human rights. With North Korea, thereis so much attention paid to nuclear issue that often human rights gets only a passing mention. Many peopleare generally aware that North Korea is a closed-off nation where human rights are abused systematically.But what exactly are we dealing with?North Korea is quite literally a land of darkness. Many people say that proverbially about countries whoseregimes have brought about profound misery or human rights abuses. But with North Korea it is literallytrue. If you look at aerial pictures of northeast Asia at night, you see lights across Japan, northern China andSouth Korea basic symbol of the modernity and ever-expanding prosperity of that region. In NorthKorea, there is but a tiny, dim dot on the capital of Pyongyang. The rest of the country lies in completedarkness. North Korea's borders are some of the few political boundaries of the world that you can literallysee from space.What goes on behind that veil? In our annual human rights report, the State Department documents some ofthe more pronounced usurpations of the rights of North Korean citizens. The government there engages inextrajudicial killings, and is responsible for disappearances and arbitrary detention. Prisoners in NorthKorea face life-threatening conditions, torture, forced abortions and infanticide. There is a complete denialof fair trial, freedom of speech, press, and assembly. The practice of faith and religious belief is suppressed.There is no freedom of movement or emigration. Prisoners are sentenced to death for such ill-definedoffenses as "ideological divergence," "opposing socialism," and "counterrevolutionary crimes." The listgoes on and on.One particularly grim feature is the sprawling network of political concentration camps within the country.It is estimated that they may hold as many as 200,000 North Koreans. Some people are there for no reasonother than being related to someone accused of disloyalty. Many of these prisoners are not expected tosurvive their internment.Another particularly disturbing feature of North Korea is the complete control of information exercised bythe regime and the cult of personality maintained around the dictator and self-titled "Dear Leader" KimJong Il, and his father, who remains "Eternal Leader" despite the impediment of being deceased. Asdocumented in a report by the U.S. Committee for International Religious Freedom, the first phrase NorthKorean parents are expected to teach their children is "thank you father Kim Il Sung." Everything good inNorth Korea. no matter how small. is typically attributed to the Kims. The regime churns out propagandaso strident an improbable it would makes the likes of a Leni Riefenstahl blush. It is worth taking a look atthe Korean Central News Agency . or KCNA. which translates the regime's news into English on theweb, if for no other reason to glimpse rhetoric not otherwise seen since the darker days of the early Cold War.In seeking to resolve disagreements including those over human rights, European governments often put apremium on dialogue. We too often seek dialogue with governments that do not recognize or respect theinalienable rights of their citizens. But it should be noted that this has been a challenge with North Korea.For example, the aforementioned KCNA made the following pronouncement in June after Special EnvoyLefkowitz submitted his annual report to our Congress:"A spate of rhetoric heard from the U.S., a centre of plot-breeding, fraud and swindle, do not deserveeven a passing note, but there is the need to let the world community know clearly about the U.S.sinister aim lurking behind the nonsensical malarkey let loose by this guy in view of its crafty andserious nature Lefkowitz's efforts are futile. The DPRK has remained a bulwark of socialism andemerged ever-victorious despite all kinds of obstructions on the part of the U.S. as it has held fast tothe banner of Songun, the banner of independence and dignity as an invincible treasured sword."In order to have the prospect of being effective, a human rights dialogue has to take place among two ormore willing partners that recognize the legitimacy of the issue. As the statement I just read indicates, theNorth Korean government has yet to demonstrate it has reached this level. We of course hope thegovernment does come to see that beginning to recognize the human rights of its citizens is a necessary step,and one that is in its interest. As Special Envoy Lefkowitz has said, this a prerequisite for the internationalcommunity to view this government as legitimate. U.S. officials at many levels have also stated that humanrights will have to be part of any dialogue on the normalization of relations between North Korea and the U.S.In the mean time, the free world should pursue various means at its disposal to help the people of NorthKorea achieve the inalienable human rights to which they are entitled. I will speak more on this in just a moment.First however, there is the issue of why the free world should take an interest in this at all. Speaking atthe APEC summit in Sydney last month, President Bush said: "We must work for the day when thepeople of North Korea enjoy the same freedoms as the citizens of their democratic neighbors."Why is that? Well, first of all, we believe that achieving human rights. helping other people to get theirgovernments to recognize their own inalienable rights, which we view as their birthright from the Creatoris a worthy end in and of itself. But quite frankly human rights is also a means to other ends: namelyenhanced security and peace.Special Envoy Lefkowitz discussed why we believe this last month at Yale University: "Governmentconduct at home also influences its conduct toward other nations. With the maximum dictators of the 20thcentury. Hitler, Stalin and Mao. the march of tyranny at home was an antecedent to internationalaggression. Even repressive regimes without stated ambitions of conquest and expansion cause problems fortheir neighbors. For example, the illegitimate, unelected junta that runs Burma, in addition to creating aneconomic and humanitarian black hole in the heart of Southeast Asia, has caused a refugee crisis that putsserious strains on its neighbors. Its presence also contributes to a community of repressive nations that todaycooperate with China in preserving an illiberal model of government that does not seek its citizens' consentto govern. Dictatorships therefore threaten security by their very being. Their arsenals are simply the mostvisible means of such a threat; the root cause of the threat is actually their illiberal nature. prone to violenceat home and abroad. For this reason, making human rights part of our national security agenda is not only anappropriate policy, but also a necessary one."In other words, the U.S. champions the aspirations of freedom of those abroad because it has been a partof our heritage since our founding. But it is also a calculated means to advance our national securityinterestsnd those of our democratic allies.Now. more on what specifically we and others in the free world are doingnd of which we all couldperhaps do more. First and foremost, we seek to build an international consensus on the North Koreanhuman rights situation. Much of this comes down to getting out the word on what we believe to behappening in North Korea, and also what is happening to North Koreans in China and elsewhere.This can be accomplished through a number of mechanisms. At the United Nations, we have supportedactions that spotlight North Korean human rights abuses. Last week, in the General Assembly's humanrights committee, a resolution on North Korea was tabled. As in past years, it was proposed by theEuropean Union. These resolutions have passed with good margins in years past, and we hope to seesupport grow again this year. Last year, we were pleased to see South Korea vote to condemn NorthKorean human rights abuses. ending its past practice of abstaining from those resolutions. This was a keydevelopment, and we hope South Korea will continue to take into account issues of human rights andgovernance when formulating policy toward its neighbor.Another pillar of our strategy is to take active steps to help empower the people of North Korea directlyfor it is they who must ultimately bring about change. Given the closed nature of North Korea, the mostpromising feasible method of doing this is through radio broadcasting. Veterans of repressive regimes inEastern Europe and elsewhere have spoken of the positive effect that accurate information from the freeworld had on them. President Bush met with a North Korean defector who though his position in the armywas able to listen to foreign broadcasts. It was this method of obtaining information that caused anawakening in him and led him to seek freedom. One consequence of the regime's control of information andimprobable message is that it takes but a glimpse of the outside world and reality to open eyes to the truthabout North Korea.Radio broadcasts overseen by the U.S. Broadcasting Board of Governors, such as the Korean services ofRadio Free Asia and Voice of America have received significant increases in funding over the past coupleof years. We have also sought to obtain resources for the growing number of independent groups thattransmit information into North Korea. These 'journalists with a cause' are quite effective at communicatingwith North Koreans. Some of the broadcasters are themselves defectors from the North. Supportingindependent efforts like this is a possible method by which European governments and institutions couldcontribute to North Korean human rights.The third pillar of our approach is seeking to assist refugees in reaching safety. Many thousands of NorthKoreans have fled to China, especially beginning after a famine in the mid-90s, which is believed to havekilled 1-2 million North Koreans. There are still many North Koreans in China. Exact numbers unknown.Many have a well founded fear of persecution if forcibly repatriated to North Korea. They are unable toappeal to authorities in China and some of the other countries where they are present. making themsusceptible to exploitation, such as being trafficked into servitude, or blackmailed. Some countries in theregion treat them humanely. Others do not. We continue to press China to abide by its obligations underthe UN refugee protocol is signed. To date, it has not, and instead prohibits the High Commissioner forRefugees from accessing and protecting the vulnerable population.European nations have a good record of speaking out about human rights abuses, even when they occur infar-away places like North Korea. But more can always be done, especially at higher levels of government.We should all be frank about the North Korean human rights situation. When government leaders speakclearly about human rights, it can help those in repressive countries immensely.A recent example of this has occurred over the past several months, with separate meetings between theleaders of Canada, Germany and the U.S. and the Dalai Lama widely revered spiritual figure. Thesemeetings proceeded despite intense criticism from the Chinese government. The three leaders werewilling to sustain this criticism in order to signal the importance they place in a key human rights issue.The effect on those striving for freedom was significant and beneficial. After the President met with theDalai Lama and awarded him the Congressional Gold Medal, the Independent quoted a Tibetan saying: "Inour hearts we were so happy, we just went out into the streets to celebrate. We saw it on TV, thegovernment didn't know. We were very, very glad."When leaders of free nations take the time to signal their support for human rights movements. to meetwith leaders of the movements. it can have a powerful effect. Often, it is a great shot in the arm for thoseworking peacefully for change in repressive nations.That is our approach to advancing the human rights of the North Korean people. We hope Europeannations continue to take interest in this important moral and security issue, and consider joining some ofthe specific efforts we support. This is important not just because of the moral imperative to help one of themost abused populations of people in the world today. It is also critical to advancing the peace and securityof a key region, where events tend to impact countries as far away as the Americas and Europe.Governments that do not respect the rights of their citizens are highly unlikely to respect the rights of theirneighbors. By advancing this human rights effort and others like it, we enhance the prospects of peace and security.