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Nuclear proliferation and human rights abuses are often considered two of the most challenging North Korean issues governments and the international community face. Since the 1990s, efforts have been made to stop North Korea’s development of a nuclear weapons capability, with multiple rounds of nuclear diplomacy and punitive sanctions used as the primary tools to stem proliferation activities. North Korea is also acknowledged as having one of the world’s worst human rights records, with a 2014 report from the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights providing evidence to support these claims.
Human rights have not historically featured prominently in diplomacy with North Korea. On occasion, these two issues have been linked, for example through the provision of food aid as a concession in exchange for limits on North Korea’s nuclear programme. UN Security Council Resolution 2397 (2017) also links these issues, highlighting that the development of nuclear and missile programmes redirects resources away from the North Korean people. On the one hand, such links are not universally welcomed and some have suggested that the inclusion of human rights issues in nuclear diplomacy politicises human rights. On the other hand, some stakeholders involved in the peace and denuclearisation processes view human rights as an integral part of addressing these issues, and in some circumstances have predicated nuclear diplomacy on an improved human rights situation.
This report is part of a project titled ‘Peace, Denuclearisation and Human Rights in North Korea: Assessing the Nexus’. The project is a year-long effort, funded by the Korea Foundation, which seeks to assess whether human rights and denuclearisation should be addressed as part of the same policy approach to North Korea, and what efforts to address these issues might look like in practice.