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Ambassadors Lecture Series (ALES): Human Rights in North Korea


9th November 2016 • 2pm • AEI Auditorium

Ambassadors Lecture Series (ALES)

by Professor Lee Jung-Hoon, Ambassador-at-Large for North Korean Human Rights.

The North Korean government has long been one of the worst abusers of human rights. But, the international prosecutory mechanism, built on a dense web of liberal human rights treaties, institutions, and rhetoric, has failed to hold the regime accountable. This began to change with a February 2014 report by the UN Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea and the subsequent UN General Assembly’s endorsements of the commission’s recommendations for referral to the International Criminal Court and targeted sanctions. Despite pessimism over Chinese and Russian opposition to these measures, and the disappointing effectiveness of past sanctions against the Kim regime, several near- and long-term options are available to achieve genuine progress on North Korean human rights. The international community is finally realizing that promoting human rights, reducing the North Korean security threat, and improving inter-Korean relations are mutually reinforcing, not mutually exclusive, policy goals. The threat of an international criminal prosecution is new leverage that could help reign in Pyongyang’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs. Advancing human rights in North Korea can empower its persecuted populace to be more demanding, increasing the impact of international sanctions designed to impede the regime’s military escalation. Combatting the Kim regime’s atrocities is no longer just a nice normative goal, it has become a tool to reduce North Korea’s security threat and improve the chances of Korean unification.

The UN commission of inquiry report on the sorry state of human rights in North Korea caps decades of NGO studies, academic papers, government pronouncements, and legislative hearings, all supporting the commission’s conclusions. Now that the General Assembly – our global legislature – has endorsed that report, the debate over how terrible things are in North Korea is done. The next step – enforcement – will test the nerve of our international human rights institutions, treaties, and rhetoric. How well that seventy-year old system responds may determine whether this pride of international law and global norms continues to be a remedial and deterrent force for liberal values. If our human rights regime cannot stand against atrocities unparalleled in the contemporary world, then what is its raison d’être? North Korea is a litmus test for whether the twentieth century’s hard won victories for human dignity continue to matter in the twenty-first century. 

About Professor Lee Jung-Hoon

Jung-Hoon Lee is ROK government’s inaugural Ambassador-at-Large for North Korean Human Rights. Before his appointment in September, he has served for three years as Ambassador for Human Rights. He is also a faculty at Yonsei University where he is currently Director of the Yonsei Center for Human Liberty which was founded by Amb. Lee in January 2014. The Center has played an active role in raising awareness and providing a venue for collaboration in research, media outlet, and NGO/think tank network. His former positions include research and teaching at U.C. Berkeley, University of Tokyo, CSIS in Washington, D.C., and Keio University. He is currently a senior member of South Korea’s National Unification Advisory Council and policy advisor at the Ministry of Unification. In the latter case, he chaired the Advisory Committee for Humanitarian Affairs. Other main commitments include his role as Co-Chair of Save NK, an NGO dealing mainly with North Korean human rights, Chair of the ‘Committee for the Establishment of Refugee Camp for the North Korean Defectors,’ Chairman of Future Korea Weekly, a bi-weekly current affairs magazine, and Vice-Chair of the Supporter’s Group for the ‘House of Sharing’ where several remaining “comfort women” are housed. He is also Chair/CEO of the Board of Tongwon Foundation that houses Tongwon University, Hanyoung Foreign Language High School (one of the top prep schools in Korea), Hanyoung High School, Hanyoung Junior High School, Hanyoung Kindergarten, and Kukje Haksulwon, a research think-tank. Ambassador Lee also hosted for five years a weekly TV program on current affairs and his writings and commentaries frequently appear on local and foreign media, including CNN, BBC, NHK, CNBC, ABC, Channel News Asia, NYT, Washington Post, etc. He also has great interest in professional sports, having served for four years as Chairman of the Korea Semi-Professional Tennis Federation. His contributions of over a hundred op-ed articles are compiled in a book to be published this October. His most recent journal article, “Drawing the Line: Combating Atrocities in North Korea,” was published in The Washington Quarterly’s summer 2016 issue. He received his BA from Tufts University, MALD from the Fletcher School of Law & Diplomacy, and D.Phil. from the University of Oxford (St. Antony’s College).

9th November 2016
2:00 PM
Asia-Europe Institute,
University of Malaya
Embassy of the Republic of Korea in Malaysia Korea Foundation Professor Lee Jung Hoon
Professor Lee Jung-Hoon
Last Updated: 17/02/2020