Decoding the North Korean human rights act of 2004: Its origins and implications (Link to Seoul National University Library Website)


This thesis assesses the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which was enacted by U.S. Congress for the purpose of promoting and protecting human rights of North Korean people. Recently, there has been increasing awareness of the importance and effectiveness of international protections for human rights. Although the United States has long tradition of unilateral action to promote international human rights, it is now generally accepted by Americans that better protections of human rights around the world would make the United States safer and more secure. These phenomena have resulted in new U.S. foreign policy initiatives regarding human rights issues, and have caused the passage of an increased number of human-rights related acts by the U.S. Congress. Among these acts is the currently enacted North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which is the subject of this thesis.

  Prompted by the acute sufferings of the people of North Korea, this act promotes the improvement of human rights in North Korea as an integral part of a broader U.S. policy in Korean peninsula. Although the official statement regarding this act is quite clear on its face as to its purpose, there are many who are suspicious of the real intention of the act, as the promotion of human rights has become an oft used tactical and strategic tool of diplomacy in recent years.

  Based on the aforementioned observations, the objective of this thesis is to trace back the origin and legislative process of the North Korean Human Rights Act, and further to prove that the act indeed addresses the promotion of the human rights of North Koreans by modifying the behaviors and policies of the North Korean government. Accordingly, this thesis expects the substantial improvement of human rights conditions of North Koreans as a result of the act. However, even in the case when the act fails to achieve its purpose overtly and with specific effect as to North Korea, this study argues that the NKHRA remains meaningful since it could become part of developing international legal norms for human rights that have the effect of constituting and affirming the evolving identity of the international community in which the United States plays a significant role.


1 Introduction 10

2 The Current Human Rights Situation of North Koreans 16

2.1 North Korean Human Rights Situation 16
2.1.1. Dictatorship 16
2.1.2 Lack of Freedom and Human Rights Abuses 17
2.1.3 Famine and Its Impact 18
2.1.4 Human Rights Abuses of North Korean Defectors 19
2.2 International Awarenessof the Human Rights Situation of North Koreans 20

3 Human Rights in U.S. North Korea Policy 22

3.1 Theoretical Basis: Human Rights within Democracy 24
3.2 Human Rights in U.S. North Korea Policy 27
3.3 Tensions between the Legislative and the Executive 33
3.4 Other Human Rights-related Legislations 35
3.5 Normativity of U.S. Unilateral Human Rights-related Legislations in International Law 42
3.5.1 Negative Implications of U.S. unilateral human rights-related legislations 43

4 The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004: Its Legislative History and Main Features 43

4.1 Legislative Process of the NKHRA 47
4.2 Differences between the North Korean Freedom Act and the NKHRA 51
4.3 The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004: Main Features 57
4.3.1 Promoting Human Rights of North Koreans 61
4.3.2 Assisting North Koreans in Need 63
4.3.3 Protecting North Korean Refugees 65
4.3.4 Conclusion 66
4.4 U.S. Efforts to Implement the NKHRA 67

5 Assessment of the NKHRA 70

5.1 Assessing the NKHRA within the context of International Law 71
5.2 Different Perspectives, Different Assessment 73
5.3 NKHRA as part of international human rights norms 78

6 Conclusion 83

Bibliography 87
Appendix “North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004” 93
Abstract (Korean) 109
Acknowledgements 111