Rep. Tae Yong-ho, a North Korean defector and a member of the National Assembly from People Power Party, shares his assessment on the current state of human rights in North Korea and analyzes the reason for both South and North Korea’s inability to make progress in human rights issues. Rep. Tae argues that Kim Jong Un is more irrational and ruthless than anyone, including the North Korean elites, has ever imagined. Meanwhile, the polarization in South Korean domestic politics prevents the government from making any meaningful progress in addressing DPRK human rights problem. Finally, Rep. Tae claims that as long as North Korea continues its unlawful weapons development, there is no hope for inter-Korean economic cooperation.


I. Human rights violations under merciless Kim Jong Un


• In communist states, “as the living standards and income level of people improve, the level of human rights violations also generally decreases.” However, this has not been the case in North Korea.


• During the past ten years, the North Korean regime’s human rights violations have been committed “at a level unimaginable even to the elites.” In the course of the power struggle, Kim Jong Un went as far as killing his own family members, and shut down the entire borders during the COVID pandemic.


II. Polarization and inconsistency forestall progress in addressing DPRK human rights


• South Korea “cannot reach a single compromise on the issue of North Korean human rights” because “the whole country is so polarized.”


• On March 30, 2023, the South Korean government published its first human rights report on North Korea. South Korea is the “last country among free democracies to release such report at the government-level.”


• The policy inconsistency on North Korean human rights under different administrations also affect the inter-Korean relations. The North Korean regime assesses whether the South Korean government is willing to improve inter-Korean relations by watching whether the government brings up human rights issues.


• Rep. Tae “always strongly urge[s] the South Korean government, regardless of its political stance, to maintain consistency in dealing with the North Korean human rights issues.”


III. Grim future ahead for inter-Korean economic cooperation


• The two reasons why inter-Korean economic cooperation through the Kaesong Industrial Complex has been closed are as follows: (1) international pressure to stop South Korean government from delivering cash notes to pay the North Korean workers, and (2) the risk of letting North Korea justify its weapons development.


• If North Korea does not stop its weapons testing and development, there is no hope of resuming the Industrial Complex. ■


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Tae Yong-ho_is the member of the National Assembly of the Republic of Korea for the Gangnam Gab district. He is the first Korean from North Korea to be elected by constituent as a member of the National Assembly, appointed as the ruling People Power Party’s International Relations Committee Chairman, selected as the Vice Chair of the Committee on Foreign Affairs and unification of the National Assembly, and elected as the member of the Supreme Council of the ruling party.



Typeset by Jisoo Park, Research Associate
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