In this Global NK Zoom and Connect Online Seminar, EAI conducted an expert-driven analysis to explore the human rights policies that South Korea and the international community should pursue. Chaesung Chun (Chair, EAI National Security Research Center) moderated the event. Shin-wha Lee (Ambassador for International Cooperation on North Korean Human Rights), Woo Young Lee (Professor, University of North Korean Studies), and Bo-hyuk Suh (Research Fellow, Korea Institute for National Unification) shared their expertise on the topic.


Shin-wha Lee assessed the Yoon government’s North Korea policy as a valid approach to establish a virtuous cycle and mutual complementarity between “peace” and “freedom,” which are the core tenets of Yoon’s foreign policy. Highlighting that South Korea’s North Korean Human Rights Act provides meaningful platforms to openly discuss and hold the violator accountable, Lee urged the Yoon government to build on existing reports and multilateral initiatives to improve the North Korean human rights conditions. Furthermore, Lee argued that human rights and denuclearization must be linked in order to provide opportunity for North Korea to be accepted as a ‘normal state,’ ensure effective verification during the potential denuclearization process, and offer the regime an economic incentive.


Woo Young Lee pointed out that South Korea's efforts to improve North Korean human rights have been impeded by extreme polarization between the progressive and conservative camps. In this context, Lee argued that South Korea's official North Korean human rights reports must focus on impartial analysis of the human rights conditions in North Korea, rather than merely blaming the Kim Jong Un regime. He also urged the South Korean government to establish clear policy priorities regarding North Korea in order to foster constructive bipartisan discussions on North Korean human rights issues.


Bo-hyuk Suh highlighted that despite political controversies, South Korean society largely agrees on the severity of North Korean human rights conditions and the necessity of prioritizing human rights improvement in Seoul’s broader North Korea policy. Due to the limited likelihood of inter-Korean dialogue in the near future, he suggested that the South Korean government should actively utilize international platforms, such as the United Nations, to showcase its dedication to enhancing North Korean human rights conditions and fostering trust with Pyongyang. Additionally, by emphasizing that the human rights issue extends beyond North Korean residents to encompass separated families, prisoners of war, and abductees, Suh urged the government to sustain engagement with North Korea while forming a bipartisan policy consensus within South Korea on addressing the broader human rights problem.


For more insights from the panels, please refer to the following episodes of Global NK Interview series.

-  Episode 37 Woo Young LEE: Is South Korea on the Right Track to Improve Human Rights in North Korea?

- Episode 38 Bo-hyuk SUH: Incorporating Human Rights into North Korea Policy: Challenges and Future Prospects

-  Episode 39 Shin-wha LEE: Understanding Seoul's DPRK Policy: Interconnection between Human Rights and Denuclearization (to be released in early August)



Shin-wha Lee is the Ambassador for International Cooperation on North Korean Human Rights and Professor of Department of Political Science and International Relations at Korea University.

Woo Young Lee is Professor of North Korea Society and Culture at the University of North Korean Studies.

Bo-hyuk Suh is a research fellow of the Peace Research Division at the Korea Institute for National Unification.



Typeset by Jisoo Park , Research Associate
   For inquiries: 02 2277 1683 (ext. 209) |