HO CHI MINH CITY, Vietnam — The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, or North Korea, is regarded as one of the most repressive nations the world over. The Kim family came to power in 1949 and has operated an authoritarian regime in North Korea since then. According to the U.N., human rights in North Korea have remained severely violated and the complete control the government has over its people never ceases to stop. In this sense, S.4216 (North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2022) was introduced to boost human rights in North Korea, on the basis of the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.
North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, passed by U.S. Congress in October 2004, was bipartisan legislation to enhance human rights in North Korea. There were three primary purposes:
- Promoting the Human Rights of North Koreans: The U.S. prioritizes human rights issues in negotiations with North Korea, intensifies radio broadcasting, improves access to information not administered by the government of North Korea and finds ways to have a regional human rights dialogue based on the Helsinki process. Also, grants from the U.S. to private nonprofits are available for the development of North Korea’s economic, educational, and cultural exchanges. The U.S. Department of State appoints a special envoy on North Korean human rights concerns.
- Assisting North Koreans in Need: The Administrator of the United States Agency for International Development (USAID) and the Secretary of State are responsible for annual reports on U.S. humanitarian aid. The U.S. uses internationally recognized humanitarian standards to distribute and monitor assistance to all vulnerable groups inside North Korea and those outside of the country (refugees, orphans, victims of trafficking and defectors).
- Protecting North Korean Refugees: The Secretary makes sure North Korean refugees in China could reach out to personnel of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and the Chinese government is delivering its promises under the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Furthermore, the U.S. welcomes North Koreans to submit refugee applications and guarantees the effectiveness of U.S. asylum processing.
The 2004 act was reauthorized in 2008 and 2017 to prolong the duration of the measures in the act and extend its provisions. Additionally, with each time of reauthorization, the U.S. mobilized more countries to offer help to better human rights in North Korea and pressed China to end its repatriation of North Koreans.
Human Rights in North Korea
The U.S. Department of State’s 2021 Country Reports on Human Rights Practices reports a continuation of significant human rights conditions in North Korea. These comprise:
- Arbitrary detention, torture, executions and enforced “disappearances”
- Tight restrictions on freedom of expression and information
- Restrictions on in-country freedom of movement and residence, as well as the right to emigrate
- No access to fair and democratic elections, tough restrictions on political involvement, and government corruption
- Widespread gender discrimination, sexual and gender-based abuses
- Various forms of child abuse, including hard labor
Moreover, since the COVID-19 pandemic, the lockdown of the nation’s borders, along with restrictions on informal market activities and small entrepreneurs, have resulted in massive food insecurity.
Over 10 million North Koreans – over 40% of the population – are now facing a lack of food, with fewer than three out of 10 infants having an acceptable diet at the minimum level, the U.N. reports.
North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2022
With the expiration of the current legislation in September 2022, the Reauthorization Act of 2022 could expand the current humanitarian assistance, democracy programs and broadcasting included in the bill until 2027. In addition, there are a few changes in the 2022 bill:
- Technical amendments to the bill to depict the fact that the U.S. Agency for Global Media substituted for the Broadcasting Board of Governors
- A required report on progress toward naming a Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights, a position vacant since 2017
- More efforts by the State Department to increase the engagement of North Korean refugees in U.S. and South Korean resettlement programs to include a refugee coordinator in an Asia-based embassy and dissemination of information in North Korea about resettlement programs
- Modifications to the North Korean Sanctions and Policy Act of 2016 to include sanctions on Chinese and Russian officials for forcible repatriation of North Koreans
On May 12, 2022, Senators Marco Rubio (R-FL), who led the previous reauthorization and Tim Kaine (D-VA) introduced this latest reauthorization legislation in the Senate Foreign Relations Committee.
Representative Young Kim (R-CA) had already introduced a similar, bipartisan bill (H.R.7332- the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2022) in the House of Representatives on March 31.
Along with the three previous bills, this latest bill reflects the firm support of the U.S. for human rights in North Korea, as well as the magnitude of targeting the issue.
– Lan Nguyen