Publication: Bridging the chasm between human rights and peace


Pro-engagement activists have often argued that the pursuit of peace and reconciliation with the DPRK requires that human rights take a back seat in negotiations. At the other end of the spectrum have been anti-engagement activists who have argued that negotiation for peace and reconciliation is futile in the absence of human rights.

In May 2010 the U.S.-Korea Institute at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) published a report entitled, PURSUING PEACE WHILE ADVANCING RIGHTS: The Untried Approach to North Korea, by David Hawk. To my knowledge, this is the first serious attempt to bridge what have been assumed to be irreconcilable positions.

Hawk begins his 70-page monograph by a quote from President Barack Obama’s remarks when he received the Nobel Peace Prize last December:

“The promotion of human rights cannot be about exhortation alone. At times, it must be coupled with painstaking diplomacy. I know that engagement with repressive regimes lacks the satisfying purity of indignation. But I also know that sanctions without outreach-condemnation without discussion-can carry forward only a crippling status quo. No repressive regime can move down a new path unless it has the choice of an open door.”

The first part of the paper examines US policy in the Clinton years (1993-2000) when negotiations were conducted without a human rights component, the Kim Dae-Jung and Roh Moo-Hyun years (1998-2008) in the ROK when engagement proceeded without a human rights component, and the George W. Bush years in the USA (2002-2005) when human rights became primordial, in the absence of negotiations or engagement.

In the second part, Hawk argues in favour of factoring human rights considerations into any future engagement and negotiation processes with the DPRK. He finishes by outlining suggestions as to how human rights considerations could be approached in the context of efforts toward peace and reconciliation.

I was particularly gratified by the author’s section on “Talking About Talking About Human Rights,” in which he gives sage advice to negotiators about how to approach the subject with North Korean interlocutors (see sections entitled “Human Rights Is Not Regime Change”“Concern about Human Rights Is Not Slander or Vilification”“Not an Infringement of Sovereignty or Interference in Internal Affairs”), how to initiate the dialogue, and what should be the primary substantive topics for dialogue and knowledge sharing.

The author, David Hawk, directed the Cambodia Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights in the mid-to-late 1990s. He is a former executive director of the United States section of Amnesty International and has served on the board of directors of AIUSA and Human Rights Watch/Asia.

And of course he is also a member of the CanKor Brain Trust!

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