Fletcher in the News

The Latest North Korea Human Rights Report May Not Be Entirely Pointless: Prof. Lee Weighs In

Sung-Yoon Lee is the Kim Koo-Korea Foundation Professor in Korean Studies and Assistant Professor at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University

Earlier this week, the United Nations Commission of Inquiry into human rights abuses in North Korea issued its final report on the matter. (Spoiler alert: North Korea has a lot of human rights abuses.)

The report’s release raises some important questions. Are North Korean human-rights abuses news to anyone? Since when has the UN paid any attention to human rights in North Korea? Does it matter if the UN has a comprehensive report on the train wreck that is North Korea’s record on human rights? (Spoiler alert: Yes, it might actually matter.)…

… For starters, the release of a report by an authoritative body gives news reporters and experts an excuse to remind everyone that North Korea does plenty of bad things beyond being crazier than a sack full of meth-cooking wombats and renting out its citizens as labor. Advocacy groups can send out press releases and rouse their supporters. Intellectuals can write editorials and conduct interviews. All of these things put the spotlight back on the issue, at least for a while.

Doing so creates an opportunity for people like Sung-Yoon Lee, a Korean studies professor at Tufts University's Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy. He recently co-wrote an opinion piece for the Washington Post that argued that the sanctions and restrictions on North Korea are nowhere near as serious as they could be...

...In an interview with VICE News, Professor Lee suggested that the diplomatic community has perhaps made a mistake in being “maybe a little too respectful,” and noted that there are plenty of non-violent methods of forcing action. Lee outlined a scenario in which the global financial community freezes North Korean money, cutting into the flow of the luxury goods and swag that keep the country’s elite happy. Frozen funds would be released in installments if North Korea were able to demonstrate that a substantial portion of each installment was paying for things like medicine and food to be distributed to its citizens.

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