Dialogue with North Korea?: Precondition for Talking Human Rights with the Hermit Kingdom

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by Geir Helgesen and Hatla Thelle

There is hardly another country as isolated and with such a bleak image as North Korea. It is portrayed in the Western media as a Hermit Kingdom ruled by an outdated, communist dictatorship whose clandestine nuclear programmes alarm its neighbours and which uses dreadful labour camps to control a population wracked by famine. The regime’s poor track record on human rights is stressed time and again by both Western governments and international organizations. Prospects look bleak for any improvement in relations let alone the start of a dialogue on human rights. Offering a rare, nuanced analysis of the North Korean situation, this short study argues that not only is a constructive and fruitful dialogue on human rights possible but also it is desirable for both parties. New perspectives are provided on what is generally perceived about North Korea, its relationship to the international human rights regime, the rationales that underpin decision-making in international relations, and the perceptions and expectations of people occupying official positions in the DPRK bureaucracy. The authors also draw from concrete experiences to give some suggestions to how a dialogue could be established and in what specific areas it is realistic. Here they point to valuable lessons to be learned from the dialogue so far between North Korea and the UN Human Rights regime as well as from the experiences of the already established EU-China human rights dialogue.

"Provocative and often persuasive, Dialogue with North Korea makes an intriguing case for the West adopting a conciliatory approach towards the world’s most repugnant regime. Approaching the dilemma of negotiating with Pyongyang from an unusual angle, the book is to be recommended to students of East Asia or readers seeking a different perspective on the seemingly interminable Korean crisis." - Andrew McCracken, LSE Review of Books, 26 June 2013

Previously director of the Nordic Institute of Asian Studies, Geir Helgesen has long been engaged in the politics and culture of both Koreas.

Hatla Thelle is a China specialist, now retired, who earlier was a researcher and project manager at the Danish Institute for Human Rights in Copenhagen.

Publication year: 2013
152 pp / 214mm x 134mm
21 illustrations, 1 map, 1 table
ISBN: 978-87-7694-126-0, Paperback

NIAS Press