Thursday, July 13, 2006

The other North Korean crisis

Whatever it does or doesn't signal about the Democratic People's Republic of North Korea's nuclear capability, North Korea's brief test of a nuclear-capable missile will create real casualties by aggravating ordinary North Koreans' suffering. With U.S. sanctions already biting and U.S. humanitarian aid halted, Japan is considering calling for more U.N. sanctions, and even South Korea says continuing food aid, hitherto decoupled from Pyongyang's behavior, "will be difficult under the circumstances."

At risk amid Pyongyang's growing isolation are North Koreans facing persecution, forced labor, economic collapse and chronic food insufficiency there, as well as those attempting to flee across the border into China. By diverting attention from their plight, heightening tensions and increasing pressure to cut humanitarian assistance amid security flaps, the latest missile crisis makes the humanitarian crisis harder to resolve.

At a recent conference at the Asia Society in New York, U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Lefkowitz hinted that linking resumed humanitarian aid to progress on human rights is an idea that "could very much be on the table."

This suggestion is hopeful. Instead of a reward for bad behavior, it implies that working for humanitarian and human-rights progress, even amid acute tensions, might give Pyongyang an incentive to be less intractable on other fronts. In any case, human rights and humanitarian concerns remain primary in themselves. Even nuclear security threats don't trump the imperative to raise them consistently, through all available channels, until they are respected.

[Excerpt of article by Shyama Venkateswar & Joel R. Charny San Francisco Chronicle]

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