U.S. needs to take stronger action on North Korean humanitarian issues


By Jackson Booth, Contributor

With recent North Korean nuclear advances, the U.S. has joined the United Nations in enforcing stricter sanctions on the totalitarian state. However, greater economic action must be taken by the U.S. to address the serious humanitarian crises that affect North Korea and the rest of the world.
United Nations Security Council Resolution 2094 condemns North Korea’s recent testing of nuclear weapons and serves as an attempt to deter North Korea’s leader Kim Jong-un from pursuing nuclear proliferation.
The resolution intends to “restrict the North’s development of weapons of mass destruction (WMD) programme, while introducing a more extensive set of measures focusing on freezing the North’s financial transactions…and restricting trade connected to any of the North’s illicit activities,” according to BBC News.
On March 5, the House Committee on Foreign Relations held a hearing on North Korea’s recent nuclear developments and the potential threats to the U.S. Sung-Yoon Lee, assistant professor at the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy, gave a striking testimony on how the U.S. should shift its foreign policy by redefining North Korea’s economy.
Lee gave an in-depth analysis on how the North Korean economy functions under the regime. He explained that it operates almost purely criminally, from how the government accumulates money (aside from foreign aid), to how they spend it, and with whom they engage in monetary transactions.
“The Treasury Department should declare the entire North Korean government to be a Primary Money Laundering Concern, which is a legal term for entities that fail to implement adequate safeguards against money laundering,” Lee said.  
Lee argued that the U.S. should pass a law requiring the Treasury Department to investigate and penalize all money laundering and criminally based financial actions of North Korea. Congress should take Lee’s recommendations and pursue stricter financial regulations against North Korea that will cripple their economy and force them to address their humanitarian issues which are just as threatening to lives as their nuclear weapon’s program.
From 1995 to 1998, between 270,000 and 2 million people died of starvation, and the UN World Food Program delivered $500 million worth of food according to PBS Frontline World. In 2001, North Korea spent close to $5 billion on military spending, which is close to 30 percent of the nation’s GDP. Similar levels of military spending and numbers of humanitarian crises have been recorded throughout the past years.
Many North Koreans and prisoners of war are also subject to labor and detention camps if they speak or act against the regime. Amnesty International cited an example of a South Korean prisoner of war named Jeong Sang-un (84 years old) who was incarcerated in North Korea. He had escaped to China and was later returned to North Korea where he was sent directly to Yodok Political Prison in South Hamkyung Province. He was very old and frail, but was treated very inhumanely.
These are just a few of the reasons of why Lee is absolutely correct. The United States needs to be the leading force in bringing attention to the detestable human rights abuses in North Korea and seek action that will bring change. Aside from the military perils of Kim’s’ regime, Americans should be equally disturbed by the North Korean government’s failure to protect basic human rights.
At the end of his testimony, Lee referenced the Orwellian nature of North Korea’s totalitarian regime and the need for immediate foreign intervention.
“In an Orwellian world, ‘war is peace, freedom is slavery, and ignorance is strength.’ In the North Korean world, the past 60 years of de facto peace is war, a life of servitude to the state is freedom, and national strength is rooted in ignorance of the outside world…Now is rather the time for prudent and pragmatic policy-makers in both Washington and Seoul to pave the way for a permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula,” Lee said.