Setting a Humanitarian and Human Rights Agenda for North Korea

On March 4, 2004, the Brookings-SAIS Project on Internal Displacement and Refugees International convened a strategy meeting of NGOs and experts to identify the components of a humanitarian and human rights agenda for North Korea. In their letter of invitation, the organizers pointed out that there was no unified agenda on humanitarian and human rights issues and too often there was lack of consensus on priorities and tactics with regard to food aid, refugee issues and human rights concerns. The purpose of the meeting therefore was to clarify thinking and identify priorities so that humanitarian and human rights issues, so often sidelined in political and strategic discussions, could be taken into account in future discussions.

Participants at the meeting included humanitarian and human rights NGOs, United Nations agencies, think tanks, academic institutions and several former United States Government officials. Roberta Cohen from the Brookings Institution and Joel Charny from Refugees International served as co-chairs. It was agreed at the outset that to assure candid expression of views, participants would not be identified by name or organizational affiliation in this report.

The meeting opened with introductory comments by representatives of the host institutions. After noting the deliberate diversity of participants at the meeting and the growing interest in humanitarian and human rights issues in North Korea, they underscored the importance of developing a humanitarian and human rights agenda that might be taken forward in the context of the six-party talks on nuclear and security matters. Although North Korea had a history of severe humanitarian and human rights problems, there had been insufficient dialogue between humanitarian and human rights organizations about priorities, tactics and strategies, and the possible integration of humanitarian and human rights concerns into the larger political agenda. Among the key questions identified for consideration were: