The North Korean Conundrum

The North Korean Conundrum

Balancing Human Rights and Nuclear Security

Cover of North Korean Conundrum, showing a knotted ball of string.

Read our news story about the book >> 

North Korea is consistently identified as one of the world’s worst human rights abusers. However, the issue of human rights in North Korea is a complex one, intertwined with issues like life in the North Korean police state, inter-Korean relations, denuclearization, access to information in the North, and international cooperation, to name a few. There are likewise multiple actors involved, including the two Korean governments, the United States, the United Nations, South Korea NGOs, and global human rights organizations. While North Korea’s nuclear weapons and the security threat it poses have occupied the center stage and eclipsed other issues in recent years, human rights remain important to U.S. policy. 

The contributors to The North Korean Conundrum explore how dealing with the issue of human rights is shaped and affected by the political issues with which it is so entwined. Sections discuss the role of the United Nations; how North Koreans’ limited access to information is part of the problem, and how this is changing; the relationship between human rights and denuclearization; and North Korean human rights in comparative perspective.


  1. North Korea: Human Rights and Nuclear Security Robert R. King and Gi-Wook Shin
  2. The COI Report on Human Rights in North Korea: Origins, Necessities, Obstacles, and Prospects Michael Kirby
  3. Encouraging Progress on Human Rights in North Korea: The Role of the United Nations and South Korea Joon Oh 
  4. DPRK Human Rights on the UN Stage: U.S. Leadership Is Essential Peter Yeo and Ryan Kaminski
  5. Efforts to Reach North Koreans by South Korean NGOs: Then, Now, and Challenges Minjung Kim
  6. The Changing Information Environment in North Korea Nat Kretchun
  7. North Korea’s Response to Foreign Information Martyn Williams
  8. Human Rights Advocacy in the Time of Nuclear Stalemate: The Interrelationship Between Pressuring North Korea on Human Rights and Denuclearization  Tae-Ung Baik
  9. The Error of Zero-Sum Thinking about Human Rights and U.S. Denuclearization Policy Victor Cha
  10. Germany’s Lessons for Korea Sean King
  11. Human Rights and Foreign Policy: Puzzles, Priorities, and Political Power Thomas Fingar

June 2022 Update

The Korean version of The North Korean Conundrum is now available, published by the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB). Purchase the Korean version via NKDB's website >>

To mark the release of the Korean version of the book, APARC hosted a book talk in Seoul jointly with the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights, on June 9, 2022.
Watch NTD Korea's report of the event:

View news coverage of the event by Korean Media: