“While past negotiations with the North may have privileged the security issues at the expense of human rights . . . the two issues are today intimately tied in unprecedented ways,” concluded a 2016 study on North Korea strategy by Robert Gallucci, a former negotiator with Pyongyang, and Victor Cha, who was Trump’s first choice for ambassador to South Korea. The two pointed out that practices such as forced labor and severe food rationing “favor the regime and its proliferation practices” by providing resources and suppressing dissent.
Cha and Gallucci argued that human rights could be an important source of leverage over Kim. They say the leadership has been rattled by repeated calls by the U.N. General Assembly for the referral of its crimes for ICC prosecution. This, they said, “might cause the regime to try to deflect pressure with concessions or progress on the nuclear front.” That doesn’t mean trading human rights for nukes. But it could mean incorporating steps on human rights into an overall political and security settlement.