Examining Human Rights in North Korea
This episode of Living History features part one of two interviews with Robert R. “Bob” King to mark the sixth anniversary of the UN Commission of Inquiry (COI) report on human rights in North Korea. Ambassador King served as special envoy for North Korea human rights issues from 2009 – 2017, leading efforts to advance human rights and humanitarian conditions in North Korea, secure the release of U.S. citizens held in North Korea, and represent the United States in international organizations dealing with these issues.
Ambassador King recounts what it was like to visit North Korea and to raise human rights issues with North Korean leaders. He discusses the important role of the United Nations in calling attention to human rights conditions in North Korea and coordinating efforts to make progress on these issues. As part of these discussions, Ambassador King shares his thoughts on the nexus between human rights and broader security concerns like denuclearization. He concludes with an assessment of progress made since the release of the UN COI Report in 2014, remaining challenges under the current administration, and the role that human rights should play in U.S. foreign policy.
Ambassador Robert R. King served as special envoy for North Korea human rights issues at the U.S. Department of State. He was nominated by President Barack Obama, confirmed by the U.S. Senate, and served in that position from November 2009 to January 2017. Ambassador King led U.S. efforts to press North Korea for progress on its human rights, U.S. humanitarian work in North Korea, and the treatment of U.S. citizens being held in the North. He represented the United States in international organizations dealing with these issues.
Earlier, Dr. King was staff director of the House Foreign Affairs Committee under Chairmen Tom Lantos and Howard Berman and prior to that was a senior professional staff member of the committee (1993–2009). He was concurrently chief of staff to Representative Tom Lantos (1983–2009). In the 1970s, as a White House fellow, he was a member of the National Security Council staff working with Dr. Zbigniew Brzezinski in the Jimmy Carter administration. He was also assistant director of research and senior analyst at Radio Free Europe in Munich Germany (1970–1977).
Dr. King holds a Ph.D. in international relations from the Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy and a B.A. in political science from Brigham Young University. An adjunct professor, he has taught courses in international relations and U.S. foreign policy in a number of graduate and undergraduate programs. He was awarded the Knight’s Cross Order of Merit by the president of the Republic of Hungary.