Michael Kleen writes: North Korea is recognized as being one of the most oppressive totalitarian states in the world.
Yet in fact, North Korea has a constitution and holds regular elections with three competing political parties—the Workers’ Party of Korea , the Korean Social Democratic Party, and the Chondoist Chongu Party—all united under an organization called the “Democratic Front for the Reunification of the Fatherland”.
In April 2009, North Korea even revised its constitution to include Article 8 which reads, “The State respects and protects the human rights of the workers, peasants and working intellectuals …”
But just because a state maintains the structures and language of democracy and continues to have elections does not preclude it from being totalitarian.
Tom Malinowski of Human Rights Watch, speaking at an American Enterprise Institute conference, had this to say about North Korean totalitarianism:
In devising a strategy for addressing the issue, it is important to take into account the unique nature of the North Korean regime. This is a regime that has isolated its people, not just from the outside world, but from all knowledge of the outside world.
This dictatorship has tried to deny its people the ability to even imagine an alternative way of life. Probably no totalitarian government in history has succeeded in doing this to the extent that the North Korean government has.
North Korea has been likened to a steel box with a few holes through which light can shine. The strategy must be to punch more holes into the box and let more light through. Until there is more awareness inside North Korea, there is very little the outside world can do in the ways that dictatorships are traditionally pressured to change.
Any dialogue with North Korea needs to have some human rights content. Talks with North Korea about nuclear issues should not preclude other security issues or human rights issues and reform.