Biden nominates new North Korea human rights envoy

U.S. President Joe Biden has nominated Julie Turner, a longtime State Department official, as special envoy on North Korean human rights issues, a role left unfilled for more than five years.

If confirmed by the Senate, Turner would become the first such envoy since before the Trump administration, and would lead U.S. diplomatic efforts against Pyongyang’s human rights abuses with the rank of ambassador.

Turner currently serves as the director of the Office of East Asia and the Pacific in the State Department’s Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor, a White House press release says, and previously served as Southeast Asia director on the National Security Council.

“Turner has served more than 16 years in the Office of East Asia and the Pacific, in positions of increasing responsibility, primarily focused on initiatives related to promoting human rights in North Korea, including a tour as Special Assistant in the Office of the Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues,” the statement says.

Ambassador Robert R. King previously served in the role from 2009 to 2017, but the Trump administration did not nominate a successor.

Natalia Slavney, an assistant editor at the Stimson Center’s 38 North publication, which analyzes North Korea news, told Radio Free Asia the return of the envoy signaled a renewed U.S. focus on human rights, besides just nuclear arms, in its dealings with Pyongyang.

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“North Korea watchers have advocated for the appointment of a special envoy for years,” Slavney said. “Both President Biden and President Yoon have called for a ‘return to democracy’ and made a commitment ‘to promote human rights worldwide,’ and this appointment will help send a message to North Korea.”

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