H.R. 4240: Ambassador James R. Lilley and Congressman Stephen J. Solarz North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2012

H.R. 4240

Ambassador James R. Lilley and Congressman Stephen J. Solarz North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2012

Sen. Bernard Sanders

May 15, 2012 (112th Congress, 2nd Session)

Staff Contact

Floor Situation

On Tuesday, May 15, 2012, the House is scheduled to consider H.R. 4240, the Ambassador James R. Lilley and Congressman Stephen J. Solarz North Korea Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2012, under a suspension of the rules requiring a two-thirds majority for approval.  The bill was originally introduced on March 22, 2012, by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-FL) and was referred to the Committee on Foreign Affairs.  The committee considered the legislation in a mark-up session on March 28, 2012, and ordered the bill to be reported by unanimous consent.

Bill Summary

H.R. 4240 would reauthorize, through 2017, programs that provide assistance to certain North Koreans who have left that country and that promote human rights, democracy, and freedom of information in North Korea. The bill would authorize the appropriation of $24 million a year over the 2013-2017 period for those programs (the same amounts authorized for 2012).

The bill would also direct the Broadcasting Board of Governors (BBG) to submit to Congress a report that describes the status and content of current United States broadcasting to North Korea and the extent to which the BBG has achieved the statutory goal of 12-hour-per-day broadcasting to North Korea. 

The bill would also state that the United States should continue to seek cooperation from foreign governments to allow the United States to process North Korean refugees overseas for resettlement in the United States, through persistent diplomacy by senior officials of the United States, including United States ambassadors to Asia-Pacific countries, and close cooperation with its ally, the Republic of Korea.

Additionally, the bill would state that because there are genuine refugees among North Koreans fleeing into China who face severe punishments upon their forcible return, the United States should urge the People's Republic of China to: (1) immediately halt its forcible repatriation of North Koreans; (2) fulfill its obligations pursuant to the 1951 United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, and the 1995 Agreement on the Upgrading of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Mission in the People's Republic of China to UNHCR Branch Office in the People's Republic of China; and (3) allow the UNHCR unimpeded access to North Koreans inside China to determine whether such North Koreans are refugees requiring protection.


According to findings of the legislation, the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 (P.L. 108-333) and the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2008 (P.L. 110-346) were the product of broad, bipartisan consensus regarding the promotion of human rights, transparency in the delivery of humanitarian assistance, and the importance of refugee protection.

In addition to the longstanding commitment of the United States to refugee and human rights advocacy, the United States is home to the largest Korean population outside of northeast Asia, and many in the two-million strong Korean-American community have family ties to North Korea.

Although the transition to the leadership of Kim Jong-Un after the death of Kim Jong-Il has introduced new uncertainties and possibilities, the fundamental human rights and humanitarian conditions inside North Korea remain deplorable, North Korean refugees remain acutely vulnerable, and the findings in the 2004 Act and 2008 Reauthorization remain substantially accurate today.

Media and nongovernmental organizations have reported a crackdown on unauthorized border crossing during the North Korean leadership transition, including authorization for on-the-spot execution of attempted defectors, as well as an increase in punishments during the 100-day official mourning period after the death of Kim Jong-Il.

Notwithstanding high-level advocacy by the United States, the Republic of Korea, and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, China has continued to forcibly repatriate North Koreans, including dozens of presumed refugees who were the subject of international humanitarian appeals during February and March of 2012.

The United States, which has the largest international refugee resettlement program in the world, has resettled 128 North Koreans since passage of the 2004 Act, including 23 North Koreans in fiscal year 2011.

In a career of Asia-focused public service that spanned more than half a century, including service as a senior United States diplomat in times and places where there were significant challenges to human rights, Ambassador James R. Lilley also served as a director of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea until his death in 2009.

Following his 18 years of service in the House of Representatives, including as Chairman of the Foreign Affairs Subcommittee on East Asian and Pacific Affairs, Stephen J. Solarz committed himself to, in his words, highlighting “the plight of ordinary North Koreans who are denied even the most basic human rights, and the dramatic and heart-rending stories of those who risk their lives in the struggle to escape what is certainly the world's worst nightmare.”  Mr. Solarz also served as co-chairman of the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea until his death in 2010.


The Congressional Budget Office (CBO) estimates that implementing the bill would have discretionary costs of $4 million in FY2013, and $36 million over the 2013-2017 period, assuming appropriation of the specified amounts.  According to the CBO, “The annual amounts authorized under H.R. 4240 are lower than the amounts authorized for 2012 under current law”.  The total annual authorizations in the bill ($9 million) are 63% lower than current year authorizations ($24 million).

Enacting H.R. 4240 would not affect direct spending or revenues; therefore, pay-as-you-go procedures do not apply.