Cornell International Law Journal


North Korean detention of U.S. citizens has prompted considerable attention in the U.S. media over the years, especially with the most recent case of Otto Warmbier’s death. Releases have usually been negotiated through diplomatic channels on a humanitarian basis. While detainee treatment is influenced primarily by political considerations, this Article asks what international legal implications arise from these detentions in terms of international law violations and recourse. Specifically, this Article analyzes (1) violations of consular law and international human rights law as applied to the detainees, such as standards for arrest, investigation, trial, and detention, and (2) whether viable legal recourse exists. While North Korea has acted contrary to international law in its treatment of U.S. detainees in a number of respects, including through violations of the Vienna Convention on Consular Relations, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, and other treaties and principles of customary law, legal recourse is practically limited in both international and U.S. domestic law due to jurisdictional barriers and weak international enforcement mechanisms.