Jay Lefkowitz, during a speech at the conservative American Enterprise Institute think tank, also urged the world to join the United States in pressuring North Korea to respect its citizens' rights. His comments come amid stalled international diplomatic efforts to rid the North of its nuclear weapons programs.
"A key way to empower the North Korean people is to force a ray of light through the veil that Kim Jong Il has drawn over North Korea," Lefkowitz said, referring to the North's leader. "We cannot on our own bring this about. We require an international coalition."
North Korea has boycotted international nuclear talks since November, refusing to return until the United States lifts financial restrictions on the North for its alleged currency counterfeiting and money laundering. Washington says the issues are not linked.
Lefkowitz, whom President Bush appointed last year to raise the human rights issue and to provide help for refugees fleeing the North, said North Korean refugees in China "are neglected; they are not treated humanely."
China, he said, is "violating and ignoring" its international pledge to protect and recognize those refugees and is "severely impeding" U.N. officials from helping.
He also criticized nations that may be helping Pyongyang unwittingly by not monitoring whether food aid is being diverted from the hungry to the black market or to feed North Korea's 1 million-strong military.
He did not mention specific countries, but South Korean food aid is delivered directly to the North Korean government rather than through international aid groups. The South Korean government insists its donations are delivered to ordinary citizens.
When asked if South Korea is doing enough to confront the North's rights abuses, Lefkowitz said he is "not sure, from a tactical approach, they are doing everything that I would be recommending to them," but he said the South had the same long-term goal as the United States — a free Korean Peninsula.
Lefkowitz said it was "important for the South Korean government to listen carefully to the people in South Korea," who have "made it very clear that human rights issues are a significant concern and should be very much front and center on the agenda in that country."
Lefkowitz said U.S. problems with North Korea — including alleged counterfeiting of U.S. currency, drug smuggling, weapons sales and efforts to build a nuclear arsenal — are "the predictable conduct of a government that possesses no apparent respect for the rights of its own citizens."