[Writer's Choice] North Korea's Human Rights Issues Could Undermine US Nuclear Deal

Jay Yim, Jan. 11, 2019, 1:46 p.m.

A key United Nations official warned on Friday that the reality of North Korean harsh human rights issues threatens to undermine any potential peace of denuclearization agreements.

Tomás Ojea Quintana, U.N. special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, said that any deal would be "fragile" if the country's human rights issues are not part of the equation.

“Any accord that the parties could reach will remain fragile unless human rights issues are not discussed and unless there is a plan how to address that situation in North Korea,” he said.

Quintana went on a trip for research to South Korea this week to gather information for a report that he will present to the U.N. Human Rights Council in March. He met with government officials and members of civil society and interviewed recent refugees from North Korea.

Last year during Kim and Trump's summit last year, the human rights issue was sidelined, but Quintana said it is vital that it becomes part of the dialogue this year.

“It will be a missed opportunity in 2019 if human rights is not addressed by all the parties, most importantly the government of (North) Korea,” he said.

Pyongyang has not allowed Quintana or other international human rights inspectors to visit the country.

“The fact is that with all the positive developments the world has witnessed in the past year, it is all the more regrettable that the reality for human rights on the ground remains unchanged and continues to be extremely serious,” Quintana said.

In a 2014 U.N. Commision of Inquiry report, North Korea was found guilty of crimes against humanity including murder, enslavement, torture, sexual violence and persecution on political, religious and gender grounds.

The U.N. passed a resolution last month which condemned the North's "longstanding and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights."

In a 2018 report, Amnesty International claimed that North Korea held up to 120,000 political prisoners in camps, where they utilize forced labor and torture.

Although the North has seen increased economic development under Kim Jong Un, particularly in Pyongyang, much of the country is still lacking basic rights like freedom of movement or spect, Quintana said.

"The whole country is a prison," he quoted on North Korea refugee saying.

President Moon said Thursday that a North Korea and U.S. summit would "take place soon." President Trump said he expects to announce the location for the summit "in the not-too-distant future."

The North Korean leader pledged this week to seek a summit with Trump "to achieve results that will be welcomed by the International community," Chinese state media reported during the North Korean leader's visit to Beijing.

A second Trump-Kim summit would seek to kick start a diplomatic process that has stalled out since their June meeting in Singapore.

That meeting produced a statement that the North would work toward a "complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula." However, details on the times and the means to do so is still vague.

Pyongyang is continually seeking relief from punishing international sanctions while Washington is holding out for complete denuclearization first, sticking to its "maximum pressure" strategy on the economic and diplomatic fronts.

North Korea has been eager to pursue economic projects they started with the South such as their railroad connecting and reopening a jointly run factory park in its border of Kaesong, but such projects cannot proceed further until the U.S.-led sanctions on North Korea are eased.

North Korea will be a deterrent for economic development if they continue this lack of human rights, warned Quintana.

“We know there is no compliance with international labor standards,” Quintana said. “Any countries hoping to engage or invest in North Korea will have to bear in mind that basic human rights standards are not respected.”

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