[Writer's Choice] US Must Address North Korea's Human Rights Violations at Trump-Kim Summit

Jay Yim, Feb. 22, 2019, 4:28 p.m.


The second summit meeting between Kim Jong Un and Donald Trump is just days away and some in Washington are advocating a push to ensure that the issue of human rights in North Korea will be front and center.

“There is a clear nexus between human rights and national security: forced labor for the regime – labor that is likely being used as part of the missile and weapons program, and which is likely being used as a guinea pig population to test chemical and biological weapons,” asserted Olivia Enos, policy analyst for The Heritage Foundation and author of a new report titled: “Leveraging U.S. Law to Advocate for Human Rights in Talks with North Korea.”

The report underlined that  “diplomacy should be tied not only to concessions on its nuclear program but to human rights improvements,” noting that forced labor is used as a financial resource to continue the development of North Korea's rogue missile and nuclear program.


The reported also says that the United States is obligated to enforce their own sanction laws, which were set under the guise of human rights concerns.

“The U.S cannot commit to lifting all sanctions if North Korea only denuclearizes and does not address human rights issues,” the report continues. “U.S. law requires Pyongyang to curtail its human rights violations before receiving certain sanctions relief. Furthermore, improvements in human rights can be used as a litmus test to determine North Korea’s sincerity in its commitment to both peace and disarmament.”

The report particularly emphasizes the number of tools that are already in place which have the potential to substantially ease the pressure for Trump's team on North Korea to make moves in the right direction.

For example, the Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) in November last year confiscated over 10,000 cartons (valued at more than $200,000) of frozen squid which was processed in China, but was suspected of being manufactured by North Korean labor.

To receive relief on sanctions, the U.S. must guarantee that North Korea is “taking verified steps to improve living condition in its political prisoners.”

“Given that tools exist and laws mandate that North Korea take steps toward rectifying its human rights record, the U.S. should seek to integrate human rights into dialogue with North Korea,” Enos said. “Shortly before the Singapore Summit, the Trump Administration fell silent on human rights abuses in North Korea. The silence continues. This was shame coming on the heels of significant action – including the release of the three Americans ahead of the summit – should have emboldened U.S negotiators to raise human rights concerns with North Korea.”

According to Enos, human rights must be at the top of the U.S. radar now more than ever if the country seeks to move forward with any de-nuclearization agreement.

"What better way to reignite the conversation than to raise those concerns publically in Hanoi? Not a single U.S. sanction issued on human rights grounds can legally be lifted if North Korea only denuclearizes," she added. "Diplomacy with Pyongyang should reflect that reality by pursuing progress on both denuclearization and human rights in tandem."

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