Give President Trump credit for confronting North Korea on its horrific rights record

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By Donald Kirk

SEOUL — Whenever experts talk about “confederation” or “reunification” between North and South Korea, they overlook the fate of tens of thousands of people confined to prison camps in the North for offenses that might threaten the regime.

Examples of such “crimes” include Christian worship, possession of a bible or listening to foreign radio and television broadcasts.

What would happen to North Korea’s gulag system, in which many thousands have died of starvation or overwork or been executed, if North and South Korea united under one flag as their athletes did at the Winter Olympics?

President Donald Trump meets with North Korean defectors in the Oval Office on Feb. 2, 2018. / Reuters

U.S. President Donald Trump is right to remind the world of North Korea’s horrific record on human rights while South Korea’s President Moon Jae-In avoids the topic. Pro-North advocates not only ignore North Korean human rights abuses but criticize those who make it an issue.

Trump deserves credit for having dramatized North Korea’s record on human right in his state-of-the-union address before the American Congress when he recognized the defector Ji Seong-Ho, who lost an arm and a leg escaping from the North. Ji in turn raised a crutch, a gesture seen on television around the world.

Then, a day or so later, Trump invited a number of defectors to the White House and listened to their stories.

Would it occur to President Moon to invite defectors to the Blue House, the presidential residence and office complex in Seoul, for a conversation about their ordeal? That’s not going to happen while Moon sends envoys to North Korea to sound out the North on ways to achieve North-South rapprochement.

Undoubtedly the agenda includes North Korea’s demands that South Korea cancel North-South military exercises and persuade the United Nations to ease sanctions imposed with increasing severity after North Korean missile and nuclear tests. It’s unlikely, if not out of the question, that Moon or his envoys will raise the topic of North Korean human rights abuses, which the North denies with the same fervor with which it refuses to abandon its nuclear program.

Moon, however, also wants North Korea to get into talks with the United States. That’s an important condition for South-North reconciliation. He’s putting North Korean leader Kim Jong-Un in the position of almost having to agree to dialogue with the U.S. even though the North has said repeatedly that it’s not going to talk about its nukes and missiles. The Americans for their part have said they will talk without preconditions though surely they would raise the nuclear issue when they met.

But what about human rights? Trump’s emphasis on human rights, to a degree never raised by his predecessor, Barack Obama, suggests that his negotiators would confront the North Koreans on this issue too.

The North Koreans would no doubt respond angrily, issue denials, accuse the U.S. of committing human rights abuses and possibly walk out of the talks. Nonetheless, they could not avoid the embarrassment of having this issue on the table whether they liked it or not.

Trump’s emphasis on North Korea’s human record is more than an opportunistic negotiating ploy. While getting the North to give up its nukes and missiles is top priority, the world should not forget that North Korea persists in abusing its citizens in ways that are just unimaginable.

Amazingly, leftists and liberals, who love to talk about abuses in the U.S. and South Korea, do not seem concerned about far worse conditions in North Korea. In fact, in public forums, they deliberately cut off questions and commentaries about North Korean abuses as if it were improper or unfair to raise the topic.

The United Nations is not going to inflict sanctions on a country because of cruelty to its citizens. If the UN were to do so, dozens of countries, from South and Central America to the middle east and Africa, would have to be sanctioned. North Korea is not facing sanctions for crimes against North Koreans. The North’s expanding nuclear records program dominates the discussion and are the basic reason for sanctions.

Nonetheless, no one should forget North Korea’s abuses. Leftists, radicals, pro-Northers and others who sympathize with North Korea’s tyrannical regime need constantly to be reminded of what North Korea’s leadership is doing in violation of the basic norms of a civilized society.

One of the favorite lines of pro-Northers is that sanctions are only hurting the mass of North Koreans, not their leaders. If Kim Jong-In cared, though, he would stop wasting money on nukes and missiles and invest the same funds in food, medicine and much else.

Negotiators, as Trump has made clear by emphasizing human rights, need to make that point while calling for the North Korean regime to stop abusing its own people.

Talks between Americans and North Koreans, as President Moon is asking, would be the perfect forum in which to raise the human rights issue in the face of North Korea’s outraged denials.

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