Recent reports from Human Rights Watch and the United Nations confirm that a thriving North Korea exists only in propaganda promoted by President Kim Jong Un. Yet as U.S. and South Korean officials seek to persuade him to halt North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, they have seldom broached the issue of human rights.
The omission has drawn scrutiny from advocates as much for the proximity and shared history of the countries as for South Korean President Moon Jae-in’s background as a human rights lawyer. Chung-in Moon, a special adviser to President Moon, asserts that pushing human rights to the fore would sink negotiations. “You can’t raise human rights with North Korea. If you do, they won’t listen after that,” Chung-in Moon says. He views defusing the nuclear threat as a necessary first step. “Once we solve that, then we can address the issue of human rights, and North Korea will be more open to doing its part.”
Brad Adams, executive director of the Asia division for Human Rights Watch, considers the silence from U.S. and South Korean officials on North Korea’s living conditions a form of abandonment. “A nuclear deal might be good for the rest of the world,” he says. “But it won’t change the lives of the North Korean people one bit.”
The Hana Foundation, established by South Korea’s Ministry of Unification in 2010, provides an array of resettlement services to refugees. Mindful of the ministry’s oversight, Gyoung-bin Ko the president of the Hana Foundation, demurs on the subject of whether government officials should press Mr. Kim on human rights. He says simply, “We have a long way to go.”
“Peace will mean the end of sanctions and bring outside investment,” says Spencer Kim, co-founder of the Pacific Century Institute, a nonprofit policy and research firm. “That will be the biggest driver of human rights.”
[Christian Science Monitor]