Feelings of goodwill abound from the first-ever meeting between a North Korean leader and a president of the United States. While the signed agreement has many sweeping generalizations and no language specifying verification or compliance, many are cautiously optimistic about the possible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. But Americans cannot let that feeling blind them to the harsh reality of Kim Jong Un’s dictatorship.
By some estimates, 130,000 people are imprisoned in North Korea because of their religion or political opinion. Conditions in these prisons are so bad an investigation by the International Bar Association War Crimes Committee said Kim should be prosecuted for as many as 10 separate crimes against humanity.
One member of the panel that conducted that investigation was a survivor of the Auschwitz concentration camp in World War II. He told the Washington Post Kim’s prison camps are as bad, or worse, than what the Nazis set up during the war. Survivors who escaped have described starvation, torture, rape, forced abortions and death.
None of this was expected to be a topic of discussion between President Donald Trump and Kim on Tuesday. Some experts even cautioned it makes sense to build a relationship first before exploring this topic.
We disagree. The sooner Mr. Trump confronts Kim about this dreadful situation, the better. Human rights reforms must be a part of any potential disarmament agreement that results from talks.
The reason for that is practical as well as humanitarian. Inspectors would have a hard enough time verifying a disarmament pact without worrying that the North Korean officials they encounter fear being sent to the Gulag for giving honest answers.
More importantly, however, the United States owes as much to the world, and to its traditional role as a beacon for liberty. As Utah Sen. Orrin Hatch wrote this week in an op-ed for Fox News, “… by staying silent on this matter, we display a lack of seriousness about our intentions for North Korea and for the future of the Korean Peninsula. We also show a lack of seriousness about ourselves and our history, having faced but remained silent amid such crimes against humanity in the past.”30 comments on this story
President Trump has drawn attention to North Korea’s human rights record in the past, including at his speech last year to the United Nations.
Diplomacy is to be applauded, and a process leading toward peace is always worth pursuing. However, dictators seldom change their hearts, and Kim undoubtedly frets over maintaining his power, which is built on intimidation, torture and fear. But if any nation has the clout to confront those practices and stand up for the thousands who are suffering, it is the United States. The opportunity must not pass.