The White House has decided not to bring up the issue of human rights when Donald Trump meets Kim Jong Un at their summit in Singapore on Tuesday, according to two administration officials who spoke to NBC News.
U.S. policy has long put denuclearization of the Korean peninsula above the issue of human rights in North Korea. Former Obama administration officials who spoke to NBC News agreed that it was appropriate, but other experts think that ignoring the issue is not only morally unjustifiable but also a serious strategic mistake.
“As long as you have a society where every scientist, engineer and soldier lives in fear of him and his family being sent to Camp 16, we are never going to get straight answers,” Joshua Stanton, a retired U.S. Army officer who now chronicles North Korean prison camps, said.
Trump himself is well aware of North Korea’s human rights’ abuses. “An estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags, toiling in forced labor and enduring torture, starvation, rape and murder on a constant basis,” Trump told the South Korean National Assembly last November. “All responsible nations must join forces to isolate the brutal regime of North Korea…you cannot support, you cannot supply, you cannot accept.”
However, the suffering of those 100,000 North Koreans has been pushed to the side over the prospect of not only denuclearizing North Korea, but also bringing a permanent peace between the North and South, who remain technically still at war.
Ahead of the highly-anticipated meeting between Trump and Kim, U.S. officials say that talks have been progressing “more quickly than expected,” and that both leaders are feeling “supremely confident” ahead of the meeting. Talks are moving so quickly in fact that Trump is expected to leave Tuesday evening, after meeting with Kim in the morning.
Great to be in Singapore, excitement in the air!
— Donald J. Trump (@realDonaldTrump) June 11, 2018
The United States wants nothing less than complete denuclearization from North Korea. In return, Secretary of State Mike Pompeo has said that the United States would be willing to provide North Korea with “unique” security assurances.
“We’re prepared to take what will be security assurances that are different, unique, than have been provided – than America has been willing to provide previously,” Pompeo told reporters on Monday. “We think this is both necessary and appropriate.”
.@SecPompeo: "The ultimate objective we seek from diplomacy with #NorthKorea has not changed; the complete and verifiable and irreversible denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula is the only outcome that the United States will accept."
— CSPAN (@cspan) June 11, 2018
In the background to this however, lies what the U.N. calls “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations” in North Korea. These include total control of the media, lack of Internet access to all but an elite few living in Pyonyang, a complete lack of religious freedom, and abhorrent prison camp conditions.
According to the U.S. State Department, anywhere from 80,00 to 120,000 people are currently in these prison camps, from crimes ranging from attempting to defect to watching a South Korean movie. But even those who haven’t been convicted of a crime are often forced to carry out forced labor for the government anyway. According to Human Rights Watch, “a significant majority” of North Koreans are forced to perform unpaid labor.