A look at N. Korea’s human rights abuses Trump played down
IT was just months ago when President Donald Trump used his first State of the Union address to condemn the cruelty of North Korea’s government. But after his historic summit on Tuesday with North Korean leader Kim Jong Un, whom he described as “very smart” and having a “great personality,” Trump seemed to play down the severity of human rights violations in North Korea.
“It’s rough,” Trump allowed after being asked about North Korea’s human rights record. He then said: “It’s rough in a lot of places, by the way. Not just there.”
Few expected Trump to seriously raise North Korea’s horrific human rights problems during his first meeting with Kim, which was mainly about addressing the threat of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons.
Still, his post-summit comments drew an angry reaction from activists, who have spent years highlighting North Korea’s extensive crimes against humanity.
“By leaving human rights out of the final statement, the Trump administration effectively told North Korea that human rights are not a U.S. priority,” Phil Robertson, deputy director of Human Rights Watch’s Asia division, wrote on the group’s website.
“For North Koreans, this means continued public executions, restrictions on movement, brutally punishing three generations of a family when one member ‘offends,’ and an absolute prohibition on any civil and political rights, on top of inadequate access to food, housing, education, and health care.”
In his speech to Congress in January, Trump lashed out at the “depraved character” of Kim’s government. He pointed to invited family members of Otto Warmbier, an American detainee who died after returning from North Korea with severe injuries, and a North Korean defector who lost a leg while scrapping for food and traveled thousands of miles (kilometers) on crutches to escape.
PRISON CAMPS AND EXECUTIONS While North Korea officially denies this, outside governments and human rights group believe the country runs massive prison camps where people accused of political crimes are detained without trials and often without their families being notified about their whereabouts.
South Korea’s Korea Institute for National Unification, a state-sponsored think tank, estimates that as much as 120,000 inmates were held at the country’s five major political prisons as of 2013.
It’s believed that the inmates, many of them accused of insulting the North’s supreme leadership or attempting to escape to South Korea, are subject to horrific conditions, including forced labor, torture and rape. Inmates are often executed, some publicly, for disobeying orders, the institute said in a study.
The death tolls are further exacerbated by torture, denial of adequate medical care and high incidence of work accidents, said a 2014 United Nations report on North Korea.
“The key to the political system is the vast political and security apparatus that strategically uses surveillance, coercion, fear and punishment to preclude the expression of any dissent,” said the U.N. report. “Public executions and enforced disappearance to political prison camps serve as the ultimate means to terrorize the population into submission.”
The report said gross violations are also being committed in North Korea’s ordinary prison system, including torture and deliberate starvation. Some of these prisons are labor camps that the North claims aim to reform prisoners through labor.
THE EXECUTIONS Since assuming his father’s throne in 2011, Kim, executed a slew of members of the North Korean old guard, including his uncle Jang Seong Thaek, who was convicted of treason, and senior government officials accused of slighting his leadership.
Kim has also been accused of ordering the assassination of his estranged half brother, Kim Jong Nam, last year at a Malaysian airport by assailants using a highly-lethal nerve agent.
In this March 16, 2016, file photo, American student Otto Warmbier, center, is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea. President Donald Trump had previously condemned the cruelty of North Korea’s government, but after his historic...