A look at N. Korea’s hu­man rights abuses Trump played down

The Myanmar Times - - World -

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.

Photo: AP

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...

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