Trump Needs to Take the Lead in Outing North Korea’s Human Rights Violations

via The Hill

There are countries that violate the human rights of their citizens and then there is North Korea.

With the possible exception of Syria’s Bashar al-Assad and his military butchers, the North Korean regime of supreme leader Kim Jong Un has more blood and suffering on its hands than any other government.

Yet the Trump Administration has made no meaningful effort to call out North Korea’s horrific treatment of its own people. Secretary of State Rex Tillerson’s address last week to the UN Security Council on North Korea, for example, barely mentioned human rights violations, although there was a lot to talk about.

The North Korean regime operates four huge camps for political prisoners. These are not concentration camps, but death camps (one is larger in area than the city of Los Angeles). 

A 2014 UN investigation found parallels in these camps to Auschwitz and the Stalinist gulags. The inmate population is reduced through deliberate starvation, forced labor under brutal conditions, executions (including by stoning), torture, rape, and infanticide.

In a gruesome practice, if a woman prisoner gives birth, the infant is smothered to death or its skull is crushed. Hundreds of thousands have died in the camps. 

North Koreans undergo a cradle-to-grave indoctrination that has eliminated not just free speech, but freedom of thought in a manner that eerily resembles George Orwell’s “1984.” 

Watch the chilling documentary “Under the Sun,” by Russian filmmaker Vitaly Mansky (available on Netflix), who had been commissioned by the North Korean government to make a propaganda movie about an eight year old girl, Zin-Mi, and her family.

Mansky secretly smuggled all of his film takes out of the country and used them to make “Under the Sun.” The most wrenching moment occurs in the last few minutes when Zin-Mi, whose North Korean handlers have been pressuring her to act happy and content, begins crying. The handlers, anxious to stop Zin-Mi’s crying so the filming can continue, urge her to “try to think of something good.” 


“Something good.”

“I don’t know what,” pleaded the girl, sobbing.

Under prodding, Zin-Mi stops crying and begins to robotically recite a patriotic verse to “the respected leader Kim Jong Un.” Her face, like those of the hundreds of North Koreans in the documentary, is now blank, expressionless, devoid of feeling. “In the Soviet Union,” said Mansky, “people still had private lives.

In North Korea, people don’t belong to themselves.”

The United States should be the leader in publicizing these human rights abuses and demanding that Kim Jung Un and his henchmen be held accountable. The president and his advisors, however, are enamored of American military might and tough guy bluster and don’t care about American ideals like human rights.

Trump, when offered the opportunity to condemn Vladimir Putin’s human rights violations, said, “You think our country is so innocent?” which suggested a false moral equivalency between the United States and Russia; the administration has cut refugee admissions by half (the Statue of Liberty notwithstanding); Secretary of State Tillerson broke tradition by not appearing at a State Department press conference to announce the Department’s annual country-by-country human rights report; and the White House recently invited Philippines’ President Rodrigo Duterte for a visit even though he is widely held responsible for thousands of extrajudicial killings of alleged drug dealers in the Philippines.

In the late 1970s and in the 1980s, a credible American commitment to human rights changed the course of history. The Helsinki Final Act of 1975, signed by the United States, the Soviet Union, and European countries, ratified the post-war borders of Eastern Europe.

But at the demand of the United States and its allies, the Act included human rights provisions, such as freedom of speech and family reunification, which led to far reaching social and political changes that ultimately helped bring down the Soviet bloc and end the Cold War. 

Conceivably, a strong campaign against North Korean human rights abuses might shame countries that support Kim Jong Un into breaking ties, lead to prosecutions against Kim and others for crimes against humanity, and even result in the expulsion of North Korea from the UN; it just might produce some relief for the North Korean people.

But after only 100 days, the Trump Administration has forfeited the moral authority needed to mount any such campaign.