North Korea’s Prison Camps Deserve a Spot on the Trump-Kim Summit Agenda

    Olivia Enos

    Security, Asia

     Otto Frederick Warmbier (C), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea since early January, is taken to North Korea's top court in Pyongyang, North Korea, in this photo released by Kyodo March 16, 2016. Mandatory credit REUTERS/Kyodo/File Photo

    The Trump administration should raise concerns about the Kim regime’s egregious record of human-rights abuses.

    As the summit between Donald Trump and Kim Jong-Un fast approaches, one major question looms large: What’s on the agenda?

    Obviously, moving the needle on complete, verifiable, irreversible dismantlement (CVID) of North Korea’s nuclear program is a top priority. But the Trump administration should not miss this opportunity to raise concerns about the Kim regime’s egregious record of human-rights abuses.

    If the administration is willing to call for the eventual dismantlement of North Korea’s nuclear weapons, it should be equally ready to call for the dismantlement of the Hermit Kingdom’s political prison camps.

    Too often, the U.S. pursues a bifurcated policy that prioritizes national-security interests above human rights. This false dichotomy pits forward movement on human rights against advancing U.S. national interests. In the case of North Korea, separating these two issues is unnatural and may actually impede progress toward reaching our nuclear disarmament goals.

    Raising human rights—in particular, calling for the closure of the camps—could advance U.S. interests in several ways.

    Kim Jong-un may be more open to discussing human rights than originally thought. His primary motivation in coming to the negotiating table is a desire for legitimacy. The United States should stress that the international community cannot and will not grant legitimacy to Pyongyang if it continues its rogue weapons program and its modern-day gulags which now imprison 80,000–120,000 people.

    In past talks with Pyongyang, U.S. negotiators have foregone raising human-rights issues due to concerns that it would upend negotiations. But North Korea’s recent release of three American hostages demonstrated that raising concerns about human rights may yield results without being a deal-breaker for Kim Jong-un. This should embolden Washington to raise the issue of the camps in Singapore.

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