Otto Warmbier, the American university student who was recently released by North Korea in a coma after more than 17 months of detention, died Monday.
The international community mourned his death and condemned the North’s brutal behavior.
Warmbier was a healthy 22-year-old university student before her visited the communist state. He was detained in March last year and fell in a coma suddenly.
Releasing him, Pyongyang explained he became unresponsive after contracting botulism and taking a sleeping pill.
US doctors found no evidence of botulism. They diagnosed Warmbier as slipping into a coma due to extensive brain damage.
His family is convinced he died of the “torturous mistreatment our son received at the hands of the North Koreans.”
His parents and doctors allege Warmbier suffered brain damage after being badly beaten.
Any reasonable person would agree with his parents.
He was arrested while trying to leave Pyongyang. He delivered a likely coerced confession saying he had attempted to steal a propaganda banner from a hotel in the North Korean capital. He was sentenced to 15 years of hard labor. His charge was rebellion. No one would believe the argument that an ordinary foreign student tourist sought to overturn the North Korean regime.
There is no doubt that Warmbier was detained under the North’s ploy of taking foreigners hostage as a negotiation tool.
Pyongyang has shown a pattern of pretending to do something nice for Washington by freeing Americans it detained on preposterous charges.
In 2009, former President Bill Clinton entered Pyongyang and met with then-North Korean leader Kim Jong-il for his “pardon” of two jailed female journalists, Euna Lee and Laura Ling. They flew back to the States altogether.
Pyongyang used to trumpet its releases of US citizens as a reconciliatory gesture, but the Warmbier case is likely to aggravate US-North Korea ties further.
In the US, voices are growing louder, calling for punishment of the Kim regime over his death.
The possibility has risen that the Donald Trump administration will handle human rights violations in the North as seriously as trying to get rid of its nuclear and missile programs.
Three Americans, all of Korean descent, are reportedly detained in the communist state. According to the Ministry of Unification, six Koreans are jailed in the North. Most of them were reportedly caught doing missionary work near the border between China and North Korea.
Pyongyang has cut them off from the outside world, and has left Seoul and Washington in the dark.
The South Korean government and the international community should show an unceasing interest in their safety and try their best for their release.
Moon has vowed a two-track approach of sanctions and dialogue as a way to resolve North Korean threats.
He needs prioritize human rights issues in his North Korea policy.
Being keen to improve inter-Korean relations, liberal governments have or neglected human rights violations in the North or looked the other way.
In 2007, the Roh Moo-hyun administration abstained from a vote on a UN resolution about North Korea’s human rights situation. To make the matter more farcical, it decided to do so allegedly after asking for Pyongyang’s opinion, though there was a counterargument it made an ex post facto notification of its decision to the North.
It took 11 years for a bill on human rights in North Korea to pass the National Assembly in 2016.
Now, the government’s attitude to human rights in the North has to change.
The death of Warmbier is a human rights issue that should be dealt with separately from the track of inter-Korean ties.
The Moon administration, which vows to champion human rights, should step up efforts to let the world know the brutality of the Kim regime.
It should also take a leading role in international efforts to stop the North’s barbaric behavior.