Human rights issue not on Moon-Kim summit agenda

By Jung Min-kyung
  • Published : Apr 11, 2018 - 15:54
  • Updated : Apr 11, 2018 - 17:32

South Korea reiterated Wednesday that it has ruled out North Korea’s human rights record as an agenda item for the upcoming inter-Korean summit, while the United States said it may touch on the sensitive issue.

An unnamed Cheong Wa Dae official told Yonhap News Agency that the focus of the summit is tackling the “most urgent” issue of denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.

Otto Frederick Warmbier (center), a University of Virginia student who was detained in North Korea for 17 months since January 2016, is taken to North Korea`s top court in Pyongyang, North Korea. (AP-Yonhap)

South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un are due to meet for a rare inter-Korean summit -- the third summit between the two Koreas after the first in 2000 and second in 2007 -- at the South Korean side of the border village of Panmunjeom on April 27.

“It does not mean human rights issues are not important but that the objective of the upcoming summit is addressing the most urgent issue of denuclearization,” the Cheong Wa Dae official said.

Last week, Seoul’s Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha said Seoul maintains a “firm stance” against the “dire human rights situation” in the North, but that the matter being discussed at the summit was unlikely. The top diplomat’s remarks closely followed the North’s criticism of the South for its “dubious double dealing,” on Seoul’s expression of support for a new United Nations resolution against the reclusive state’s human rights violations.

Cheong Wa Dae’s remarks came on the same day the US State Department acknowledged denuclearization as a priority issue, but at the same time claimed it was also open to human rights issues being raised at the meeting between its leader President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim.

“Yes, typically when we have the opportunity to sit down and talk with countries where we have tremendous differences, that is something that does come up,” department spokeswoman Heather Nauert said at a press briefing.

“I imagine that that would come up as well,” she said, a day after Trump announced he would meet with Kim in May or early June.

North Korea’s human rights record has been criticized by the international community and the UN for its brutality.

In June 2017, Otto Warmbier, an American college student, died in Ohio after being released in a comatose state following 17 months of detention in North Korea. His family cited torture as the cause of his death, shocking the world.

The North is estimated to have up to 120,000 political prisoners in its sprawling gulag system.

A UN commission published a damning report in 2014 that concluded North Korea was committing human rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

On Tuesday, a group of some 40 nonprofit, nongovernmental organizations, including Human Rights Watch, sent a letter to Moon calling for the issue to be raised at the summit.

The landmark summits come after special envoys for Moon talked with North Korean leader Kim in Pyongyang last month, where Kim agreed to hold a summit with Moon and discuss denuclearization with Trump.

By Jung Min-kyung (