WASHINGTON, DC — U.S. President Donald Trump should make the “gross human rights violations” committed by North Korean dictator Kim Jong-un’s regime part of the ongoing discussions to denuclearize, the candidate to serve as the American ambassador in South Korea told lawmakers Thursday.
During his confirmation hearing held by the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Sen. Rob Portman (R-Ohio) asked retired Adm. Harry Harris, the prospective ambassador, “What do you think our posture should be with regards to human rights abuses in North Korea? … Should that be part of any [denuclearization] agreement with North Korea?”
“I think human rights should be a part of discussions. The president did raise them. And as a nation and, certainly, as a department, we were very concerned with the gross human rights violations evidenced by the North Korean regime,” Harris, an outspoken critic of North Korea who served as the chief of U.S. Pacific Command (PACOM), declared.
Harris noted that South Korea can also play a role in pressuring Kim to drop his regime’s “human rights horrors” as described by Human Rights Watch and vowed to persuade the country to do so as America’s ambassador there.
The prospective American ambassador said:
With regard to human rights, I believe that the government of the Republic of Korea, South Korea, has a big role to play in the issue of human rights and the gross violations by the north. Also, there are the issues of abductions of Japanese citizens, and the [U.S.] president raised those issues in his discussions. So I think that’s a positive as well.
Critics have accused President Trump of letting Kim off the hook for human rights abuses during Tuesday’s historic summit in Singapore in exchange for the dictator’s commitments to completely dismantle his nuclear program.
Once forceful on the human rights abuses by Kim’s regime, President Trump, reportedly echoing lawmakers from both parties, appeared to stress that denuclearization was a priority at the summit in Singapore on Tuesday.
Trump told reporters he brought the human rights issue up during the meeting.
The joint statement highlighting the agreements the two leaders reached during the summit fails to mention human rights.
Soon after the summit, President Trump told reporters the event was only the beginning of an “arduous process,” adding that sanctions against the North Korean regime would remain in place.
Nevertheless, in an interview with Fox News’s Bret Baier, conducted on the flight back from Singapore, President Trump appeared to downplay Kim’s human rights abuses.
When Baier acknowledged that the North Korean dictator is “a killer” and said that “he’s clearly executing people,” Trump replied by calling Kim “a tough guy.”
“A lot of other people [have] done some really bad things. I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done,” the U.S. president added.
Trump’s U.S. Department of State highlighted North Korea’s rampant human rights abuses this year, noting:
The people of North Korea faced egregious human rights violations by the government in nearly all reporting categories including: extrajudicial killings; disappearances; arbitrary arrests and detentions; torture; political prison camps in which conditions were often harsh, life threatening, and included forced and compulsory labor; unfair trials; rigid controls over many aspects of citizen’s lives, including arbitrary interference with privacy, family, home, and correspondence, and denial of the freedoms of speech, press, assembly, association, religion, and movement; denial of the ability to choose their government; coerced abortion; trafficking in persons; severe restrictions on worker rights, including denial of the right to organize independent unions and domestic forced labor through mass mobilizations and as a part of the re-education system. Nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) noted [North Korea’s] foreign contract workers also faced conditions of forced labor.
State described North Korea’s human rights abuses as a “widespread problem” that continued with “impunity” in 2017.