Jim Mattis says North Korea rarely takes part in international negotiations, so talks with that country are are are ‘going to be bumpy.’ He also said North Korea ‘loomed large’ during multi-national security talks in Singapore. (June 4)
At the nuclear summit in Singapore, bringing up human rights is a bad idea: Another view
North Korea has a terrible human rights record. One could reasonably believe the U.S. side should bring up these human rights violations when President Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong Un meet in Singapore on Tuesday. Here’s why that’s a bad idea.
The focus of the summit is North Korea’s nuclear program. As with previous arms control efforts, for instance between the United States and the Soviet Union, attempts to include issues unrelated to the central conflict generally derail the negotiations.
Efforts to shame North Korea into improving its human rights record haven’t been particularly successful; the North Koreans usually just walk out of the room. However, respectful engagement at an intergovernmental level, for instance on disability rights, has led to some progress.
Nor is Trump the best emissary on human rights issues, since he has largely ignored those concerns elsewhere. He has refused to discuss human rights issues even with allies who have dismal records, such as the Philippines and Saudi Arabia, where Washington presumably has influence and leverage. The United States has neither with North Korea.
Finally, if successful, the summit will be just the beginning of a new and initially fragile relationship between longstanding adversaries. Ideally, the two states will open up more space for non-governmental actors to operate in North Korea — business, academics, environmentalists and humanitarian organizations. Human rights advocates, too, can and should take advantage of this space.
Economic sanctions and international isolation hurt all North Koreans. Achieving a nuclear deal that can simultaneously reduce this isolation will improve the human security of the citizenry. If the two sides can achieve this difficult task, they can then move on to other challenges, including North Korea’s ongoing human rights violations.
John Feffer directs the Foreign Policy In Focus project at the Institute for Policy Studies.
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