Human rights are the key

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Human rights are the key

The United States and United Nations are tightening sanctions on North Korea on the grounds of its repression of human rights and religious freedoms. On Wednesday, the U.S. State Department once again designated North Korea a “country of particular concern” (CPC) under the International Religious Freedom Act of 1998. Once designated a CPC under the act, a country receives handicaps in trade and other affairs.

On the same day, the United Nations Human Rights Council classified four North Korean defectors as victims of arbitrary detention. One of the victims allegedly suffered beatings and torture simply because he kept a Bible. On Monday, the U.S. Treasury Department put three key North Korean officials, including powerful Vice Chairman of the Workers’ Party Choe Ryong-hae, on a list of those sanctioned over charges of human rights violations.

The message from the U.S. and UN is clear: unless human rights are ensured in North Korea, sanctions will not be lifted. Pyongyang may have expected a loosening up on sanctions after it shut down nuclear and missile engine test sites. That was a big miscalculation. No matter how much U.S. President Donald Trump wants to lift sanctions on North Korea, there are many layers of sanctions the United States can impose through a complex package of punitive actions. As North Korea has already been under international sanctions due to its repeated violations of religious freedoms and human rights, it can only avoid such handicaps when it meets several conditions.

North Korea must stop its human rights abuses and guarantee the freedom of religion as soon as possible if it really wants to see sanctions lifted and diplomatic relations established with Uncle Sam. The Moon Jae-in administration must reconsider its obsessive adherence to rapprochement with the recalcitrant regime through its blind faith that peace on the Korean Peninsula will enhance human rights in North Korea. The government’s logic that it can turn a blind eye to the human rights situation in North Korea to bring peace to the peninsula does not make sense.

Washington has the conviction that Pyongyang’s notorious human rights violations will be resolved only when it aggressively publicizes them. Since the Democrats won a majority in the House in midterm elections last month, it is even harder for the United States to ease sanctions on North Korea without tangible measures by Pyongyang to improve human rights. Our government must persuade it to move forward. That is the only shortcut to easing sanctions.

JoongAng Ilbo, Dec. 13, Page 34
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