South Korea's President Moon Jae-in, in Tokyo, Japan, May 2018. 

© 2018 REUTERS/Kim Kyung-Hoon/Pool

(New York) – The South Korean government should press the United States to discuss the appalling human rights situation in North Korea when US President Donald Trump meets with North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, Human Rights Watch said today. South Korean President Moon Jae-in will meet with Trump in Washington, DC, on May 22, 2018.

“As Trump prepares to meet Kim Jong-un to discuss nuclear weapons, it’s important to remember that these weapons were built by people living in a totalitarian state that restricts all basic freedoms, runs a gulag with forced labor, and can’t meet the basic nutritional needs of its people,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Moon, a longtime rights activist, should commit South Korea to making human rights a priority in all its dealings with Kim – and urge the US to do the same.”

In April, 40 organizations including Human Rights Watch, representing more than 200 nongovernment organizations from around the world, sent a letter to Moon asking him to urge Kim to act on United Nations human rights recommendations; engage on inter-Korean human rights issues, including human rights dialogues and information exchanges; push for the reunion of separated families; and increase inter-Korean people-to-people contact. The organizations also called on the South Korean government to provide North Korea much-needed humanitarian aid with appropriate monitoring.

Human Rights Watch reiterated its call for governments to include human rights concerns in all meetings with North Korean officials. There are many immediate steps North Korea should take to address its dismal record, including:

  • Allowing visits by key UN agencies and offices, including visits by the UN Special Rapporteur for North Korea, the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, and other relevant UN mechanisms;
  • Taking immediate steps to address poor conditions and abuses in the country’s detention and prison facilities, including by allowing visits by independent international humanitarian organizations, relevant UN bodies, and international nongovernmental groups; and
  • Engaging with UN human rights mechanisms, including the upcoming UN Universal Periodic Review and a review under the Convention of the Rights of Persons with Disabilities, while responding seriously to recommendations for compliance with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, both of which North Korea has ratified.