What you need to know
Don't get carried away by the pomp and ceremony in Singapore.
U.S. President Donald Trump and his North Korean counterpart Kim Jong-un are currently inside the Capella Hotel on the resort island of Sentosa in Singapore engaged in face-to-face talks over the future of the Korean Peninsula.
At the first ever meeting of the leaders of the two countries, with only translators for company, Kim will try to persuade Trump to commit to ending North Korea's economic and diplomatic isolation, while Trump will focus on exacting a promise of "complete, verifiable and irreversible denuclearization", and with it the threat of a North Korean nuclear missile attack on the U.S. or its allies.
Kim will also press for a winding down of U.S. armed forces stationed across the border at their primary base in Camp Humphreys, near Seoul, which North Korea sees as constant military provocation and threat to the regime's existence.
Discussion of human rights abuses has been glaringly absent amid all the backslapping, bonhomie and talk of Nobel peace prizes for Trump.
At stake is nothing less than "peace on the Korean Peninsula", or a formal end to the hostilities between North and South Korea that were in theory only temporarily ended by the signing of an armistice by U.S. Army Lt. Gen. William K. Harrison Jr. and North Korean General Nam-il on July 27, 1953, putting an end to the open hostilities of the 1950-1953 Korean War.
But while these are high stakes indeed, one has to ask what "peace" should looks like for the millions of North Koreans murdered by the regime, not to mention their families, or indeed those pressed into forced labor in order to construct many of the bases and facilities used to produce the North's armaments.
Discussion of human rights abuses has been glaringly absent amid all the backslapping, bonhomie and talk of Nobel peace prizes for Trump. U.S. officials, including National Security Adviser John Bolton and Secretary of State Mike Pompeo have both promised economic rewards for North Korea, including private investment from U.S. companies, should North Korea comply with the White House's denuclearization demands.
But according to Human Rights Watch's Asia Advocacy Director John Sifton, human rights must form a central plank of the discussion between Trump and Kim. "Under a 2016 law passed by Congress, the North Korea Sanctions and Policy Enhancement Act, the [U.S.] president is obligated to investigate and sanction people and entities complicit in human rights abuses in North Korea, not just those involved in weapons proliferation and other illicit activities," Sifton said.
The law imposes sanctions and travel limitations on individuals known to be complicit in human rights abuses in North Korea. As Sifton suggests, these may only be lifted in the event of North Korea taking steps to "end weapons proliferation and related activities and addresses human rights — for example, by 'accounting for and repatriating' citizens of other countries who were abducted by North Korea, 'accepting and beginning to abide by internationally recognized standards for the distribution and monitoring of humanitarian aid,' and 'taking verified steps to improve living conditions in its political prison camps.'"
As the world awaits the result of the summit, let's not forget that in the rush for "peace", Kim and the murderous dictatorship he and his forefathers have presided over, is the real winner here. Nuclear brinkmanship appears to have won the day, and in return for bringing North Korea's desolate economy into the global fold, much of the world appears to have fallen for the lie that this summit offers a potential victory for peace.
Alas without the commitments to end, repair and be held accountable for a legacy of abominable human rights abuses, it can be nothing of the sort.
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Editor: David Green