Editor’s Note: Looking for more opinions on where we go after the Hanoi summit? Check out all 80 expert takes on where U.S-North Korea relations go next here.
Leadership in both nations need to continue to pursue diplomacy, especially at the working level. The alternatives are simply too costly. However, a different approach is evidently necessary. The level of importance ascribed to security concerns should go hand-in-hand with human rights concerns. There are some who are concerned that broaching the topic of human rights is too controversial. There are others who are concerned that North Korea will just walk away. This has proven not to be the case as North Korea has hosted family reunions as part of deepening inter-Korean cooperation. In addition, North Korea willingly, with a nudge from the UN Commission of Inquiry, participates in the UN Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which focuses almost entirely on human rights concerns. In the UN and during bilateral negotiations, it is important to remain consistent, which the United States has not been.
The United States should address both security and human-rights concerns starting with baby steps. During bilateral talks, follow up with UPR recommendations from member states. Suggest that rather than trying to pull out of the ICCPR, which the Secretary-General deemed not possible, they should perhaps ratify and implement the Convention Against Torture, the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination, and the International Convention for the Protection of All Persons from Enforced Disappearance.
At the same time, we need to keep our long-term goals in mind and be firm. We live in an increasingly more connected world, where a values-based international society should be what we continue to strive for. The United States should continue to stand up for its values. From the U.S. perspective, this includes sanctions put in place for both security and human rights concerns. Only after hard evidence that North Korea has taken steps to address both security and human-rights issues can the United States reciprocate with sanctions relief. If North Korea fails to take these concrete steps, then this will reveal North Korea’s true intentions.
Rosa Park is the Director of Programs and Editor at the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, where she has worked since 2011. She has conducted interviews with numerous Korea experts and North Korean escapees, including the first interview with Ji Seong-ho after his State of the Union appearance in January 2018.