World News

North Korea Accuses U.S. of Weaponizing Human Rights as Nuclear Talks Stall

Posted November 29, 2018 9:50 a.m. EST

SEOUL, South Korea — North Korea has lashed out at the United States for continuing to press it to improve its human rights record, even with animosities between the two countries having eased so much that President Donald Trump said he and the North’s leader, Kim Jong Un, were “in love.”

North Korean diplomats and the state news media have unleashed blistering attacks on Washington since the U.N. human rights committee adopted a resolution this month condemning North Korea’s “long-standing and ongoing systematic, widespread and gross violations of human rights.” The resolution, similar versions of which have been adopted each year since 2005, is certain to be approved by the 193-member U.N. General Assembly next month.

As it did after the past resolutions, Washington is calling a U.N. Security Council meeting early next month to discuss human rights in North Korea and inviting the United Nations’ top human rights official, Michelle Bachelet, to address the session.

North Korea has invariably denounced such resolutions as attempts to overthrow its political system. But this year, it said the human rights “racket” raised by U.S. diplomats at the United Nations was poisoning the mood for talks on denuclearizing North Korea following the historic summit between Kim and Trump in Singapore in June.

At the Singapore meeting, Kim offered a vague promise to “work toward the complete denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula.” But talks have since stalled, with Washington demanding a full declaration of the North’s nuclear assets for future inspections and the North insisting that Washington first lift sanctions before it takes steps toward denuclearizing.

“Thanks to the peace-loving efforts of the DPRK, the atmosphere of peace and stability has recently settled down in the Korean Peninsula,” Kim Song, the North Korean ambassador to the United Nations, said in a letter to Security Council members, using the acronym of his country’s official name, Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

The letter accused the council of seeking to “stoke confrontation, instead of encouraging and promoting the ongoing positive developments” of talks between the United States and the North.

In the letter, first obtained by The Associated Press this week, Kim urged council members to vote against convening a meeting.

The North’s state-run newspaper, Rodong Sinmun, carried a similarly strident commentary on the issue Monday, denying there were any human rights abuses in the North.

“The reason that the Americans are so obsessed with this absurdity is that they want to sully the image of our republic in order to justify their racket for sanctions and pressure and to extract our concessions in their negotiations with us,” it said.

Concerns about human rights abuses in North Korea have long undermined relations between Pyongyang and Washington.

Over the years, the United Nations and international human rights groups have published numerous reports on the problem, including a 2014 report by a U.N. commission concluding that human rights violations in North Korea amounted to crimes against humanity. In a report last month, Human Rights Watch accused prison guards and other officials in the North of rape and other sexual crimes against women.

In a speech at the South Korean Parliament in November 2017, Trump made among the strongest criticism of any U.S. leader of “the horror of life in North Korea.” He called the country a “cruel dictatorship” and said that “an estimated 100,000 North Koreans suffer in gulags, toiling in forced labor, and enduring torture, starvation, rape and murder on a constant basis.”

Three weeks later, North Korea launched an intercontinental ballistic missile deemed powerful enough to reach the continental United States.

But Trump’s tone has changed dramatically this year, especially after his meeting with Kim in June.

“Well, he is very talented,” Trump said of Kim shortly after meeting with him in Singapore. He said they had discussed human rights “relatively briefly compared to denuclearization.”

The United States has vowed to continue raising concerns about human rights in North Korea, but it also says the priority is denuclearizing the country.

“Our Human Rights Report is very clear about the concerns that we have not just about North Korea but many countries, frankly, around the world and countries that can do a lot better,” Heather Nauert, a State Department spokeswoman, said last month. “Our priority in North Korea, though, right now is denuclearization.”