Originally published at https://www.justsecurity.org/57643/perilous-peace-koreas/ [Reprinted]
The peace initiatives involving the United States and the two Koreas are rightly welcomed given the long history of conflict and division. There are however certain unspoken realities of this rapprochement that are not receiving the scrutiny they deserve.
It cannot be overlooked that President Donald Trump and his South Korean counterpart Moon Jae-in are striking a deal with one of the most notorious human rights offenders who has been internationally condemned, President Kim Jung-un of North Korea. No one could ever argue with the imperative of denuclearization in the region, nevertheless President Kim and his regime cannot be granted immunity from any criminal or civil accountability for past and continuing human rights’ violations as a result of reaching a settlement at any cost.
There should be no illusions; this is a regime that has murdered and unlawfully detained foreigners including American and Japanese citizens, and terrorized its own population, crushing all internal dissent through the most brutal means. The UN Security Council has on numerous occasions condemned these violations and there have been several calls for the situation to be referred to the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague. Either South and North Korea should take genuine steps as part of any agreement to hold those responsible for these violations to account or an international court like the ICC needs to intervene. It is a very dangerous game to play to be countenancing appalling atrocities in the name of peace and potential unification. The credentials of the Moon government on human rights have already been questioned by the United Nations in the concerns expressed about the trial and arbitrary detention of ousted former President Park Geun-hye. It is widely known as a result of her government’s policies that she should would not have tolerated anything less than justice for the victims of the North Korea regime and would not have struck a deal that foreclosed their rights. With former President Park removed from office and sentenced to 24 years in prison, it is hoped that her absence does not represent an open door to immunise perpetrators in North Korea from criminal and civil responsibility for their unlawful conduct.
President Moon now has a wide berth to interface with the North and to give little if any prominence, at least publicly, to the gross human rights violations committed over decades by the authorities there. Moon’s office released a statement this morning vowing to leave the “dark days of war and conflict behind” to “write a new chapter of peace and cooperation with North Korea.” It is vital that in doing so he does not imperil the rights of all Koreans, whether they are from the North or the South, by seemingly pardoning a rogue regime for past and on-going abuses.