The Herd

Peace in Korea?

Brian Foisy, Staff Writer

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The news came the morning of Friday April 27th to the United States that, after 65 years of conflict and hostility, the Korean War had finally ended. North Korea and South Korea have both agreed to full denuclearization of the peninsula. It was a shocking moment when North Korean leader Kim Jong Un and South Korean president Moon Jae-in met in the demilitarized zone, the border between their two countries. The two shook hands over one of the most controversial and restrictive borders in the world. “We, who live so close by, are not enemies that must fight against each other, but are more families that share the same bloodline, who must unite,” said Jong Un after the historic meeting. While Kim Jong Un has tantalized the international community with the prospect of bringing peace to the Korean peninsula, one cannot disregard the country’s questionable human rights record. As the organization Human Rights Watch states, “North Korea is one of the most repressive authoritarian states in the world.”

The nation is widely known to have brutal prison camps. Political enemies of the state and leader are held in political camps. It’s estimated there are 200,000 prisoners in these camps. The prisoners are subject to hard agricultural and mining labor, and are given very little food. Around 40% of all prisoners die from malnourishment. There are also camps known as reeducation facilities. This is were citizens of North Korea are most likely to be imprisoned. Those targeted by the state are tortured and brainwashed into false confessions, following that they are given a rigged show trial, and most end up with a long term sentence. As a result of the conditions of these prisons, many will not survive their sentences. There are two Americans currently imprisoned in North Korea.

All citizens of North Korea are subject to censorship and a corrupt justice system, but specifically women are marginalized and discriminated against. Gender based discrimination starts in childhood. Women are far less likely to receive a job, attend a university, or to serve in the military.When a woman’s husband or relative is imprisoned by the state, more often that not she will be imprisoned in one of the reeducation facilities. Women are subject to rape, and other sexual abuses at the hands of state officials. In some cases, women have been transported from prison camps and then into forced marriages in China.

During the country’s now terminated missile program, the military terrorized its neighbors with threats of a nuclear attack. In 2017 they carried out 16 missile tests and 6 nuclear missile tests. Of all nations targeted by North Korea, Japan has bore the majority of threats.  Japanese president Shinzo Abe described his country’s relationship with North Korea as the “most severe security environment since World War II.” North Korea has a history of attacks on Japan and their people. Between 1977 and 1983, North Korean agents kidnapped Japanese citizens from coastal areas. Japan currently confirms that 17 were captured, while North Korea only acknowledges 13; however, there may have been hundreds. Some captees were brought to spy schools in North Korea and forced to teach the Japanese language and culture to the North Korean spies. Many others were murdered just for their identities, which were used as covers for the spies. This could have been standard practice for North Korea, as there are numerous accounts of kidnappings occurring in both Japan and Europe.

The actions of North Korea are omnipresent to politicians and dignitaries, and recently their nature to North Korea forgoes the horrors they’ve committed. Kim Jong Un sees this denuclearization as an opportunity to receive a get out of jail free card. President Trump seems keen to take him up on this offer. This is his place to claim his administration’s first major foreign policy victory, but to welcome Kim Jong Un is to also welcome his policies. There cannot be serious reform in the peninsula without serious repercussions for North Korea’s atrocities. Normalizing relations before forcing North Korea to acknowledge and reconcile their actions is, in itself, an atrocity.

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Peace in Korea?