Two days after the U.S.-North Korea Summit in Singapore, media reports indicate that while President Trump did privately address human rights violations with North Korea’s Kim Jong Un, no formal agreement was made. The formal document Trump and Kim signed centered on denuclearization on the peninsula and the ending of U.S. military exercises in South Korea.
However, Trump did say that human rights was one of the “primary topics” of the meeting between him and the North Korean dictator. During Trump’s news conference following the summit, ABC News’ Jon Karl asked him if he still believes what he said during his State of the Union address–that North Korea has more brutally oppressed its people than any other regime on earth.
“I believe it’s a rough situation over there, there’s no question about it, and we did discuss it today pretty strongly,” Trump told Karl. “I mean knowing what the main purpose of what we were doing is–de-nuking–but discussed it in pretty good length. We’ll be doing something on it. It’s rough … and we will continue that, and I think ultimately we will agree to something. But it was discussed at length. Outside of the nuclear situation, one of the primary topics.”
The White House released a joint statement from Trump and Kim detailing the commitments the two leaders made to each other during the summit in hopes of developing lasting relations between the two countries. Missing from the statement was any reference to North Korea’s alleged human rights crimes.
After the meeting, Trump made a cryptic statement that many North Koreans currently being held in forced-labor camps (an estimated 250,000) were “one of the great winners today.” He did not elaborate.
Glimmers of Hope
In response to Trump’s statement that human rights atrocities were a significant part of the conversation, Open Doors CEO David Curry called the President’s decision to address the issue “diplomatically bold.”
“We are particularly glad to hear the President say he brought up the plight of the more than 300,000 Christians who face persecution and even death under the regime of Kim Jong Un. I hold out hope that human rights and denuclearization in North Korea need not be mutually exclusive endeavors.
“For this reason, we are prayerfully and cautiously optimistic for our fellow Christians in North Korea, for whom there is now at least a glimmer of hope that did not exist before President Donald Trump’s meeting with the dictator.”
Brother Simon, leader of Open Doors’ North Korea ministry, weighs in on the landmark meeting, agreeing with Curry that ridding the country of nuclear weapons must also come with the relief of suffering.
“We have to pray and advocate for the human rights situation not to be neglected,” he says. “A peace treaty and nuclear disarmament would be great outcomes, but that can’t happen without addressing the situation of the people in prisons and labor camps and people who have to hide their faith in Jesus Christ.”
Prison Camp Survivors Call for Transparency
Open Doors ministry partners also talked with North Korean believers who have escaped the country, asking them to share their perspective of the summit’s outcome. Each has experienced devastation under the Kim regime firsthand, and each warns about the capabilities of the Kim leaders.
Hea Woo* The North Korean, now a grandmother living in South Korea, spent several years in a North Korean labor camp after watching her daughter die from starvation and learning her husband was killed for his faith in a prison camp. She is skeptical of Kim’s motives but is also quick to point to God’s omnipotence.
“We should be careful not to be deceived,” she says. “I’ve lived in North Korea, and I know how horrible the Kim leaders are. The Kim’s family will not really change so all of a sudden. But it is possible that God transforms people through His power. Let’s pray that if North Korea has any dark plans, that they will be revealed.”
Young Sook* The husband of Young Sook also died in prison, and she herself barely survived. She now lives in South Korea and prepares other North Korea refugees to one day return. She speaks with uncommon transparency:
“To be honest, I watched the Summit between Kim and Trump with very deep resentment,” she says. “How many innocent people have died because of the development of the nuclear weapons they are talking about now? So far, none of the leaders of North Korea have really taken care of their people. They let them starve to death. Why? Because they don’t want to give up those nuclear weapons. Now he wants to give up those weapons? Maybe, but he will only give them up if his survival is guaranteed. Yet how long can his regime stay in power after his country opens the door?”
Young Sook says she wants to see repentance from the Kim regime.
“Kim Jong Un should confess what he and his regime have done,” she says. “He should open the doors of the political camps and kneel down to apologize to those who have suffered due to its regime. The lives of North Korean citizens are just as important as Kim Jong Un’s life.”
John Choi* A Christian and human rights advocate now living in the UK, Choi was 15 when he was arrested and sent to a detention center. He is hopeful economic advancement in the county will pave the way for more freedom for the people of North Korea, freedom of thought, opportunity and religion.
“I think this is likely to take 25 to 30 years, but I also hope in light of Trump’s comments today it will be much quicker than that. Hopefully, denuclearization will lead to more money available to feed the everyday citizens of North Korea and provide them with a better life.”
Choi reminds us that the Summit is the beginning of the process. The first steps have been taken.
“President Trump said that the human rights issues are a continuing process. I am glad it is now on the agenda. But Kim Jong Un has to be committed to it too.” He points out that Kim has yet to refer to the prison camps or religious freedom. “This is an ongoing process and I will continue to advocate and pray for it.”
1,300 Religious-Freedom Violations in 2017
Meanwhile, North Korea reportedly appears to be upgrading its longstanding neighborhood-watch system, or ‘inminban,’’ whereby every North Korean is called upon to report on any criminal activity or political disobedience that they see. According to the South Korea-based news service Daily NK, inminban leaders now receive special rations in return, while in some places, like the capital Pyongyang, they have the authority to expel families who have engaged in illegal activities.
According to the US State Department’s International Religious Freedom Report for 2017, there were more than 1,300 religious-freedom violations in North Korea last year.
In December three jurists called on the International Criminal Court to establish a special tribunal to prosecute North Korea’s leader and his top officials for committing “crimes against humanity.”
Continue to Pray for relief and strength
Open Doors’ Curry says that responding to and alleviating these injustices is a global responsibility.
“America and its allies—indeed the entire world—must not shy away from our moral mandate to call Kim Jong Un to task for his litany of human rights abuses—especially his imprisonment, torture and execution of Christians whose only crime was to dare to express any beliefs other than those approved by the Communist regime.
“The people of North Korea continue to deserve our vocal, prayerful and relentless support.”
The recent U.S.-North Korea Summit gave the Body of Christ the opportunity to focus our prayers on the North Korean people, including the underground church of an estimated 300,000 believers. Please continue to pray for relief and strength for our persecuted family to stand strong in the face of such brutal discrimination and mistreatment.
For the 17th consecutive year, North Korea is the No. 1 most dangerous place to be a Christian, according to the Open Doors World Watch List. #pray4NK
*All names are pseudonyms for security reasons.