As next week's Singapore summit rapidly approaches, carrying with it the prospect of Donald Trump and Kim Jong Un greeting each other with warm handshakes and smiles, it's worth remembering that North Korea is the world's worst human rights nightmare.
Kim's capacious cruelty toward his own people cannot be overstated, nor mitigated by his recent diplomatic charm offensive. He is a true totalitarian tyrant.
For North Korea's 26 million people, Kim's regime controls every aspect of life: where they reside, the direction of their lives, how much they can eat. From the earliest age, children are indoctrinated in themes of unconditional obedience to "the dear leader" and a duty to criticize (inform on) others.
For the few who can afford and are allowed them, televisions are registered and their reception is controlled. Telephones are tapped. Mobile phones and computers are blocked from the Internet. For the vast numbers of the less fortunate, there's chronic malnutrition leading to generations of stunted physical development.
All of this is the least of Kim's crimes, according to investigations by the United Nations and, more recently, the International Bar Association.
With the exception of state-sanctioned churches in Pyongyang, Christians are persecuted — at times to the point of death because Kim views religion as a threat to his cult of personality. Pervasive discrimination against women leaves them vulnerable to trafficking, transactional sex and forced abortions — the latter performed in brutal, excruciating ways in prison.
Worse yet are the public executions, torture and "disappearing" reserved for stamping out any shred of political dissent. Entire families vanish because of association with one accused member. Four political camps with shoot-to-kill security hold an estimated 80,000 to 120,000 of these forsaken people who, according to testimony before the U.N. commission, never go home.
They live lives of unremitting misery and starvation, reduced to eating grass, scavenging for crumbs, and vying for the chance to kill vermin for protein. One woman was beaten for picking through cow dung for undigested grain.
The fountainhead of this misery, Kim, is scheduled to sit down with America's president next Tuesday. The harsh reality is that, for now, demands for basic human rights have to take a back seat to efforts to negotiate away the dynastic leader's nuclear weapons.
Even so, this does not mean Trump has to be a smiling, conciliatory pal, ignoring sins for the sake of amity. His embrace of other authoritarian foreign leaders has already produced its share of cringe-worthy moments. If the world sees a beaming Trump patting and praising Kim, the U.S. president will have pandered to a whole new level of evil.
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