Expert Pitch
University of Alabama at Birmingham

Expert: Human rights should be a focus as North Korea peace talks unfold

Tina Kempin Reuter, Ph.D., is the director of the UAB Institute for Human Rights and associate professor in the Department of Political Science and Public Administration and the Department of Anthropology. She specializes in human rights, peace studies, and international politics.

Reuter's comments on U.S.- North Korea agreement: 

  • Key American values, like freedom of expression and religion, are violated in North Korea on a daily basis. It is unacceptable for the United States, a country that traditionally prides itself as a supporter of human rights, to not even mention North Korea’s human rights record in a diplomatic negotiation. The U.S. has taken on such a central role in developing, shaping, and implementing human rights and has been traditionally known as a supporter of human rights. It is very difficult to see the decline in human rights as a guide of American values and the diminished role of the U.S. as an advocate for human rights today.

  • Traditionally, human rights have been a concern in relation to diplomacy, foreign aid or countries that join the international community on various levels. Human rights were not mentioned at all at the summit. North Korea is one of the most authoritarian states in the world, committing atrocities against its own people on a daily basis. Public executions, arbitrary detention, torture, sexual violence, and forced labor are only among the worst human rights violations that the North Korean government has perpetrated over the years. These human rights violations are most comprehensively in the United Nations Commission of Inquiry report of 2014, which stated the human rights violations in North Korea are systematic, widespread, and rise to the level of crimes against humanity.


  • North Korea has a history of going back and forth on nuclear disarmament, so I don’t see the Singapore Summit as the breakthrough moment. Would it be nice if North Korea disarmed itself and became part of the international community? Yes. However, one of the problems is that we really don’t know that much about North Korea or Kim Jong Un himself, how his government works and what his thoughts are on the meeting. It’s hard to tell how things will unfold. With other countries, the impact of diplomatic negotiations has always been more predictable. North Korea is an enigma. 

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