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Lawmakers Urging Trump to Sign North Korea Human Rights Legislation

American student Otto Warmbier is escorted at the Supreme Court in Pyongyang, North Korea, on March 16, 2016. (AP Photo/Jon Chol Jin)

WASHINGTON — As the Trump administration is continuing nuclear talks with North Korea this week, Congress sent legislation to the president’s desk last week reauthorizing a 2004 law promoting human rights and freedom in the communist country.

“Addressing the human rights nightmare in North Korea must be a top priority,” House Foreign Affairs Committee Chairman Ed Royce (R-Calif.) said Wednesday. “Even if Kim denuclearizes, the North will never see meaningful investment so long as regime gulags remain open and brazen killings continue. A lasting deal will require real improvements for the North Korean people.”

“That’s why this bill updates critical programs to help North Koreans access basic news and information,” he added. “I look forward to the president signing this measure, and hope it will prompt the Moon administration in the South to change course. Seoul’s recent efforts to silence North Korean human rights advocates are counterproductive and deeply disturbing.”

The bill, authored by Rep. Ileana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.) and Sen. Marco Rubio (R-Fla.), passed 415-0 in the House last September and by unanimous consent in the Senate this April.

“The Kim regime’s despicable treatment of the North Korean people should not and must not be ignored,” Ros-Lehtinen said. “North Koreans suffer from some of the worst human rights abuses imaginable, including the starvation and torture of political opponents, and this brutal and dangerous behavior must be taken into account during any negotiation.”

“In its pursuit of a landmark deal with Pyongyang, the administration may allow human rights to fall on the priority list, but with Congress sending this bill to the President’s desk, we have demonstrated that we will not allow human rights conditions in North Korea to go ignored,” she added. “Congress has a long history of shining a light on North Korean abuses and promoting the work of human rights in that nation. These issues must not ignored or dealt with separately and any deal that is reached must include a substantial human rights component.”

The bill continues activities to promote human rights and democracy in North Korea, refugee protection, and freedom of information directed at North Koreans including broadcasting. It requires a report by a U.S. Special Envoy on North Korean Human Rights Issues, and requires increased transparency on humanitarian assistance provided to North Korea.

Rubio said the bipartisan bill “makes clear our commitment to prioritizing and defending human rights in North Korea and I look forward to President Trump signing it into law soon.”

“In the weeks ahead, it is critical that the United States hold the North Korean regime accountable for its abuses, including its extensive political prison camps, and engaging in abductions, torture, forced starvation, and sexual violence against women,” he said.

After his Singapore summit last month with dictator Kim Jong-un, Trump was asked by Fox News about the regime’s human rights abuses. “Yeah, but so have a lot of other people have done some really bad things,” Trump said, adding, “I mean, I could go through a lot of nations where a lot of bad things were done.”