At the June 12 summit between U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, human rights must underpin the discussions and any agreement.

By nearly all measures, North Korea is the most repressive country on earth. The United Nations Commission of Inquiry (COI) on Human Rights in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)found in its 2014 report that “systematic, widespread and gross human rights violations have been and are being committed by the [DPRK]. In many instances, the violations found entailed crimes against humanity based on State policies.” North Korea is a totalitarian regime in which there is no freedom of expression, association or religion and in which media is solely state-operated. State control of the economy and the public rationing system of food leave many suffering from hunger and malnutrition, while security forces use arbitrary detention, executions, disappearances and torture to control the population through fear.

“As the United States and North Korea engage in what we hope will be a productive dialogue toward North Korea’s denuclearization, the United States cannot miss this opportunity to exert pressure on the dire human rights situation in North Korea,” said Paul Fagan, Director of Human Rights and Democracy Programs at the McCain Institute. “Respect for human rights is fundamental to our values and to our interests as a nation. The United States must use this summit to emphasize our enduring commitment to human rights, sending a message not simply to North Korea but to nations around the world.”

About the McCain Institute for International Leadership

The McCain Institute, founded in 2012 as part of Arizona State University, is located in the heart of Washington, D.C.  Inspired by the leadership of Senator John McCain and his family’s legacy of public service, the McCain Institute is a non-partisan, do-tank dedicated to advancing character-driven leadership in the U.S. and abroad. The Institute seeks to advance security, economic opportunity, freedom and human dignity. Learn more at


For more on the human rights situation in North Korea, please see past work:

2017 Democracy & Human Rights Working Group Report and Recommendations on North Korea

2018 Interview with North Korean Defector Grace Jo on Human Rights Situation