United Nations rapporteur Tomas Ojea Quintana says Seoul and Washingon are "losing sight" of the important issue of human rights in North Korea. (Photo: AFP/Ed Jones)

SEOUL - AFP
North Korea talks sidelining human rights: UN rapporteur

The North Korean talks process with the United States and South Korea is sidelining the human rights of Pyongyang's oppressed citizens, the United Nations's top official on the issue said Monday (Jul 9).

In a whirlwind of diplomacy, the leader of the isolated, nuclear-armed North Kim Jong Un held an unprecedented summit with US President Donald Trump in Singapore last month, after two earlier meetings with the South's Moon Jae-in.

It is a marked contrast to the mutual threats and mounting fears of last year, instead raising hopes of reaching a deal over North Korea's arsenal, which include nuclear bombs and missiles capable of reaching the US mainland.

But Pyongyang remains accused by many - including the UN - of a litany of rights abuses against its population.

Neither the joint statement issued by Trump and Kim in Singapore, nor the earlier Panmunjom Declaration signed by Kim and Moon, mentioned the issue of human rights.

"It seems that those who are negotiating are losing sight of this important thing, which is would this process benefit at the end the people living in North Korea," said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the United Nations' Special Rapporteur on human rights in the North.

Instead Washington and Seoul were prioritising their own concerns, he said.

"In principle the interests that the president of the United States has shown is that they want to denuclearise North Korea so their territory is not in danger, and that of course is something that has to do with their own interests," Ojea Quintana told AFP in Seoul.

"I'm still trying to understand to what extent human rights was raised" by Trump in Singapore, the Argentinian lawyer added.

"It seems that it was not comprehensively addressed."

In the Singapore statement, Kim signed up to a vague commitment to work towards "complete denuclearisation of the Korean Peninsula", but Pyongyang has long seen that as a lengthy process of undefined multilateral disarmament, rather than a unilateral dismantling of its own weapons.

Secretary of State Mike Pompeo was in Pyongyang at the weekend to try to flesh out the process, only for the North to warn that it was being jeopardised by overbearing "gangster-like" US demands.

Pompeo shrugged off the accusations, insisting the talks were being conducted in "good faith" and making progress, and adding sanctions would only be lifted with "final" denuclearisation.

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