People cherish the words human rights and peace. We want a peaceful life in which people are free from war and conflict. In addition, we want to live a life in which the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of the people are respected. Wars deprive people of their only lives and destroy their precious assets. So, how can we achieve a peaceful life for all human beings? One of the answers to this question lies in guaranteeing people's human rights. Undoubtedly, the most important actors in the human political community are individual human beings. These individual human beings come together and form a variety of human communities, and it is impossible to imagine a human community without taking into consideration individual human beings.
What is meant by ‘human rights’? There can be numerous definitions of human rights. In general, human rights cover the basic freedoms of individual human beings and the equality of such freedoms among all human beings. This kind of view of human rights was originally put forward by John Locke, a liberal thinker in the late 17th century, when European societies were under the control of despotic political systems. The Lockean view of human rights is characterized as liberty-centric. Today, we tend to take it for granted that society is governed by means of liberal political systems. Karl Marx provided an alternative view of human rights. Marx contended that human beings were social beings, and they should be guaranteed the basic needs for a decent standard of living equally. Marx argued that only then could people enjoy genuine freedom of all kinds. Today, we call Marx’s view of human rights social rights-centric. Throughout the twentieth century, we have witnessed the rise of numerous socialist regimes, including in North Korea.
For a long time in the twentieth century, human society was divided into liberal democratic and socialist blocs. The Korean War in June 1950 was a kind of proxy war between these two ideological blocs. The fall of the Berlin Wall in November 1989, as Francis Fukuyama pointed out, symbolized the triumph of liberal democracy. Consequently, the collapse of the socialist bloc weakened the rationale of the Marxian view of human rights. Today, there is a consensus that both the rights to liberty and social rights should be simultaneously guaranteed.
Around the end of World War II, the importance of human rights for the peace of human society was emphasized by human rights activists during the process of drafting the United Nations Charter, while the political leaders of the great powers took little interest in it. The human rights activists were successful in making their case by pointing out the fact that Adolf Hitler was first responsible for the Holocaust and then started the war. Thus, they successfully claimed that a human rights clause must be incorporated into the United Nations Charter if the UN was being established for the purpose of world peace for future generations. Today, human rights is one of the three pillars of the UN system together with peace and security, and development.
As a matter of fact, North Korea’s development of weapons of mass destruction, including nuclear weapons and long-range missiles, is causing serious concern among Korean people as well as humankind as a whole. People are aware of the strenuous efforts being made by the political leaders of the major countries concerned about the Korean peninsula, including South Korea, the United States, and North Korea. In particular, South Korea’s President Moon Jae-in and North Korea’s Chairman Kim Jong Un attended a summit at Panmunjom on April 27, 2018.
Subsequently, US President Donald Trump and North Korea’s Chairman Kim also held a historic summit in Singapore on June 12, 2018. People paid close attention to these significant events in the hope that they might be able to bring about a peaceful solution to the question of North Korea’s nuclear armaments. Nevertheless, it is undeniable that the author of this article cannot dissipate his pessimism regarding the long-term prospects of these efforts surrounding North Korea’s nuclear weapons. The main reason is that these meetings are not taking seriously the issue of poor human rights in North Korea. Of course, we should deal with things one by one.
However, it is necessary to understand the main reasons for North Korea clinging on to weapons of mass destruction so desperately. It is the Kim dynasty’s long-standing suppression of the basic freedoms and fundamental rights of the North Korean people ever since its establishment in September 1948. Thus, the successive Kim regimes continue to possess powerful weapons to protect themselves from adversaries both inside and outside the country.
This is the fundamental difficulty that needs to be overcome in order to negotiate a solution to the threat posed by North Korea’s weapons of mass destruction. A fundamental solution to the issue of North Korea’s nuclear weapons can only be expected once the human rights situation in North Korea has improved. Thus, it is important for us to understand that respecting basic freedoms and fundamental rights, i.e., human rights, is the precondition for an eternal peace on the Korean peninsula as well as in the world as a whole.
Young-Dahl Oh (Professor, Department of Political Science and Diplomacy)
충대포스트 The Chungdae Post
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