Trump, Kim summit must address North Korea rights abuses, victims say

By Elizabeth Shim
Trump, Kim summit must address North Korea rights abuses, victims say
Fred Warmbier sits next to Cindy Warmbier as she speaks at a symposium organized by the Japanese mission at the United Nations in New York. The Warmbiers said North Korea used their son as a "political pawn." They recently filed a lawsuit against the North Korean government. Photo by John Angelillo/UPI | License Photo

NEW YORK, May 3 (UPI) -- The much anticipated U.S.-North Korea summit could present a tough test for President Donald Trump on human rights, as anger simmers among families who want answers regarding relatives held in North Korea, some for decades.

Trump, who is planning to meet with North Korea's Kim Jong Un in late May at earliest, has described the regime as "depraved" and a cruel dictatorship.


But more recently Trump has also been paving the way for a friendlier summit with Kim, calling him a man of "honorable intentions."

For the families of U.S. and Japanese victims of North Korea rights violations, the notion of an honorable Kim rang hollow on Thursday, as they relived the memories of loved ones involuntarily detained by Pyongyang.

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Speaking at a symposium organized by the Japanese mission at the United Nations, Fred and Cindy Warmbier, who attended Trump's State of the Union Address in January, said they are still grieving the death of their son Otto 10 months after he was buried in Glendale, Ohio.


North Korea detained Otto in 2016, accusing him of taking down a political banner at his hotel.

The Warmbiers, who recently filed a lawsuit against the North Korean regime, said they kept silent during Otto's imprisonment because they were manipulated by fear.

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Fred Warmbier said the agony of waiting for their son to return home, then having him return in a "body bag," taught the family a lesson about North Korea's methods to control the outside world.

"We were silenced by North Korea. We were afraid to say anything and we lived in fear and fear of what they would do to our son," Fred Warmbier said.

"They used him as a political pawn for as long as they could, and when he was of no value to them, they essentially sent him home to our family in a body bag."

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The experience has taught them lessons, including the importance of speaking out, the family said.

"We woke up and we realized North Korea wants us to lock ourselves in a room and do nothing," Fred Warmbier said. "We think that's a bad idea."

With the lawsuit, the family is "trying to build a pathway that leads directly to Kim and his regime, to force them to be answerable for their actions."


Cindy Warmbier, who witnessed the return of her son in a comatose state, became emotional as she recounted the moment Otto was repatriated without a sufficient North Korean explanation.

Pyongyang had claimed Otto died of botulism.

"He was virtually brain dead at four months of captivity," Cindy said, adding Pyongyang "let him vegetate."

The tragedy is a call to action, she said.

"The only thing we can do is rub their noses in this. It embarrasses them. They don't like the world to think they aren't trying to be a member of the world. They like to act like a victim, like they've been treated poorly."

Family members of Japanese abduction victims at the symposium said they are demanding answers for the missing who were never returned in 2002.

One of the activists told UPI there is little doubt the North Korean government is not being forthright about the eight abductees who were never returned, because they have evidence they are in North Korea.

"We have information they are still alive," the activist said, without providing specific details on how they were able to secure the confirmation.

After North Korea allowed five Japanese abductees to return, it has maintained eight others died and another four were never taken to North Korea.


Takuya Yokota, brother of abducted Megumi Yokota, said the North Korean government presented "false remains" to Tokyo when it put forward the claims of her death.

"How could they be so cruel?" Takuya Yokota said, recalling how her sister was kidnapped when she was only 13 years old.

Koichiro Iizuka, son of kidnapped Yaeko Taguchi, said the North Korean government claimed his mother had died in a car accident.

"The information she was dead is baseless," Iizuka said. "So many contradictions and errors...North Korea has created a fictitious story."

Trump promised Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe to take up the issue of the abduction of Japanese citizens during his planned summit with Kim.

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