In the Philippines, Rodrigo Duterte is waging a deadly war on drug users. In Russia, Putin is restricting the citizens’ freedom of expression. In The Democratic People’s of Korea, Kim Jong-Un is holding tens of thousands of political enemies in prison camps.
Donald Trump must respond to human rights violations like these as a part of his new job as President of the United States.
For years, presidents have punished leaders that violate human rights. Barack Obama did so through refusing to talk with Kim and Obama and George Bush have placed sanctions on countries that violate human rights as a way of isolating those countries from the U.S. However, Trump has taken the opposite approach — he wants to meet with them.
Although Trump is not wrong in wanting to sit down with these leaders, he must first reshape his view on who they are. Some of the words Trump has used to describe leaders who regularly violate human rights are “strong,” and “smart.” But a 2014 United Nations report found that North Korea holds an estimated 80,000 and 120,000 people in large prison camps. According to Michael Kirby, who crafted the report, the atrocities of the camps—murder, enslavement, torture—are “strikingly similar to those of the Nazis.
In 2013, Human Rights Watch (HRW) reported that Russia had “unleashed a crackdown on civil society unprecedented in the country’s post-Soviet history” through restrictive laws, harassment and imprisonment of political activists, and interference with the work of NGOs.
Rodrigo Duterte’s unlawful killings of drug users and dealers has resulted in 7,000 deaths since he took office in June 2016 according to HRW.
Trump must recognize that he is the president of a country that champions democracy and human rights. Support for human rights is bipartisan. While Republican Nikki Haley defends them in U.N. Security Council meeting on one day, Democratic Senator Elizabeth Warren may support them at a Human Rights campaign dinner the next day.
However, in Trump’s talks with foreign leaders, human rights discussions are often dropped. While Trump has not met with Duterte, he did talk with him over the phone on May 23, and according to a released transcript of that phone call, Trump congratulated Duterte on his “unbelievable work with drugs.”
As the leader of a country that leads the effort to improve human rights conditions around the world, Trump must encourage these leaders to better their treatment of their citizens and their human rights. And when discussing leaders who violate human rights in speeches or on Twitter, he should be condemning them, not praising them.
Many argue that Trump should not meet with these leaders at all.
But although Kim Jong-Un is violating human rights, he is also on the verge of developing a missile that can deliver a nuclear weapon to the U.S. mainland.
A U.S spokesperson said on May 23, that if nothing is done, it is “inevitable” that Kim will develop such capabilities. If Trump is offered a meeting with Kim, he would have a chance to discuss those tensions and negotiate with him.
And while it seems unlikely that the U.S. could reach an agreement with Kim, Kim has said he is willing to end the hostility between the two countries.
In a February 2016 meeting with former U.S. officials, North Korean senior representatives said Kim wanted to resume negotiations in hopes of ending decades of hostility.
The U.S. government has also made agreements with its enemies in the past. During the Cold War, the U.S. reached the the Test Ban Treaty of 1963 with the Soviet Union, which prohibited nuclear weapons tests “or any other nuclear explosion” in the atmosphere or underwater. And while Obama never actually met with Kim, he made clear that refusing to meet with Kim and leaders like him, is not the best diplomatic policy.
Obama said in the 2008 presidential debates that “the notion that somehow not talking to countries is punishment to them — which has been the guiding diplomatic principle of [The Bush] administration — is ridiculous.”
Talks between Trump and Putin could also improve relations between the U.S. and Russia. Russia’s foreign ministry said “It’s clear Russian-US relations have never been so difficult since the end of Cold War.”
Trump said relations have reached an “all time low.”
A meeting with Russia could improve the severed relations between our two countries, and improved relations usually mean advanced U.S security and prosperity. At the beginning of the Obama administration, talks between the U.S. and Russia resulted in agreements like the New START agreement, which reduced the number of nuclear weapons allowed in U.S. and Russian arsenals by 30 percent. We also helped Russia gain membership to the World Trade Organization, which helped increase trade and investment between our countries.
Americans reacted enthusiastically to all these deals, with over 60 percent of Americans expressing positive feelings about Russia in a 2010 Pew Research Study. That was all before disagreements about how to deal with revolutions in Egypt, Libya and Syria scarred our relations to a degree that we have since not recovered from.
On April 30, Putin said that he was “ready” for a meeting with Trump. A meeting between the two leaders could jumpstart improvements, as well as joint action on issues like North Korea, terrorism and reducing nuclear weapons.
While there are concerns about the President of the United States meeting notorious human rights violators like Un, Dutarte or Putin, Trump’s meeting could result in improved human rights and reduce nuclear tensions. Using the silent treatment however, given the current situation, should not be an option.