With now over $2 billion in campaign money spent and election day upon us, both President Obama and Governor Romney have been disturbingly silent about one of the most urgent humanitarian and security emergencies the United States and the world faces today: North Korea.

While legitimate alarm about Iran’s progress toward attaining a nuclear weapon has dominated much of the foreign policy debate, North Korea’s possession of up to 18 plutonium bombs, aggressive pursuit of new nuclear technology and capabilities including the enrichment of uranium, persistent nuclear and missile tests in defiance of international law and multiple UN Security Council resolutions, and role as the world’s number one nuclear weapons technology proliferator (most of which has gone to rogue regimes such as the dictatorships in Iran and Syria) is a subject which has been almost completely untouched by either campaign.

According to a recent report from The Institute for Science and International Security, North Korea, if not stopped, will have built up to 48 nuclear weapons by 2015.

Like Tehran, the leaders in Pyongyang have regularly called for the annihilation of one of America’s closest allies, in this case South Korea. Beyond the genocidal rhetoric, the DPRK has a long history of routinely killing and/or abducting South Koreans. In March 2010 an unprovoked attack resulted in the sinking of a South Korean navy ship, killing 46 sailors, and in November of the same year another unprovoked attack, this time on South Korean territory, resulted in the death of four innocent Koreans; both cases were referred to the International Criminal Court for possible war crimes yet have essentially gone unpunished.

But most troubling of all, the North Korean regime is actively committing mass atrocities at this very moment within its prison camp system, where up to 250,000 innocents, one-third of whom are children, are currently being forced to do slave labor on starvation rations and are commonly subjected to systematic and heinous torture, rape and execution.

Numerous reports over the last decade, including from the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, have analyzed a growing body of defector testimony and come to the conclusion that crimes against humanity as defined by the Rome Statute of the International Criminal Court are taking place in these camps, year after year, with impunity. North Korea’s exploitative and discriminatory food policy, which has been the primary cause of as many as four million deaths since the mid- 1990s, has also been determined to be a crime against humanity.

In addition, the DPRK regime is actively targeting for destruction every group which is protected under the UN Genocide Convention through its policy of killing the half-Chinese children of North Korean women forcibly repatriated by China (constituting genocide on national, ethnical and racial grounds) and through its systematic annihilation of its indigenous religious population and their families (genocide on religious grounds) while regularly employing each of the five acts defined as genocidal by the Genocide Convention through (a) executions and state-sanctioned murders, (b) the systematic use of torture, (c) state-induced mass starvation in political prison camps and elsewhere, (d) forcible abortions and infanticide and (e) the forcible transfer and enslavement of children.

Genocide Watch, a respected non-partisan NGO which exists “to predict, prevent, stop, and punish genocide” and whose board of advisers includes admirable anti-genocide activists such as Lt.-Gen.

Romeo Dallaire and Samantha Power, published a report on December 19 of last year which found conclusively that North Korea has indeed committed genocide as defined in Raphael Lemkin’s 1948 Convention, stating that there is “ample proof that genocide has been committed and mass killing is still under way in North Korea.”

Nowhere has US foreign policy failed more explicitly and at such a profound cost than in North Korea. America’s altogether unethical approach over the past two decades has been to remain silent about North Korea’s human rights crimes, in spite of the fact that they are tantamount to genocide and crimes against humanity under international law, in an attempt to gain leverage in negotiations with North Korea about its nuclear program. This approach has won neither peace nor security for the US and its allies but, on the contrary, only served to embolden a genocidal regime numerous studies indicate has been able to misappropriate vast resources for nuclear development with aid provided by the United States; some of which was attained through agreements that North Korea reneged on and the rest procured through the diversion of aid intended for starving populations.

If the US would have stopped playing North Korea’s game and properly addressed the human rights emergency 10 years ago, by which time evidence of crimes against humanity in North Korea had already become exhaustive and well-known throughout the US foreign policy establishment, not only would America, her allies, and the world be much safer today, countless lives in North Korea could have been saved.

In 2006, the late Czech president Vaclav Havel, Nobel Laureate Elie Wiesel and former Norwegian Prime Minister Kjell Magne Bondevik commissioned a report which called for the UN Security Council to adopt a resolution urging open access to North Korea for humanitarian relief and for the release of political prisoners.

Again, in 2009, former UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea Vitit Muntarbhorn urged for the “totality of the United Nations system, especially the Security Council,” to be authorized “to take measures to prevent egregious violations and protect people from victimization.”

The United States has yet to even bring this burning issue before the Security Council, or North Korea for that matter. The time is now for a fundamental shift in US policy on North Korea to prioritize the lives, basic freedoms and human rights of the North Korean people.

The writer is a founding member of the Worldwide Coalition to Stop Genocide in North Korea, a non-profit working to provide life-saving resources to victims and their families within North Korea.

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