President Donald Trump said the roughly 100,000 political prisoners in North Korea are going to be “the great winners” of his historic summit with dictator Kim Jong Un.
Asked during a Tuesday news conference whether he betrayed the prisoners by legitimizing Kim’s regime with their meeting, Trump said no, adding: “I think I’ve helped them.”
“Not much I can do right now. At a certain point, I really believe he’s going to do things about it. I think they are one of the great winners today, that large group of people that you’re talking about. I think, ultimately, they’re going to be one of the great winners as a group,” the US President said.
The North Korean government has a long history of abusive practices and human rights violations, something the State Department highlighted just last month.
“For more than 60 years, the people of North Korea have faced egregious human rights violations in virtually every aspect of life,” State Department spokesperson Heather Nauert said in a May statement.
“In addition to the roughly 100,000 individuals, including children and family members of the accused, who suffer in political prison camps, North Koreans face an almost complete denial of fundamental freedoms by their government. Those trying to flee this oppressive environment, if caught, are often tortured or killed,” she added.
The 100,000 prisoners are held in gulags known as “kwanliso” in Korean, where detainees are subjected to forced labor, torture, starvation, rape and death. Pyongyang officially denies that the camps exist, but multiple human rights groups have documented their ongoing operation via survivor testimony and satellite imagery.
Trump said he raised human rights issues during his meeting with the North Korean dictator, but when pressed about his comments about Kim’s brutal tactics, Trump praised the North Korean leaders’ ability to run a country at a young age.
“He is very talented,” Trump said, citing Kim’s ability to “take over a situation like he did at 26 years of age and run it, and run it tough.”
Kim assumed power after his father Kim Jong Il, also a brutal dictator, died in 2011.
CNN’s James Griffiths and Kevin Liptak contributed to this report.