Calling for Freedom in North Korea

Some 500 people gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol to rally for the Freedom and Human Rights of North Koreans, April 28, 2004. Organized by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, the rally featured speakers from several religious liberty groups, congress and defectors from North Korea.

“North Korea is ground zero for some of the world’s worst human rights abuses,” said Nina Shea, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, during the rally.

North Korea is listed as a premier violator of Universal Human rights by several sources, including the USCIRF. More than 4 million North Koreans have died from starvation since 1995, although North Korea is the world’s leading recipient of food aid, and the dictator Kim Jong Il reportedly uses starvation as a means for ethnic cleansing.

The North Korea Freedom Coaltion listed several crimes against humanity committed by the North Korean government, including:

· More than 200,000 prisoners held in just 5 of the 12 prison camps of North Korea, a nation of less than 20 million people.

· In the last three decades more than 400,000 people are believed to have perished in the gulag.

o Use of systematic torture, arbitrary and brutal imprisonment, extreme deprivation and starvation and intense forced labor in the Gulag.

· No due process for prisoners, arbitrary public execution and punishment that extends up to 3 generations for the accusations against 1 family member.

· Imprisonment or execution of anyone who attempts to defect to South Korea, or who has had contact with South Korean Christian or political groups.

According to John Hanford, the State Department’s ambassador at large for religious freedom, “Religious freedom is not just severely violated in North Korea. It does not exist at all.”

Hartford explained that North Korea “is on a rogue’s list of the worst of the worst shared with only five other nations.”

“And indeed I believe it’s fair to say that North Korea is the very worst,” continued Hartford.

The main goals of the rally were to garner attention to the problem in North Korea and to gather support for the North Korea Freedom Act, which would allow North Koreans the freedom to leave the communist country if they desire to.

“Once this North Korea Freedom Act passes, the people of North Korea will leave Kim Jong Il, and they will find their ways to Russia, to China and to any other countries that will accept them,” said An Hyuk, one of 20 North Korean defectors at the rally. “They will leave the dictator… the bill will give hope and dreams to the people suffering under the regime of North Korea.”

Richard Land, the president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Council of the Southern Baptist Convention, called for the “complete cessation of all aid to North Korea by the United States until the fair distribution of that aid can be monitored and assured,” in a statement read at the rally.

“I for one am not interested in trading the lives of millions of North Koreans for a worthless commitment by Kim Jong Il to dismantle his nuclear weapons. We should not allow this gangster dictator to hold his nuclear missiles over our heads in order to extort our continued support for his poisonous regime,” said Land.

“Kim Jong Il, free your people, feed your people, care for your people, and the world will rush to your aid. Until then, we cannot, we must not, we will not enrich you further while your people starve and suffer,” he continued.

The North Korean Freedom Coalition explicitly called on the U.S. government to cease the offering of humanitarian aid in exchange for stop to the nation’s nuclear arms program.

Land agreed in a statement released after the rally, saying that all aid must be stopped until the dictator Kim Jong Il changes his ways.

“I further call for a complete cessation of all aid to North Korea by the United States until the fair distribution of that aid can be monitored and assured,” said Land. “North Korea receives more food aid than any other nation on the earth, and yet millions are going hungry. I for one am not interested in trading the lives of millions of North Koreans for a worthless commitment by Kim Jong II to dismantle his nuclear weapons.

“We should not allow this gangster dictator to hold his nuclear missiles over our heads in order to extort our continued support for his poisonous regime.” Land then issued this challenge: “Kim Jong II, free your people, feed your people, care for your people, and the world will rush to your aid. Until then, we cannot, we must not, we will not enrich you further while your people starve and suffer.”

In addition to the ERLC, several other Christian groups, including the Christian Coalition, Korean Association of Church Communication, Concerned Women for America, Institute for North Korea Missions Strategy, National Association of Evangelicals and the Salvation Army, supported the event.

The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 can be viewed online at:

http://nkfreedom.org/resources/NKHRA_introduction_version.pdf