WASHINGTON – Freedom in North Korea does not depend on U.S. President Barack Obama, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon, or Korean President Lee Myung-bak. The fate of North Korea depends on the courage of Korean-Americans, said an expert on international religious liberty.
Michael J. Horowitz, director of Hudson Institute's Project for Civil Justice Reform and Project for International Religious Liberty, challenged more than 100 Korean-American Christians on Tuesday at a press conference to speak out for North Koreans and remember that politicians work for them.
"When you are silent as you have been, … when you do not speak out … you're sending a signal to the politicians that they can continue to do nothing," said Horowitz, "that they can speak out not one word about human rights in North Korea and you'll be happy."
Horowitz urged Korean-Americans to not stop at only praying for God to free North Koreans, but to also pray that God can give them courage to take action.
North Korea is arguably the world's worst human rights violator. Authorities throw their own citizens into hard labor camps if they criticize the government or if they worship a god besides the official state religion that revolves around leader Kim Jong-il and his deceased father.
One of the worst crimes in North Korea is to be a Christian, which could result in punishments ranging from hard labor camp sentences to public execution.
For eight straight years, Open Doors has ranked North Korea as the world's top persecutor of Christians on its World Watch List. An estimated 40,000 to 60,000 Christians are currently in prison labor camps because of their faith.
The U.S. envoy for human rights in North Korea, Robert King, has described the human rights situation in North Korea as "appalling."
"To improve relations between the U.S. and North Korea will have to involve a greater respect for human rights by North Korea," stated King in Seoul in January. "That's one of the important conditions."
Unfortunately, U.S. foreign policy is a "disgrace" that fails to make human rights a priority and also risks war on the Korean peninsula, Horowitz – who worked under the Reagan administration – lamented. The U.S. policy, he said, offers the North Korean regime money if it stops building weapons and offers to make it a "legitimate" country if it does not use its weapons.
Similarly, the United Nation's Ban Ki-moon, a South Korean, is also a "disgrace" because the U.N. general-secretary speaks about human rights everywhere but North Korea, Horowitz pointed out. Ban does not uphold U.N. treaties voluntarily signed by China and North Korea that protect the human rights of North Koreans, he said.
"He (Ban Ki-moon) bows to China and says nothing," the policy expert said. "[But] you have the power to put pressure on him. He's a Korean and you are Korean-Americans. Tell him he's being disgraceful. Go to Congress and say 'give less money to the United Nations unless Ban Ki-moon starts speaking out for North Korean refugees.'"
At least 500,000 North Koreans are believed to have crossed the border over to China in the past 10 years. More than 10,000 North Koreans now reside in South Korea, and an estimated 40,000 North Koreans live in third countries such as China.
The U.N. Special Rapporteur on North Korea has declared that North Koreans who flee to China are "refugees" and should be protected. But the Chinese government considers them illegal economic migrants and regularly repatriates them back to North Korea where they face certain torture or death at the hands of their government.
It is a state crime for citizens to leave North Korea without permission.
The Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, which organized the press conference and the "Speak on Behalf of the Voiceless" campaign, has started a movement among Korean-Americans, especially the youth, to speak out for North Korean refugees and orphans.
KCC arranged for 70 Korean-American teenagers from across the country to come to Washington, D.C., this week for a two-day advocacy campaign that includes a White House prayer vigil, a U.S. capitol prayer rally, and a congressional office visit.
The press conference on Tuesday was the launch event of the KCC advocacy activity in Washington, D.C.
"If we know what is going on [in North Korea] and we choose to do nothing, then we become morally culpable," said Dr. Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Convention's Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, on Tuesday. "We become complicit."
Other speakers on Tuesday included the Rev. Kwang Sun Rhee, president of the Christian Council of Korea from South Korea; Dr. Scott Flipse, senior policy analyst at the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, and Congressman Ed Royce (R-Calif.).
"If North Korea is not free it will not be the fault of the politicians," started Horowitz. "It will be your fault because you have not been your brothers' keepers. Democracy is a gift of our Judeo-Christian culture. Use it and make history."