Human right groups reminded the international community that a promise was made never to allow the atrocities of Nazi Germany to be repeated again, and in that light pushed Congress to approve a bill detailing new sanctions and action steps against North Korea and the human rights abuses it is inflicting on its own people.
"When the full scale of the atrocities committed by Nazi Germany against the Jewish people was realized, the international community vowed never again would the world stand by and allow this type of cruelty to occur again," Suzanne Scholte, chairman of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said in a statement at a Capitol Hill panel on North Korea on Wednesday.
"Yet, if you are a North Korean these words ring hollow because we have known of these atrocities for decades and yet we are allowing them to continue. Consider that the North Korean political prison camps have been in existence 10 times longer than the Nazi death camps, three times longer than the Soviet gulag, and existed even longer than the China's laogai."
An extensive U.N. Commission of Inquiry on human rights in the DPRK report released in February documented many of the "unspeakable atrocities" being committed in the Pacific nation.
Close to 400 pages of linked reports exposed the "extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, the forcible transfer of populations, the enforced disappearance of persons and the inhumane act of knowingly causing prolonged starvation" happening under the watch of leader Kim Jong Un, who in the same reports was accused of spending money lavishly on things like private movie theaters and luxury cars.
Representatives from the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea, the Federation of Korean Associations, Human Rights Watch and the North Korea Freedom Coalition called on Congress to get behind the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2013, or H.R.1771, which outlines strict sanctions the United States should take, mainly in restricting trade and punishing those who aid North Korea.
Scholte stressed, "We feel a great urgency because this is literally a life or death situation as today innocent North Koreans will die in political prison camps imprisoned because they failed to show loyalty to the regime, North Koreans will die today in detention centers tortured because they tried to flee, and North Koreans will die prematurely for lack of food and medicine."
She added that although it is "overwhelming to contemplate how to address the suffering in North Korea," there are still some specific actions the international community can take, including pressing for the International Red Cross to be given access to political prison camps, and for non-governmental organizations to continue working closely with North Korean defector groups, who are speaking out powerfully about the situation there.
Judy Yoo, vice chair of Federation of Korean Association USA, added that she hopes Congress will move quickly with the legislation and put additional pressure on Kim Jong Un's government to respect human rights.
"The Federation of Korean Associations believes that passage of HR 1771 is even more urgent as a result of the Commission of Inquiry's report. HR 1771 encourages divestment from companies that invest in North Korea and makes improvement in human rights conditions a requirement for lifting those sanctions," Yoo stated.
The Federation of Korean Association USA representative added that the bill will allow President Barack Obama's administration to impose sanctions on banks and foreign governments that assist North Korea, noting that Kim's government has threatened world peace and stability in Asia with its nuclear threats.
The U.N. Commission, which is set to present its findings to the Human Rights Council in Geneva on March 17, sent a letter to the North Korean leader, saying that it would report the situation to the International Criminal Court "to render accountable all those, including possibly yourself, who may be responsible for the crimes against humanity referred to in this letter and in the Commission's report."
The full text of H.R. 1771 can be read on the Congress.gov website.