WASHINGTON – It's worse than China, Burma, Eritrea, Vietnam, declared a pro-democracy foreign policy expert. There is nothing like it in the world.
"North Korea is different," Carl Gershman, president of the National Endowment for Democracy, firmly stated at the North Korea Freedom and Human Rights rally on Capitol Hill Tuesday. "It is unique."
The gulags (government administered labor camps), public executions, infanticide, a famine that resulted in the death of 1 to 3 million people, and a legal system that throws three generations into prison for one family member's crime sets North Korea apart from other human rights violators, Gershman explained.
He recalled recently meeting a 28-year-old North Korean defector at a human rights conference who had spent 24 years of his life in a gulag. The man was born in prison and had spent almost all his life in the labor camp at no fault of his own. What is more unbelievable is neither was his father guilty of committing a crime. It was the man's brother who was considered "unreliable" by North Korean officials that had led to the imprisonment of the entire family.
"Human rights issues in North Korea is not limited to the issue of hunger," stated Dr. Hyunuk Kim, president of the International Forum for Foreign Policy and National Security in South Korea.
"Political operations may be more cruel than economic destitution," he contended, noting that public executions take place without any formal legal proceedings.
Kim believes that in order for the country to change, a more democratic government must replace the current regime.
"President Obama, you are not just the president of the United States," the passionate and outspoken foreign policy expert from South Korea declared, "but you are the leader of the free world."
"You should care about the people living under dictatorship [of] Kim Jong-Il," he said.
In addition to the physical injustices taking place in North Korea, the Kim Jong-Il regime has also imposed a bizarre personality cult on the country's citizens. All North Koreans are forced to worship Kim Jong-Il and his deceased father whether they want to or not. Any other religion, especially Christianity, is banned.
If someone is found to be a Christian or possesses a Bible, they are sent to the gulags or face public execution.
There are a few churches in the capital, Pyongyang, but they are mainly for show. It is unclear if these churches are only open when foreigners visit or are used only by expatriates. Either way, the handful of churches are not for North Korean citizens, according to defectors.
Lindsay Vessey, advocacy program manager for Open Doors, recalled the strange experience she had last year when she traveled to North Korea as a tourist and tried to attend a church service. She said that there were several cameras inside the church, sending a message to anyone that steps foot into the sanctuary that they are being watched by the government.
Another troubling fact, she explained, was when she arrived at the church at the time she was told the service would be held, there was no service. According to one translated explanation, the church service was canceled due to a public holiday, while another said she had missed the service time. In the end, she played some hymns on the piano while her husband gave the message and along with some other people they held their own service inside the building.
But perhaps the most disturbing sign of the government's animosity towards Christianity is that in the Korean War Museum, which Vessey and her husband visited, there is a display of a western priest with a knife in his hand and with a Korean woman under him. The Open Doors advocacy manager said the message being conveyed is that under the Christian guise of good works is evil and North Koreans should stay away from the religion.
Also, when visitors arrive at the airport, the North Korean government takes away visitors' passports, return tickets and visas through the tour guide.
"We just get a little taste of what North Korea is like during this [North Korea Freedom] week," said Jerry Dystra of Open Doors USA, to The Christian Post regarding the testimonies about North Korea. "We need to press congressmen for the passage of this bill (North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act) and pray for the North Korean people."
The North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act of 2009, authored and introduced by Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), seeks to impose economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation on North Korea until it abandons its nuclear weapon programs and fixes its human rights problems.
Ros-Lehtinen spoke at the North Korea rally on Capitol Hill along with Sen. Sam Brownback (R-Kansas) and Rep. Ed Royce (R-Calif).
Non-governmental organizations that participated in the rally included Amnesty International, Reporters Without Borders, Korean War Memorial Foundation and Freedom House.
The North Korea Freedom rally is part of North Korea Freedom Week, which takes place April 26-May 2. Organizers aim to raise awareness about the human rights problems in the country and get lawmakers to be more active in resolving the problems there.