Religious Freedom Leaders Honor New Human Rights Envoy for North Korea

Freedom House and the Congressional Working Group on Religious Freedom hosted an honorary night for the newly appointed special envoy on human rights in North Korea yesterday.

Mandated by the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, the special envoy will work to promote efforts to increase awareness and improve the human rights of the North Korean people. This includes cooperation with international organizations and nongovernmental organizations to coordinate humanitarian activities and also direct engagement with North Korea on the issue of human rights.

"We want significant human rights progress to help bring [North Korea] into the 21st century when it comes to the issue of ... freedom," said Jay Lefkowitz Wednesday, after being newly appointed.

Lefkowitz quoted President Bush who spoke on freedom and democracy in Kyoto, Japan during his tour across Asia this week saying, "We will not forget the people of North Korea. The 21st century will be freedom's century for all Koreans."

After landing in Pusan, South Korea, President Bush and South Korean President Roh Moo-hyun entered talks on Thursday on the disarmament of North Korea during the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation summit. U.S. congressional leaders and human rights advocates have urged Bush to raise the human rights issue during his visit to South Korea.

"The challenge for all of us is to make it clear to North Korea that there is an opportunity for them to engage with us ... to free their people," Lefkowitz continued.

A study released earlier this week by the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom exposed the severe repression of religious freedoms, including those of Christians, with eye witness accounts of the public execution of Christian believers. The report, titled Thank You, Father Kim Il Sung, was re-introduced to attendants at the Lefkowitz honorary night yesterday as a study that can't be ignored.

Freedom House also published a document this year – its annual Freedom in the World book – where North Korea was rated, from a scale between one and seven, as a seven – the least free.

Noting the advancement of South Korea in its freedom and economic commerce, Lefkowitz pointed to the state of the north's neighboring country as a goal for North Korea to reach.

Religious freedom and congressional leaders expressed their hope and confidence in the appointed envoy.

"I'm very encouraged from what I heard tonight," said Nina Shea, director of Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom, to The Christian Post. "His passion comes through and his commitment to human rights.

Lefkowitz, attorney, served as deputy assistant to the president and director of the Domestic Policy Council at the White House. He has been a public member of the U.S. delegation to the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Geneva. He was named U.S. human rights envoy for North Korea on August 19, 2005.

"It's a lifelong mission for him," said Shea referring to his devotion to human rights. "Now, he has a great heart for the Korean people behind the totalitarian curtain.

"This long nightmare will soon be over."