U.S. House Committee Mulls North Korea Sanctions Bill

The U.S. House Committee on Foreign Affairs was introduced a bill this week that seeks to impose economic sanctions and diplomatic isolation on North Korea until it abandons its nuclear weapon programs and fixes its human rights problems.

The North Korea Sanctions and Diplomatic Nonrecognition Act of 2009, authored and introduced by Rep. Illeana Ros-Lehtinen (R-Fla.), was drawn up mainly in response to Pyongyang's defiant missile launch earlier this month and its growing partnership with Iran and reportedly Syria. But it also addresses the severe human rights abuses taking place in the reclusive country.

"North Korea must abandon its illegal and destabilizing weapons programs and uphold human rights before it can reap the benefits and recognition afforded to responsible nations. Pyongyang cannot have it both ways," expressed Ros-Lehtinen in a statement.

The House representative is calling for strong sanction against North Korea and for a halt to all non-humanitarian assistance to the regime.

Open Doors USA, a ministry working with the persecuted church, including those in North Korea, urged Christians this week to support the bill. The ministry says the bill can help release believers imprisoned for their faith.

"Passing this bill is a must if we want to see the Obama administration make human rights and religious freedom a priority," said Carl Moeller, president and CEO of Open Doors USA, in a newsletter.

For years, the California-based ministry has helped support underground Christians in North Korea through international advocacy and through raising awareness about the plight of those living under the oppressive regime.

In North Korea, it is illegal to criticize the government or to affiliate with any religion other than the semi-personality cult revolving around the current dictator and his deceased father.

It is also illegal to even leave the country. Those who dare to cross the border to China to search for food and are captured and thrown into prison, where they are physically abused, according to North Korean refugees.

North Korea is also considered to be the country with the most severe Christian persecution in the world, according to the Open Doors World Watch List, which the ministry compiles each year. This year marked the seventh straight time that North Korea has topped the list.

This week's introduction of the bill calling for sanctions against North Korea comes ahead of the start of North Korea Freedom Week, an annual event that seeks to raise awareness and support for the freedom of North Korean citizens who suffer under the tyrannical rule of dictator Kim Jong-Il. The April 26-May 2 observance will also explore links between North Korean human rights abuses and the nation's missiles and nuclear weapons programs.

Scheduled events next week include a wreath laying ceremony at the Korean War Memorial, a North Korea genocide exhibit, observance of the International Day of Prayer for North Korea on April 27, a Capitol Hill rally for North Korea freedom and human rights on April 28, a congressional briefing on the humanitarian condition in North Korea, and a special screening of "Kimjongilia," which premiered at the 2009 Sundance Film Festival.

"Kimjongilia" is the first film documentary to expose the horrific human rights abuses by Kim Jong-Il through the stories of North Korean defectors.

This year's NKFW is said to be the largest-ever U.S. gathering of North Korean defectors and rights activists.

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