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Bush signs North Korean Human Rights Act into law

WASHINGTON (BP)–President Bush signed into law Oct. 18 a bill to assist people living under one of the world’s most repressive regimes, North Korea.

The president signed the North Korean Human Rights Act two weeks after Congress gave final approval to the measure.

The new law establishes the position of special envoy for North Korean human rights and calls for U.S. negotiations with the regime to be tied to human rights progress. It also authorizes the president to provide funds for nonprofit groups in order to advance human rights and democracy in the country. It seeks to assure increased protection for North Korean refugees. In addition, the bill requires verification that humanitarian and non-humanitarian aid is used for non-political purposes.

In a statement announcing Bush’s signing of the bill, the White House said it would implement the section naming an envoy. The White House outlined the envoy’s duties in accordance with the president’s authority to conduct foreign relations.

Among human rights violations reported in North Korea are: (1) The diversion of foreign food aid to the military and to the black market, and (2) the widespread detention, torture and execution of political prisoners, including Christians.

The North Korean government, which is a communist dictatorship under Kim Jong Il, is one of eight regimes to receive the designation of “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department. That label is reserved only for the most severe violators of religious freedom.

More than four million North Koreans have starved to death since 1995, according to reports from human rights officials. There are at least 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea, and about 400,000 inmates have died in the system in the last three decades, human rights specialists have estimated.

The Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission is part of a diverse coalition that promoted the legislation.

The House of Representatives agreed to the bill without opposition during a voice vote Oct. 4. The Senate approved the measure by unanimous consent Sept. 28.

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