WASHINGTON (BP)–Members of Congress and advocates of religious liberty and human rights joined with defectors from North Korea April 28 at a Capitol Hill rally for freedom from that Asian country’s oppressive regime.
A crowd of about 500 people, consisting largely of Korean Americans, gathered on the west lawn of the Capitol to bring attention to the harsh dictatorship of Kim Jong Il and to call on the United States and other countries to act on behalf of North Koreans.
The regime, which is a combination of communist state and personality cult, is considered by many experts on human and religious rights as the most oppressive in the world. According to human rights specialists, North Korea’s crimes against humanity include:
— At least 200,000 political prisoners in the country’s gulag system.
— About 400,000 deaths in the gulags during the last three decades.
— Torture, biological testing, public executions and forced abortions on gulag prisoners.
— More than 4 million deaths from starvation since 1995, though North Korea is the world’s leading recipient of food assistance. Food aid reportedly is diverted to the military or sold on the black market.
— Lack of any religious freedom.
“North Korea is ground zero for some of the world’s worst human rights abuses,” Nina Shea, vice chair of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, told rally participants.
John Hanford, the State Department’s ambassador at large for religious freedom, said, “Religious freedom is not just severely violated in North Korea. It does not exist at all.”
He pointed to North Korea’s status as one of only six “countries of particular concern” on religious liberty as judged by the State Department. “It is on a rogue’s list of the worst of the worst shared with only five other nations,” Hanford said, “and indeed I believe it’s fair to say that North Korea is the very worst.”
Rally speakers called for congressional action.
Sen. Sam Brownback urged passage of the North Korean Freedom Act. The bill, S. 1903 in the Senate and H.R. 3573 in the House of Representatives, is designed to provide humanitarian aid to North Koreans, protect refugees who have left the country and promote democracy. Brownback and Rep. Jim Leach, R.-Iowa, are the chief sponsors of the bills.
An Hyuk, one of about 20 North Korean defectors at the rally, said passage of the bill “will give hope and dreams to the people suffering under the regime in North Korea.”
“Once this North Korea Freedom Act passes, the people of North Korea will leave Kim Jong Il, and they will find their ways to Russia, to China and to any other countries that will accept them,” Hyuk said through an interpreter. “They will leave the dictator.”
In a statement read at the rally, Southern Baptist religious liberty specialist Richard Land called for “a complete cessation of all aid to North Korea by the United States until the fair distribution of that aid can be monitored and assured. I for one am not interested in trading the lives of millions of North Koreans for a worthless commitment by Kim Jong Il to dismantle his nuclear weapons. We should not allow this gangster dictator to hold his nuclear missiles over our heads in order to extort our continued support for his poisonous regime.
“Kim Jong Il, free your people, feed your people, care for your people, and the world will rush to your aid. Until then, we cannot, we must not, we will not enrich you further while your people starve and suffer,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission.
On the same day as the rally, The Washington Post reported the United States is expected to increase the estimate of the number of nuclear weapons North Korea possesses from “possibly two” to at least eight. More than a year ago, North Korea’s regime acknowledged it has been secretly developing nuclear weapons and began issuing threatening rhetoric.
The North Korean Freedom Coalition, which sponsored the rally, has called for the U.S. government not to agree to demands for humanitarian aid in exchange for a freeze in the totalitarian state’s nuclear weapons program. The ERLC is a member of the coalition.
Speakers also called for other countries, especially China and South Korea, to stand against the North Korean regime and to aid refugees from that country.
The international community knows “what is going on,” Rep. Joseph Pitts, R.-Pa., said. “Yet, by our silence and our lack of action, we allow the suffering to continue. We are here today to say, ‘Enough is enough.’”
Other speakers at the rally included Leach and Rep. Ed Royce, R.-Calif.
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: CITING JESUS’ TEACHINGS and CONGRESSMAN’S CONCERN.