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Coalition releases statement, urges different approach after North Korean missile tests

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist public policy leader Richard Land has joined in a diverse coalition urging a “third way” in dealing with North Korea that rejects military action but promotes human rights reforms.

The coalition released an 18-point statement of principles in response to what it described as the dominant policies proposed regarding North Korea after the communist regime conducted seven missile tests in early July. Those policy options –- bombing North Korean or signing an agreement with the regime that ignores human rights — are both unsatisfactory and inconsistent with the values and interests of the United States, the coalition said.

“Just as the threat of nuclear war between the U.S. and the Soviet Union did not disappear until people behind the Iron Curtain won their freedom, security on the Korean Peninsula will also depend on progress towards human rights in North Korea,” the coalition said in its statement. “The goals of liberty and security are intertwined; the international community must pursue them on a linked, coordinated and interactive basis.”

Among the recommendations proposed by the coalition are:

— The United States should offer an “unconditional humanitarian aid initiative,” including an inoculation program for all of North Korea’s children and the renovation and building of hospitals and water purification plants in the Asian country.

— The United States should increase, and South Korea should be strongly encouraged to increase, the number of North Korean refugees it admits.

— The United States and other governments should make China’s reprehensible treatment of North Koreans a higher priority, pressuring the communist giant to end its forcible return of North Korean refugees to their country.

— Talks with the regime of dictator Kim Jong Il should emulate the 1970s Helsinki approach toward the Soviet Union by calling for human rights commitments while also dealing with “security, economic and humanitarian” issues.

— The U.S. and South Korean governments should work with corporations to institute a code of conduct that ensures their presence in North Korea helps the people, not just the regime.

— Other governments should press North Korea for access to its people by family members living throughout the world.

— The United States government should provide full funding of programs approved by the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act, including the expansion of broadcasts into the country from three to 12 hours a day.

In a July 20 Washington news conference at which the statement was released, Land called for “American leadership in seeking to improve the situation of the average North Korean. [O]f all the countries in the world [in which] you could wake up in the morning, the worst place to wake up if you are an average person not in the government and not a member of the ruling class would be … anywhere in the country of North Korea.”

“This is not going to be easy,” said Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission. “North Korea will be a tough nut to crack…. [T]he Soviet Union was a lot tougher nut to crack, and the Helsinki approach, a steady, solid approach that always had a basket of human rights issues involved in negotiations, was instrumental in allowing the Soviet Jews to leave the Soviet Union and, I believe, eventually in leading to the rebirth of freedom in the Soviet Union and Eastern Europe.”

Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute, expressed optimism that an approach based on the coalition’s principles would lead to greater human rights for North Koreans and possibly regime change.

“In a sense, the missile test, rather than intimidating the United States into appeasement of some sort or rather than provoking the United States into military action, has unified right and left,” Horowitz told reporters. If the United States focuses on human rights, Horowitz said he is confident the missile tests will prove to be “the greatest strategic mistake Kim Jong Il has ever made.”

“We in democracies just often forget our own strength…,” he said. “One thing we know about Kim Jong Il: When he engages in either bluster or seduction, it’s a sign of absolute weakness. And all we need to do is not bite.”

Richard Cizik, vice president for governmental affairs of the National Association of Evangelicals, said, “If 300 to 500 refugees from North Korea were to be admitted to the United States, this would be a powerful signal to the world about our commitment” to human rights.

Six North Koreans arrived in the United States in May, becoming the first such refugees admitted under the North Korean Human Rights Act, a measure enacted to make it easier for North Koreans seeking to enter this country.

A representative of the Korean Church Coalition said the network of 3,000 Korean-American pastors and churches would speak out and pray for North Koreans.

“Staying silent is a sin,” said Sam Kim, the KCC’s general counsel, “and we have to speak out with the coalition, and we have to speak out loudly, vigorously until we get what we want, and that is human rights for our North Korean brothers and sisters.”

Among the other signers of the statement were representatives of such organizations as the liberal Americans for Democratic Action and American Humanist Association and the Assemblies of God, Institute on Religion and Democracy, Evangelicals for Social Action, Freedom House, Religious Action Center for Reform Judaism, Accuracy in Media and Free Muslim Coalition.

Messengers to the June meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention approved a resolution calling on China to accord refugee status to North Koreans who have fled their country as well as encouraging the United States and other countries to accept North Koreans as refugees.

The Senate passed without opposition July 25 the North Korean Nonproliferation Act, which would approve sanctions for people or firms who provide material for missiles or weapons of mass destruction to North Korea or purchase such items from the regime. The bill, which has yet to be acted on in the House of Representatives, would add North Korea to a law approving sanctions for transactions involving Iran and Syria.

Kim’s regime has been, and continues to be, a perpetrator of a variety of human rights violations, according to reports. Among these are the detention, torture -– including forced abortions -– and execution of political prisoners. Human rights officials estimate 200,000 political prisoners remain in North Korea’s gulag system and about 400,000 inmates have died in those prisons in the last three decades. The regime has diverted foreign food aid to the military or the black market, thereby contributing to the starvation of an estimated 2 million to more than 4 million North Koreans since a famine began in 1995.

The regime is especially repressive of Christians and other religious adherents. Kim Il Sung, the father of the current dictator, led his regime to abolish Christianity and all other religions shortly after the Korean War in the early 1950s.