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Include human rights in talks with N. Korea, Land, others urge

WASHINGTON (BP)–Southern Baptist religious liberty specialist Richard Land and 16 others have called on President Bush to agree to North Korea’s demand for negotiations while requiring the communist regime to include human rights in the discussion.

In a statement published Jan. 17 in the Wall Street Journal, Land and his fellow signers expressed hope the elevation of human rights in negotiations could lead to greater democracy and individual freedoms, including religious liberty, in the Asian country and other parts of the world. They cited just such a decision by President Nixon in 1972 as instrumental in bringing about the collapse of the Soviet Union nearly two decades later.

Among the signers in addition to Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, were religious freedom advocates Charles Colson, Richard Neuhaus and Nina Shea, as well as former federal government officials James Woolsey, Penn Kemble and Max Kampelman.

North Korea’s regime, ruled by Kim Jong-il, has grown increasingly threatening in its rhetoric in recent months. It acknowledged it had been secretly developing nuclear weapons. It banished United Nations inspectors, then withdrew from the nuclear Non-proliferation Treaty Jan. 10 and threatened to resume nuclear missile tests. The highly secretive country is a notorious suppressor of human rights and a leading persecutor of religious adherents. It has been plagued in recent years by a widespread famine.

In what they described as a statement of principles on relations between the two countries, Land and the others recommended that Bush agree to North Korea’s demand for nuclear negotiations on the condition the communist regime “negotiate over allowing institutions that promote such human rights as the free exchange of people, religious liberty, open borders and family reunification.”

They also encouraged the president to be willing to negotiate on trade sanctions and the offer of economic aid in exchange for “market-based and rule-of-law reforms” in North Korea. In addition to suggesting several steps to strengthen U.S. policy toward the communist regime, the signers urged the White House to make the predicament of North Korean refugees and defectors a priority. They also asked Bush to announce the primary policy toward North Korea is “the promotion of democracy so that its people can enjoy the same rights and progress enjoyed by the people of South Korea.”

These recommended policies would “focus the attention and policy of the democracies of the world on freedom and self-determination and respect for human rights for the people of North Korea rather than rewarding and propping up their oppressive rulers as an intermediate means to ‘stabilize’ a dangerous international situation,” Land said. “Consequently, if we say that we’re willing to talk and we say we want to talk about human rights and freedom, they are the ones who have to defend why they don’t want to talk about human rights or freedom. And our goal is not just the maintenance of a nuclear-free Korean peninsula but freedom, self-determination and respect for human rights for all the people of the Korean peninsula and the region.”

Land said American foreign policy should focus on “freedom and respect for human rights as the right and the experience of every human being on the planet. To the extent that happens, the world is a more secure place, and freedom-loving nations are more secure and safe.”

Among the steps recommended for U.S. policy toward North Korea was increased funding for the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom to investigate persecution by the regime. Land and Shea both are USCIRF commissioners.

The U.S. faced a similar threat from a communist power when Nixon agreed to negotiate with the Soviet Union as long as human rights was on the agenda, the statement said. The Soviet Union’s agreement “opened the floodgates of dissent and led to its collapse,” the statement said.

“The North Korean government may be a Stalinist dictatorship, but it’s not nearly as tough a nut to crack as the Kremlin,” Land said.

The signers included Colson, chairman of Prison Fellowship Ministries; Neuhaus, president of The Institute on Religion and Public Life; Shea, director of the Center for Religious Freedom at Freedom House; Woolsey, chairman of Freedom House and former director of the Central Intelligence Agency; Kemble, senior scholar at Freedom House and former acting director of the U.S. Information Agency, and Kampelman, chairman of the U.S. delegation to the Madrid meeting of the Commission on Security and Cooperation in the 1980s and head of the U.S. delegation to the negotiations on nuclear and space arms from 1985-87.

The other signers were Leith Anderson, president of the National Association of Evangelicals; William Bennett, director of Empower America; Nicholas Eberstadt, visiting scholar at the American Enterprise Institute and a specialist on North Korea; Robert George, professor of jurisprudence at Princeton University; Michael Horowitz, senior fellow and director of the Project on International Religious Liberty at the Hudson Institute; Dianne Knippers, president of the Institute on Religion and Democracy; Michael Novak, AEI’s director of social and political studies; Marvin Olasky, editor in chief of World magazine; Mark Palmer, vice chairman of Freedom House and ambassador to Hungary in the 1980s; and Radek Sikorski, executive director of AEI’s New Atlantic Initiative and former deputy minister of foreign affairs of Poland.