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Land, Brownback, others urge pressure on China to protect North Korean refugees

WASHINGTON (BP)–Newly released video of public executions in North Korea demonstrates the need to pressure China to protect refugees from that repressive regime, a Southern Baptist leader and other human rights advocates say.

Richard Land, president of the SBC’s Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, joined Sen. Sam Brownback, R.-Kan., and others at a Capitol Hill news conference in calling for action on behalf of North Korean refugees who escape to China. Some observers rate North Korea, a communist dictatorship ruled over by Kim Jong Il, as the world’s most oppressive regime.

The calls for action at the April 7 news conference followed a screening of two public executions secretly recorded and smuggled out of North Korea. The video, which was telecast first by the Japan Independent News Network, showed the executions by firing squad of two people March 1 and one person March 2. The executions took place after brief, outdoor trials at sites in North Korea near the Chinese border. Those executed apparently had helped refugees cross the border into China.

While Land, Brownback and others condemned North Korea’s act of executing its citizens for non-capital crimes, the focus of their criticism was China’s refusal to protect the refugees. China has been returning North Korean refugees to their home country, where they face imprisonment, torture and sometimes death.

The videos are “absolutely horrifying but are not surprising,” Brownback said. “They underscore and make clear the moral and human dimensions of the plight of North Korean refugees and those who try to help them escape the brutality of North Korea and this regime. They need our help, and they need it now.”

Brownback released an April 6 letter Rep. Frank Wolf, R.-Va., and he sent to Kofi Annan calling for the United Nations secretary general to take strong action to correct the organization’s failure to protect North Korean refugees. They charged the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees with refusing to hold China accountable regarding its responsibility to refugees under a U.N. treaty.

North Korea “is the worst of the worst of the worst,” Land said. “The entire country is a concentration camp with the government serving as the guards and executioners, and the citizens of the country its inmates.

“There is only one reason [the North Korean government] continues to exist, and it’s because of the support of China, and it is time that the international community shame China and put some pressure behind the shame,” he said.

Land and others said protests alone are insufficient.

“It is time for us to call China to account, not just through protests but through concrete methods,” Land said. If China continues to act in an uncivilized way toward its own people and North Korean refugees, “it is time for those of us who are resolved to do what we can to insist that the considerable influence and the considerable resources of the United States are on the side of the oppressed and not the oppressors, to develop creative ways to force China to choose between its continued support for the regime of Kim Jong Il and its own economic progress.

“We become partly responsible for the oppression when we continue to treat an oppressor nation as if it were a civilized one,” Land said.

The methods could include economic boycotts, calls for relocation of the 2008 Olympics set for Beijing or a boycott of the Olympics, Land said.

Michael Horowitz, a senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a leader in the fight against religious persecution, included the following as recommendations in the effort:

— Congressional passage of the Advance Democratic Values, Address Non-democratic Countries and Enhance (ADVANCE) Democracy Act, legislation that would promote democracy and human rights as essential ingredients in America’s foreign policy.

— Confirmation of John Bolton as American ambassador to the U.N. A Senate hearing on the controversial Bolton’s nomination began April 11. “Whatever one’s views of John Bolton, the fact is he is the symbol of all American officials in resistance to this tyranny,” Horowitz said. “His defeat will be the greatest single diplomatic triumph of Kim Jong Il of the past 25 years and, on those grounds alone, whatever else some people think, must not be permitted to happen.”

— Signal the U.N. it must be “more aggressive and robust in protecting the refugees and speaking out about the gas chambers and the gulags,” if it wants better relations with the United States.

Bolton, as undersecretary of arms control and international security at the State Department, has been outspoken about repressive regimes and has called Kim Jong Il a “tyrannical dictator.”

Other organizations at the news conference calling for action on the refugees included the National Association of Evangelicals, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, North Korea Freedom Coalition, Simon Wiesenthal Center, Freedom House and the Korean American Church Coalition.

Among North Korea’s human rights violations are widespread detention, torture –- including forced abortions -– and execution of political prisoners. An estimated 200,000 political prisoners are in North Korea’s gulag system. About 400,000 prisoners have died in the system in the last three decades, human rights specialists have estimated. The regime has diverted foreign food aid to the military or the black market, which has contributed to the starvation of more than 4 million North Koreans since 1995, human rights officials have reported.