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Persecution summit focuses on ‘absolutely genocidal’ regimes

WASHINGTON (BP)–The considerable influence of American Christians can make a difference in the lives of persecuted believers in North Korea and Sudan, participants at a May 1 summit on the issue were told.

About 200 people, many of them Christian denominational and organizational leaders, met at a Washington hotel for a second summit on global persecution. The first such summit, held in 1996, helped awaken American Christians to the plight of believers in various countries. It also launched a campaign that resulted in enactment of the International Religious Freedom Act and establishment of the International Day of Prayer for the Persecuted Church.

Conveners of the latest summit hoped it would have a similar impact in aiding Christians under two especially brutal regimes. North Korea and Sudan are “in a class by themselves,” Nina Shea told the participants. They are “absolutely genocidal,” she said. Shea, director of Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom, is a member of the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom, a panel that advises the White House and Congress on persecution issues.

Kim Jong Il, the ruler of North Korea’s Marxist government, knows the power of Christianity, said Norbert Vollertsen, a German doctor who has spoken out on the human rights abuses he witnessed during 18 months in the country. “It seems to me United States Christians do not know their power,” Vollertsen told those in attendance.

Michael Horowitz, who, as a Jew, has been a leader in the anti-persecution movement in Washington, encouraged the participants to maintain their efforts. North Korea and Sudan “are close to collapse,” he said.

The efforts of American Christians on behalf of their fellow believers also will help other religious adherents, Horowitz said. “If you protect your brothers and sisters, you give hope to moderate Muslims in their fight [against radicals] for Islam,” he told the audience.

Afterward, Chuck Colson told Baptist Press he hoped the summit would result in a “real resurgence of moral outrage on the part of lay Christians.”

American Christians need to “reignite the passion and sustain it,” said Colson, founder of Prison Fellowship and a leader in the anti-persecution effort. It is going to be a “long fight,” he said.

North Korea and Sudan are two of only six countries on the State Department’s list of “countries of particular concern” regarding the state of religious freedom. The USCIRF has described Sudan as “the world’s most violent abuser of the right to freedom of religion and belief.” The panel has reported “religious freedom does not exist” in North Korea and has said the people of that Asian country are “perhaps the least free on earth.”

The summit came shortly after the USCIRF issued reports on both countries. Among its recommendations on North Korea, the commission called for a congressionally funded study of human rights in the country by a nongovernmental group and for the United States to urge China and other countries to grant refugee status to North Koreans.

In its Sudan report, issued only two days before the summit, the USCIRF recommended the United States urge the militant Islamic regime to permit religious expression by non-Muslim groups, strengthen economic sanctions against Sudan and increase its humanitarian aid to the afflicted through non-United Nations channels. The commission also called for enactment of the version of the Sudan Peace Act approved by the House of Representatives.

The House-passed version includes a provision that has produced strong opposition from big business. The House measure would bar foreign companies from being listed on U.S. stock exchanges if they participate in oil development in Sudan. The Senate passed its version of the Sudan Peace Act without such a provision.

The revenue from oil development in Sudan by foreign companies has enabled the Khartoum regime to expand its military and to continue its war against Christians, animists and some moderate Muslims.

“We’re making a choice between dollars and lives,” Rep. Spencer Bachus, R.-Ala., the sponsor of the House provision that created opposition, said at the summit. “When there is a question between dollars and lives, there can be no question.”

Bachus also told participants the United States’ strategy with Khartoum is misguided. “You cannot negotiate in good faith with someone who has none,” he said.

A White House representative read a letter from President Bush commending the summit participants. “Today, as we wage war against global terror, our resolve to defend religious freedom around the world is as important as ever,” Bush said in the letter. His administration “is working hard” for peace in Sudan and will continue to seek religious freedom in North Korea, he said. Last year, Bush appointed former Sen. John Danforth as a special envoy to Sudan.

The White House and Senate are fighting against the Bachus amendment in the Sudan Peace Act, however, Shea told participants.

At the summit, the National Association of Evangelicals issued a second statement of conscience on persecution. In its new statement, the NAE endorsed the USCIRF’s recommendations on North Korea and Sudan and promised “never to commit the sin of silence” in regard to religious persecution. The NAE’s first statement on persecution was issued in conjunction with the 1996 summit.

NAE and Freedom House’s Center for Religious Freedom sponsored the latest summit.

Shannon Royce of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission and Mark Snowden of the International Mission Board represented Southern Baptists at the summit.

Richard Land, president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, is one of nine members of the USCIRF.

North Korea has suppressed Christianity and other religions since the end of the Korean War in 1953. Catholics and Protestants are the most severely persecuted, while Buddhists and adherents of native religions are repressed to a lesser extent, the USCIRF was told in a January hearing. Desperate poverty has become commonplace in recent years in the communist state.

An 18-year civil war in Sudan has resulted in more than 2 million deaths and the displacement of more than 4 million people. The Islamic regime’s campaign is primarily against Christians in the southern and central regions of the African country. The Khartoum-supported effort has included slave raids and the bombardment of hospitals, churches, schools and relief stations.