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U.S. bears burden on North Korea, Land says

WASHINGTON (BP)–Americans may have limited knowledge of the details of North Korea’s extreme repression of its people, but they know enough to bear responsibility if they do not take action, Southern Baptist ethicist Richard Land said recently.

Speaking at a Washington news conference sponsored by the Korean Church Coalition for North Korea Freedom, the president of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission called for Americans and their government to accept responsibility for aiding citizens of the Asian dictatorship.

“We may not know the precise numbers, but we know [the atrocities exist]…. If we know what’s going on, and we choose to do nothing, then we become morally culpable, we become complicit,” Land said.

North Korea, which is known to have an abysmal record on religious freedom and other human rights, has been described as the world’s most closed country to outsiders. Speakers at the news conference and organizations that monitor North Korea provided the following estimates of some of the conditions under the regime:

— 1.9 million North Koreans have starved to death while the government developed its nuclear program and built up the military.

— More than 200,000 citizens are imprisoned for their political and religious views, including 6,000 Christians at one prison camp.

— 300,000 North Korean refugees, including 3,000 orphans, are living in China.

North Korea is a communist country dominated by a personality cult around the late Kim Il Sung and his son, Kim Jong Il, the current dictator. The regime maintains tight control over its citizens’ lives, including their religious practices. Only a limited number of government-approved churches are permitted, and other activities outside those restricted venues can result in “severe punishment ranging from imprisonment in labor camps to execution,” the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) said in its 2010 report. Forced abortion and infanticide have been reported in the prison camps, according to USCIRF.

North Koreans who escape to China are in danger of being caught and returned to their home country for punishment or execution.

Land and other speakers called for the U.S. government to implement completely the 2008 North Korea Human Rights Act, to enact the North Korean Refugee Adoption Act and to urge China to abide by the international agreements it has signed and not repatriate refugees in its country to North Korea.

Calling for “sustained pressure” on the American and Chinese governments, Land said, “If the government of the United States and the government of China fully commit themselves to ending the atrocities that are being perpetrated by the North Korean government on the North Korean people, they will substantially end sooner rather than later.”

Michael Horowitz, senior fellow at the Hudson Institute and a longtime advocate for religious freedom, said the key to bringing change lies with the Korean Americans, not with the U.S. government or the United Nations (U.N.).

“[W]hat I have learned about America living in Washington is that when Americans speak out for their brothers and sisters in their home country, the rest of America always listen, always,” Horowitz told the audience, which was dominated by Korean Americans.

“In America, you earn respect not by the wealth you have and the money you get, but by standing up for others. There has not been enough of that … from the Korean-American community,” he said.

“You have more power than you understand, and American history teaches you that,” Horowitz said.

The U.S. policy on North Korea “is a disgrace” under President Obama and was under President Bush, Horowitz said.

“Our policy is very simple: Kim Jong Il, if you promise not to have more weapons, we’ll give you money. If you promise not to use your weapons, we’ll make you legitimate,” Horowitz said.

Rep. Ed Royce, R.-Calif., said the U.S. should be taking satellite photos of the prison camps and distributing them to increase international awareness of the conditions in North Korea.

Recommendations from Scott Flipse, senior policy analyst for USCIRF, included the establishment of a report card on the Obama administration’s effort to implement the North Korea Human Rights Act, a publicized listing of North Korean prisoners, pressure for the immediate release of all children in prison camps, and the development of alternative means of communication into the country.

Among the provisions of the North Korean Human Rights Act still awaiting implementation is the support of non-governmental organizations promoting democracy and human rights in North Korea.

The North Korean Refugee Adoption Act, sponsored by Royce, would direct Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to establish a thorough plan to enable Americans to adopt North Korean orphans. The bill is H.R. 4986. A companion bill in the Senate is S. 3156.

The Korean Church Coalition consists of about 2,500 Korean American pastors who advocate for freedom for North Koreans.
Tom Strode is Washington bureau chief for Baptist Press.