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United States, others need to do more for North Koreans, religious leaders say

WASHINGTON (BP)–The United States and other members of the international community should do more to protect the rights of North Koreans, according to a new statement from about 100 religious and human rights leaders, including some Southern Baptists.

The statement, released July 25, calls for the United States to do more to support human rights in a country often considered the world’s most oppressive regime. It also urges more responsible action from the United Nations, China, South Korea and Russia.

The signers included Richard Land, president of the Southern Baptist Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission; Daniel Akin, president of Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, N.C.; Steve Lemke, provost of New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary; and Jerry Johnson, president of Criswell College in Dallas.

The statement was released on the eve of the resumption of talks among the United States, North Korea and four other countries — China, Japan, Russia and South Korea — about the elimination of nuclear weapons on the Korean peninsula. North Korea, which pulled out of the six-party talks in February when it revealed it had developed nuclear weapons, recently announced it would rejoin negotiations, which are being held in Beijing, China.

The statement endorses a set of principles calling for the United States to:

— Include human rights -– such as religious freedom, family reunification and prison monitoring — at the highest level of priority in its negotiations with North Korea.

— Provide assistance when North Korea makes significant reforms on human rights and weapons of mass destruction.

— Hold China accountable, requiring the communist regime to choose between good relations with America or its support for North Korea’s human rights abuses.

The statement asserts military action is not required to produce improved conditions in North Korea.

In specific policy actions, the statement urges:

— President Bush to appoint quickly a special envoy for North Korean human rights called for by a 2004 law.

— Immediate expansion of broadcasts into North Korea by Voice of America and Radio Free Asia from three hours to 12 hours a day.

— Bush to begin negotiations warning Russia that its support of the North Korean regime will hamper improved relations with the United States.

— The president to urge U.N. Secretary General Kofi Annan to ensure the U.N. High Commission on Refugees takes action against China for its treatment of North Korean refugees.

— Drafting of legislation regarding China modeled on the 1970s Jackson-Vanik law, which bars the granting of “most favored nation” status, now known as “normal trade relations,” to governments with poor human rights records.

China, the northern neighbor to North Korea, has helped make the continued human rights abuses and WMD development possible for its fellow communist regime, the statement says. In violation of international treaties, China captures refugees and returns them to North Korea, where they face imprisonment, torture and execution. The number of North Korean refugees in China is estimated to be from 100,000 to 500,000.

China’s policies regarding North Korea “are making things worse,” said Barrett Duke of the Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission at a Washington news conference accompanying the statement’s release. “China’s leaders will face God’s judgment for [their] cruel treatment of the marginalized. And they will certainly answer to God for each North Korean refugee chased or forced back into North Korea who is consequently murdered, raped, imprisoned or otherwise brutalized. And surely the world is already judging this inhumane behavior by the Chinese authorities.”

Before making his comments, Duke, the ERLC’s vice president for public policy and research, read Jesus’ account of the future judgment, as recorded in Matthew 25, where the sheep and the goats will be divided. He called the statement on North Korea a “sound, reasonable approach.”

“While we agree that an improved economic environment would lift many North Koreans, we cannot sanction an approach that ignores the very people Jesus brought to our attention and valued so highly,” Duke said. “We will not sleep better knowing that peace was purchased at the expense of the weak and vulnerable. If we value what Jesus valued and the people Jesus valued, we must insist that the marginalized North Koreans are not left to die by our peace.”

In the statement, the signers also point to the failures of South Korea, which they say has made resettlement difficult for refugees and is willing to aid North Korea in exchange for promises of WMD reform.

North Korea’s communist dictatorship under Kim Jong Il is guilty of a variety of human rights violations, according to reports from the northeast Asian country. Among these are the detention, torture -– including forced abortions -– and execution of political prisoners. Human rights officials estimate 200,000 political prisoners are in North Korea’s gulag system and about 400,000 prisoners have died in those prisons in the last three decades. The regime has diverted foreign food aid to the military or the black market, which has contributed to the starvation of anywhere from 2 million to more than 4 million North Koreans since a famine began in 1995, it has been estimated.

Other statement signers from a coalition that includes Korean-American, Jewish and Muslim leaders are Steven Chang, president of Korean Churches for North Korea; Todd Bassett, national commander of The Salvation Army; Gary Bauer, president of American Values; Richard Cizik, vice president of government relations for the National Association of Evangelicals; Joseph Grieboski, president of the Institute on Religion and Public Policy; Charles Haynes, senior scholar at the Freedom Forum; Michael Horowitz, director of the International Religious Liberty Project at the Hudson Institute; Donna Hughes, professor at the University of Rhode Island; David Neff, editor of Christianity Today; Jennifer Windsor, executive director of Freedom House, and Harry Wu, executive director of the Laogai Research Foundation.

The statement was released less than a week after a conference on the North Korean human rights crisis was held in Washington. An estimated 1,000-plus people attended the conference, which received funding from the State Department as a result of last year’s North Korean Human Rights Act.