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North Korean Human Rights Issue Takes Center Stage in U.S. Congress

North Korean Human Rights Issue Takes Center Stage in U.S. Congress

Posted April. 28, 2004 21:12,   

Updated November. 30, -0001 00:00


On April 28 at 11:00 a.m. (Washington time), members of U.S. government and opposition parties, non-government organizations, and Korean religious human rights groups will sponsor the “North Korea Freedom Day” in Washington, D.C.

The event, which will begin with a press conference for North Korean defectors, will include a rally at the Capitol, and a hearing on North Korea hosted by the House International Relations Committee.

“North Korea Freedom Day”—

The scheduled events are largely aimed at promoting the passage of the “North Korea Human Rights Act,” which was submitted simultaneously to the House of Representatives International Relations Committee and the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. Participating organizations have been working to generate public support for the event since March, putting up event posters in major cities around the U.S.

Sandy Rios, who chairs the hosting organization, the North Korea Freedom Coalition, stated in a press briefing on April 27 that some of the worst human rights abuses in the world were occurring in North Korea. President of the Defense Forum Foundation Suzanne Scholte added that this event will mark the U.S.’s efforts to no longer turn a blind eye to the human rights situation in North Korea.

On the morning of April 28, North Korean defectors will convene in front of the Holocaust Museum for a demonstration against human rights violations in North Korea At 6:30 p.m., a prayer vigil will be held at St. Peter’s Catholic Church. The defectors will hold another demonstration before the U.N. Headquarters in New York on April 30, followed by a lecture on the harsh conditions currently prevailing in North Korea.

Amending the North Korea Human Rights Act—

The North Korea Human Rights Act, supported by the North Korea Freedom Coalition, is expected to clear both houses of Congress this fall.

The bill, introduced jointly by 16 members of Congress across various parties, including Representative Jim Leach (Republican) of the House International Relations Committee, replaces the “North Korea Freedom Act” drafted in July of last year. Due to the possible provocation to North Korea inherent in the title, the bill has been renamed to the more neutral “North Korea Human Rights Act.”

Passages from the “North Korea Freedom Act” that might affect the six-party talks have also been revised. Whereas the previous bill stated that “any negotiations between the United States,

North Korea, and other concerned parties in northeast Asia should include discussions directed toward ensuring the … dismantlement of the North Korean nuclear arms program, the elimination of Pyongyang’s other illegal weapons of mass destruction programs, ending its proliferation of missiles and missile-related technologies, the adoption by North Korea of a less provocative conventional force posture, addressing the issues underlying its appearance on the State Department list of states sponsoring terrorism, … the establishment of a lasting peace on the Korean peninsula, and… the human rights of North Korean citizens,” the newly revised bill avers that “the human rights of North Koreans should remain a key concern in future negotiations between the United States, North Korea, and other concerned parties in northeast Asia.” Furthermore, this newly toned-down version of the original passage is characterized as “the sense of the Congress,” which effectively voids it of any legal force.

Another controversial article that stipulates cooperation in the U.S. government’s policies to bring about the collapse of the North Korean regime, including active participation in the Proliferation Security Initiative, as “a precondition to receiving bilateral United States assistance,” has been stricken from the bill.

Soon-Taek Kwon Young-Sik Kim maypole@donga.com spear@donga.com