September 10, 2015

North Korea Pressured on Human Rights

 ©2015 Baptist Press

The Southern Baptist Convention's adoption of a resolution this summer on "religious persecution and human rights violations in North Korea" has coincided with what the resolution's originator calls a renewed international challenge to the nation.

North Korea -- named by persecution watchdog Open Doors as the world's worst persecutor of Christians for the past 13 years -- has sent thousands of Christians to its political prison camps, estimated at 50,000-70,000 by Open Doors. The SBC resolution, meanwhile, notes that "an estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Christians in North Korea remain at grave risk of persecution."

Daniel Aum, a Southern Baptist who submitted the resolution's initial draft to the SBC Resolutions Committee, told Baptist Press there has been "a tremendous momentum swing" related to North Korea among U.S. and foreign leaders. He said the SBC resolution has been presented to members of Congress as they consider legislation calling for investigation and sanction of North Korea's human rights violations -- the North Korea Sanctions Enforcement Act of 2015 (H.R. 757).

"Discussion in the U.S. and around the world was primarily focused on the North Korean nuclear question," said Aum, an attorney and fellow with Robert F. Kennedy Human Rights, an organization with offices in Washington, New York and Florence, Italy. But a 2014 report on North Korea by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry has "galvanized the U.S. government. It's galvanized the South Korean government. It's moved the international community," Aum said.

Nine areas of human rights abuses, including torture and inhumane treatment, arbitrary arrest and detention and violations of the right to life, were documented in the Report of the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in the Democratic People's Republic of Korea, which is referenced in the SBC resolution.

The "landmark report," Aum said, "elevated the North Korean human rights issue to a place where it can no longer be denied" or "discounted." In its emphasis on human rights, Aum said the report has become "one of the more effective weapons to apply pressure to North Korea."

North Korea exhibited a "dramatically new approach" following the report's release by saying it "accepted" some previous U.N. human rights recommendations, according to 38 North, a website devoted to analysis of North Korea, which noted the nation's prior refusal "to accept any of the proffered recommendations for improving human rights ... made by other governments."

Two Americans accused of anti-state crimes against North Korea -- Kenneth Bae, who had been held for two years, and Jeffrey Fowle, who had been held for six months -- were freed several months after the U.N. report's publication.

A report by the George W. Bush Institute in Dallas called the U.N. report "a manifestation of the growing global awareness of the magnitude of human injustice in North Korea." After decades of regarding human rights discussion as "at best, a distraction, or at worst, a detriment to denuclearization negotiations," U.S. officials "should consider a Rights Up-Front approach in [their] negotiations with North Korea," according to the Bush Institute report. 

To read the rest of the story, click here.