U.S. President Donald Trump and North Korean Leader Kim Jong Un are on course for a historic meeting in Singapore next week. While the threat of Pyongyang’s nuclear weapons is the catalyst for the meeting, NRB President & CEO Dr. Jerry A. Johnson has joined dozens of religious leaders and foreign policy experts in urging Trump to make sure the agenda has a place for human rights, particularly religious freedom.
Johnson and the other leaders welcomed the President’s effort to rid North Korea of nuclear weapons as “an outcome that would benefit all of humanity.” However, they also wanted to highlight the dire situation of the North Korean people. “For decades, North Korea has been in effect a national torture chamber,” they said. “There is nowhere on earth more dangerous for dissenters of conscience, especially those who believe in God.”
North Korea regularly tops lists ranking the worst nations on Earth for religious persecution. Christians and other religious minorities are subject to brutal treatment at the hands of the regime if they are discovered. The State Department’s most recent International Religious Freedom Report estimates 80,000 – 120,000 people are being imprisoned by the state and live “under horrific conditions.” The report highlights the exclusive faith demands of the North Korean cult of personality for its Supreme Leader. “Refusal on religious or other grounds to accept the leader as the supreme authority was regarded as opposition to the national interest and reportedly resulted in severe punishment,” the report states. It also notes that human rights groups and defectors from the regime have reported that religious activities not sanctioned by Pyongyang “including praying, singing hymns, and reading the Bible, could lead to severe punishment, including imprisonment in political prison camps.”
The leaders’ letter, which also included such signatories as former USCIRF Chairs Robert George and Katrina Lantos Swett, China Aid’s Bob Fu, and Family Research Council’s Tony Perkins, recommended a number of concrete ways North Korea could work to improve its standing. For example, in addition to the release of prisoners and emigration permissions for them, the regime could allow the International Red Cross and the UN access to all its jails. Moreover, Johnson and the other leaders suggested U.S. Ambassador for International Religious Freedom Sam Brownback and UN envoys should be able to “visit North Korea within three months of the agreement and have free access to any part of the country.”
Last week, when the latest State Department IRF report was released, Brownback was asked by a reporter if the human rights situation in North Korea should be tied to normalization of relations between the regime and the U.S. The ambassador deferred to President Trump “who’s doing an outstanding job on this of elevating and dealing with the issue.” He also added, “I remember when I was back in the Senate, I was raising the issue of North Korea at that time, but you couldn’t get anybody to act. Well, this President is acting and he’s taking this issue on even though it’s threatened us for years if not decades.”
By Aaron Mercer, Vice President of Government Relations
Published: June 7, 2018