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5/3/04 - NORTH KOREA FREEDOM DAY - 2004-04-30

The people of North Korea suffer profoundly because of the North Korean government’s total lack of respect for human rights. That is why many Americans took part in “North Korea Freedom Day” on April 28th in Washington. Organized by groups active in promoting human rights in North Korea, the event included a rally, prayers, and other activities.

U.S. Ambassador at Large for International Religious Freedom John Hanford spoke at the rally about the appalling persecution of religious believers in North Korea. As he said, “Religious freedom is not just severely violated in North Korea; it does not exist at all.”

Repression is so severe in North Korea that the United Nations Human Rights Commission adopted a resolution condemning the “systemic, widespread, and grave violations of human rights” by the Communist regime in Pyongyang. Those violations include torture, arbitrary detention, execution of political and religious prisoners, and the extensive use of forced labor. The U-N Human Rights Commission resolution says that in North Korea there are pervasive and severe restrictions on freedom of thought, religion, expression, and association.

Lorne Craner is U.S. Assistant Secretary of State for Democracy, Human Rights, and Labor. He says that basic freedoms are unheard of in North Korea:

“And clearly, the situation there for human rights is very, very poor. You have widespread prison camps, one-hundred-fifty-thousand to two-hundred thousand people in prison, a lot of torture, etc.”

North Korea is still largely closed to outsiders, and its economy is one of the most tightly controlled in the world. The country is also one of the world’s most militarized, with more than one-quarter of the gross domestic product devoted to military purposes, including the development of nuclear weapons. As a result of government policies, North Korea has chronic food shortages and famine. Even with huge amounts of international aid -- much of it from the U.S. -- hundreds of thousands of North Koreans have reportedly starved to death in the last decade.

As the U-N Human Rights Commission said, North Korean authorities need to open up the country to allow monitoring by humanitarian and human rights groups to ensure that international aid reaches those most in need.