Tuesday, November 17, 2009

North Korea: American expats and NGOs in S. Korea appeal to President Obama

Excerpts of a letter to President Obama from Timothy Peters, Founder/Director of Helping Hands Korea:

Mr. President, we continue to grieve over the extraordinary human rights violations suffered by the North Korean people, including a prison system that begs comparison to the gulags perpetrated by Josef Stalin and the concentration camps of Nazi Germany. This is not an abstraction nor hyperbole; more than 20 survivors of the gulag system have made their way to freedom to tell their heartrending accounts of prisons in the North. Accounts of three generations of family punishment for judicial sentences that never saw the light of a courtroom abound. Human experimentation of biological and poison gas agents are at times carried out on prisoners who have dared to embrace the Christian faith or express the slightest criticism of the allpowerful Kim Jongil family regime.

Some North Korean citizens, as you know, flee out of desperation to neighboring China to escape the suffocating vacuum of human rights even in the ordinary society of their native land. China, although a signatory of the 1951 Convention for the Protection of Refugees, has for the past 13 years, turned a blind eye to the obligations of this international human rights instrument. By systematically repatriating North Korean refugees to the DPRK government security apparatus, China continues to subject innocent men, women and even children to harsh interrogation, torture, extended imprisonment. In the cases of some trafficked refugee women who are pregnant with children fathered by Chinese men, we hear a drumbeat of testimonies to the horrific nightmare of forced abortion.

How such barbaric practices could continue year after year without a profound challenge from the United States America, not to mention other mature democracies of the world, is simply beyond belief. By ‘profound challenge,’ we do not mean mere speeches, or resolutions or special envoys, but decisions at the highest level of government that indicate that our cherished ideals of human dignity transcend our shortterm economic strategies.

Sir, in the waning months of 2004 your predecessor signed into law the North Korean Human Rights Act that had passed unanimously in the U.S. Congress in October of that year. Despite the overwhelming support for this piece of legislation and the authorization by Congress of resources for NGO’s to help the highly vulnerable North Korean refugees in China, actual inclusion of the authorized funding was never, to our knowledge, included in subsequent national budgets submitted by the George W. Bush Administration.

Given the extraordinary plight of the North Korean refugees in particular, we cannot remotely imagine what justification could be offered for this silence and inaction in the face of an overwhelming Congressional expression of the national will to act.

Mr. President, we earnestly and respectfully encourage you, during your trip to China, to speak out in an uncompromising manner to demand that the Chinese leadership immediately halt the forcible repatriation of North Korean refugees in China.

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