North Korea once again tops the charts as the world’s worst persecutor of Christians, according to a recent report by Open Doors USA.
Nearly three years ago, a United Nation’s Commission of Inquiry (COI) found the Kim regime guilty of crimes against humanity, in part due to its persecution of Christians. Surprisingly little has been done since then to improve religious freedom or human rights in North Korea.
Michael Kirby, the chief commissioner of the COI report, noted that one of its most overlooked findings was the section on religious persecution. The COI found that North Koreans have no right to religious freedom. Instead, they are forced to worship the Kim family. People caught conducting illegal religious activities are often tortured, sent to prison camps, and even killed for their faith.
North Korean Christians—estimated to number between 200,000 and 400,000 people—face particularly onerous persecution. North Korean refugees repatriated from China or elsewhere are regularly asked if they had contact with Christian missionaries. Those who had met Christians, the COI report found, were subjected to harsher punishment – often sent to political prison camps where conditions are far worse those of normal prison camps. The brutal Kim regime has been known to throw three generations of a family into political prison camps just for possessing a Bible or practicing Christianity.
The regime uses threats and intimidation, including public executions, to maintain its grip on power. The Committee for Human Rights in North Korea reports that the regime actually profits from its abuse of North Koreans. Profits from forced labor, for example, may help fund the DPRK’s nuclear and missile programs.
Kim’s regime hopes soon to pose an existential threat to the U.S. Since the regime uses religious persecution to maintain its grip on power, it is in the interest of the U.S. government to curtail this persecution.
And despite the closed nature of The Hermit Kingdom, there are things that the U.S. can do.
North Korea has been listed as a “country of particular concern” (CPC) in the U.S. Department of State’s International Religious Freedom report since 2001. CPCs are guilty of severe forms of persecution including torture, discrimination, and denial of religious freedom. Despite North Korea’s designation as a CPC, sanctions under the International Religious Freedom Act (IRFA) have been waived and subsumed under sanctionsthat have been imposed pursuant to the Jackson–Vanik Amendment. This strategy has failed to garner compliance. Due to North Korea’s ongoing violations of religious freedom, it should remain a country of particular concern and face sanctions under IRFA specifically for its violations of religious freedom.
The U.S. should step up its efforts to provide North Koreans—especially religious communities—with news and information denied them by government. In additions to filling the information void, accurate information assuring persecuted persons that they are not forgotten or alone can be a huge boon to the afflicted and their supporters.
Current information efforts range from governmental to non-governmental, religious as well as secular, and come from foreign sources as well as North Korean refugee groups. Examples of such efforts include: U.S. and South Korean government-funded radio broadcasts into North Korea; the Human Rights Foundation’s Hack North Korea event that brainstormed the use of emerging technologies to improve information access, and the partnership between the Defense Freedom Forum and Free North Korea Radio that employs North Korean refugees to conduct religious and non-religious broadcasts into North Korea. These efforts should continue to be supported, stepped up, and advanced.
Advancing religious freedom is a core component of U.S. foreign policy, and persecuted North Koreans certainly need assistance. It’s time to transfer power from the Kim regime to the people of North Korea by improving access to information which has the potential to aid the persecuted and amplify their voices.
This piece originally appeared in Forbes