WASHINGTON, D.C. – – On Monday, U.S. Rep. Ed Royce (R-CA-40) participated in a general meeting of the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for the North Korea Refugees and Human Rights. The event was held in Tokyo and was attended by parliamentarians from the United States, South Korea, Japan and Mongolia. As a co-chairman of the group, Royce issued the following opening statement at the event:
“I would like to thank our Japanese hosts, Representative Shu Watanabe, Representative Yoshihide Suga, Representative Akihisa Nagashima and Senator Kazuya Shimba. I would also like to thank Mr. Woo Yea Hwang for his hard work and dedication in organizing the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights [IPCNKR]. Two years ago, I led a congressional delegation to Seoul, where we participated in the inaugural IPCNKR event, on April 16 of 2003. Today – as we were then – we are joined by Parliamentarians from many countries who share the IPCNKR’s commitment of improving the dismal human rights conditions of the North Korean people. I am particularly proud that later on we will be joined by a distinguished delegation from the U.S. House of Representatives, led by the Speaker of the House, Dennis Hastert.
“My brief message to you today is that the IPCNKR, and the North Korean human rights agenda in general, has made very significant progress in the last several years. As those of us in this room know, the human rights catastrophe in North Korea – virtually ignored five years ago – is gaining greater and greater attention. For example, it is now U.S. policy to put it on the Six-party talks’ agenda. This attention, I believe, over time, will make a difference for the suffering North Korean people.
“Of course, progress cannot come soon enough. In a society where information is so tightly controlled, as it is under Kim Jong Il, we do not know the full extent of the suffering in North Korea, but we do know that most of the 22 million North Koreans live in nightmarish conditions. We also know that millions have perished from starvation and related diseases, very preventable, while nearly 50 percent of all North Korean children are malnourished to the point that it threatens their physical and mental health. We also know that 200,000 North Koreans are held in detention camps, where they suffer unimaginable abuse. Of course, this dire situation has forced many North Koreans to risk their lives by fleeing into China. If returned to North Korea, they face torture, imprisonment, and even execution. This is the drama so poignantly portrayed by ‘Seoul Train,’ the award-winning documentary that has done so much to catalyze attention on this crisis. [link here –OFK] ‘Seoul Train’ is scheduled for a showing later on today.
“I would like to share with you some of the actions the U.S. Congress has taken regarding North Korean refugees and human rights abuses, and hopefully offer some insight into how we – legislators from around the world – can help.
“I have served on our Committee on International Relations since I entered Congress 12 years ago. Over the last six or so years, our Committee has held many hearings focusing on the abusive human rights conditions in North Korea. We have heard from North Koreans who have escaped this fate, hearing gripping accounts of their suffering, and from NGOs that have tried to address the humanitarian crisis in the North. We have also called on the Clinton and Bush Administrations to come before us and report on their efforts to address this crisis. These hearings have helped to bring attention to the situation, and build momentum for policy changes.
“The Committee’s most recent hearing was in April, when we looked at the implementation of the bipartisan North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004. We pressed about when a Special Envoy for North Korean Human Rights would be appointed, and brought attention to the weak performance of the U.N. Commission on Human Rights in Beijing. That organization simply must get energized in recognizing and aiding those North Koreans who reach China.
“Many efforts laid the groundwork for passage of the North Korean Human Right Act. In 2001, I authored a resolution calling on the Chinese government to honor its obligation under the United Nations Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees, which is part of the Human Rights Act. We passed several other resolutions drawing attention to the North Korean regime’s mistreatment of its citizens, and conducted the oversight hearings, as I mentioned. I should stress that these efforts were supported by both our political parties – Republicans and Democrats. These years of work culminated when President Bush signed the North Korean human rights bill last year.
“We are legislators, and the focus of this conference is on legislative action, but I should say a few words about President Bush. Early on, President Bush was sensitive to the plight of the North Korean people. In 2002, he said this about his North Korea policy to the Washington Post in a very candid interview, ‘Either you believe in freedom, and want to – and worry about the human condition, or you don’t.’ I feel very good that President Bush worries about the human condition in North Korea. Last October, he signed the North Korean Human Rights Act. And of course, in June, President Bush invited to the White House Kang Chol-hwan, who wrote ‘The Aquariums of Pyongyang,’ who was sent to a North Korean prison as a nine-year-old boy.
“The Administration appears days away from appointing a Special Envoy on human rights in North Korea, as required by the North Korean Human Rights Act. Encouraged by the Act, the Administration gave Freedom House funding for what turned out to be a very successful North Korean human rights conference, held in Washington last month. Some in this room attended that, I imagine. Also, the National Endowment for Democracy has been given a grant to help South Korean NGOs monitoring the human rights conditions in North Korea.
“The Act also supports more broadcasting hours by Radio Free Asia. Every time I meet with North Korean refugees and defectors, I am further convinced that it is vitally important to bring news and information to North Korea. It is encouraging to see some similar efforts in South Korea, including FreeNK Radio. Information is power.
“I should add that information about the Act is contained on the U.S. Department of State website. And, I am pleased to learn that the Japanese Diet and the South Korean National Assembly are considering similar legislation. We legislators are doing our part.
“It is regrettable that some are opting for ‘quiet diplomacy.’ The South Korean government this year again skipped a vote on a U.N. Commission on Human Rights resolution condemning Pyongyang’s litany of human rights abuses. Two years ago, during the time of the IPNCKR conference in Seoul, South Korean government officials, in explaining their government’s abstaining from the first such resolution, said ‘North Korea may misjudge our attending the voting.’ Another official added that there was no need to discuss human rights and irritate Pyongyang at this ‘important time.’ I agree it is an important time; it is always an important time – an important time to speak-up about human rights abuses in North Korea.
“It is now U.S. policy to raise human rights concerns at the Six-party talks, making the issue of how North Korea treats its people a central part of any dialogue about normalization of relations. This policy was part of the North Korean Human Right Act. Yes, there are those who say: why focus on, why even mention, human rights abuses. They say that bringing up the North’s human rights record only gets in the way of disarming it of its weapons of mass destruction.
“Do not get me wrong; let’s have a dialogue with North Korea, as we are doing. But, let’s have a dialogue based on a clear understanding of what type of government we are dealing with – ignoring human rights issues gives us a false sense of who we are talking to. I see no evidence that overlooking these abuses will get us any closer to an agreement on nuclear disarmament, or that raising them keeps us any further away. Pyongyang’s screaming about us speaking-up about human rights does not persuade me. Add to that – ignoring this issue, keeping silent, is morally indefensible. I do not think we have a choice. I have been long convinced that a concerted, international focus on the North Korean regime’s human rights violations, in fact, is the best way to bring us closer to peace and stability in this region.
“The IPCNKR has achieved much in a very short time. Motivated by the continued suffering of the North Korean people, we must commit ourselves to even greater efforts. I think we are doing that today, and I look forward to continued work with all of you in the months and years ahead.”