On Oct. 18, 2004, President Bush signed into law the first bill in the history of the United States to advance human rights and democracy in North Korea through government-funded non-profit groups, and to increase the protection for North Korean refugees. Entitled, “The North Korean Human Rights Act,” the bill was unanimously passed in both houses of congress, and received the support of dozens of Christian and human rights organizations across the States.
In essence, the bill authorizes funding for programs to “promote human rights, democracy, rule of law, and a market economy” in one of the world’s most oppressive regimes. In addition, it authorizes funding “to increase the availability of information sources not controlled by the North Korean government” – such as radio and TV programs. In terms of government action, the bill creates a special envoy for human rights in North Korea within the state department.
Moreover, according to the North Korea Freedom Coalition, the newly passed legislation authorizes “increased funding for humanitarian assistance to North Koreans outside of North Korea including refugees, orphans, and trafficking victims.”
“It promotes greater transparency, monitoring, and access for humanitarian aid delivered inside North Korea. Finally, it expresses the sense of Congress on human rights and humanitarian principles that should govern any future U.S. aid to the government of North Korea,” the Coalition wrote.
The third part of the legislation dealt specifically with refugee protection. The bill clarifies “ the United States policy toward North Korean refugees and promotes the protection of refugees among the vulnerable North Korean migrant population, particularly in China.”
In announcing Bush’s signing of the bill, which came within weeks of the bill’s passage at the Senate, the White House said it would immediately implement the section on naming a special envoy for North Korean Human Rights.
This year, North Korea was labeled one of the eight “countries of particular concern” by the U.S. State Department. The nation has also been labeled by Christian persecution watchdog groups as the most oppressive regime in the world.
North Korea has been known for several violations of universal human rights such as: (1) The diversion of foreign food aid to the military and to the black market, and (2) the widespread detention, torture and execution of political prisoners, including hundreds of thousands of Christians.
According to human rights officials, more than four million North Koreans have starved to death since 1995, despite the fact that the nation received millions of dollars in foreign aid. There are at least 200,000 political prisoners in North Korea, and about 400,000 inmates have died in the system in the last three decades.