Nearing the holidays and another end of the year, Christian activists and human rights groups have not forgotten the millions of persecuted believers around the world who have yet to gain the freedom to celebrate Christmas as Christians in America do.
North Korea, particularly, has kept itself high on the list of worst persecutors and human rights violators in the world. Freedom House gave North Korea the lowest ratings in political rights and civil liberties in its newly released report Freedom in the World 2006, again labeling it as "not free." The "one-party Marxist-Lennist regime," as the report noted, was one of 45 states rated as "not free" among 192 countries.
Open Doors USA also released a report - Review of the Persecuted Church Worldwide in 2005 - on Monday, before Christmas, stating, "We need to pause and reflect on the status of our brothers and sisters who are being tortured, imprisoned and even killed for their faith in Jesus Christ."
In 2005, an estimated 400,000 Christians in North Korea faced daily persecution, including torture in prison camps, stated the Open Doors report. For the third straight year, North Korea topped Open Doors' 2005 World Watch List of countries where persecution is most severe. An ongoing prayer campaign was launched in November to gather the prayers of people across the nation for the thousands of suffering Christians.
Despite North Korea's being "the world's most closed society," as Dr. Richard Land, president of Ethics & Religious Liberty Commission, stated during a panel discussion sponsored by Freedom House's Center for Religious Freedom last week, numerous accounts and testimonies have been reported and orally heard from defectors and victims of human rights and religious freedom violations.
Many are cited in the U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom's milestone study Thank you, Father Kim Il Sung, which was issued in November. In that same month, the U.N. General Assembly passed a resolution expressing "serious concern" about the human rights and humanitarian situation in North Korea.
The country was declared as a "criminal regime" by U.S. Ambassador to South Korea Alexander Vershbow – a declaration commended by human rights activists.
Congressman Henry Hyde, chairman of the U.S. House International Relations Committee said in a recent letter to Vershbow, "While many in Washington have turned their attention to Iraq, Afghanistan, Hurricane Katrina, and the War on Terror, it is important at the same time to recall how developments in East Asia affect the security and economic well-being of all Americans."
"The dark clouds that have been slowly gathering over the Korean peninsula for the past decade, therefore, should be of concern to us all," he said.
Jay Lefkowitz, U.S. envoy for North Korean human rights, made a similar statement at a historic international conference in Seoul early December highlighting the ongoing human rights abuses in North Korea.
"We believe North Korean Human Rights is not only a North Korean or Asian issue, but it is an important problem for the world," he said.
The summit culminated on the International 2005 Human Rights Day with the release of a joint-statement on North Korean human rights and a march and rally organized by university students.