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North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2008

Floor Speech

Location: Washington, DC

NORTH KOREAN HUMAN RIGHTS REAUTHORIZATION ACT OF 2008 -- (House of Representatives - May 13, 2008)


I'm pleased that we're taking up H.R. 5834, the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act that I introduced last month with my dear friend and partner, Congressman Berman of California.

Informed by the experience of the past 4 years, this bill reauthorizes and makes minor revisions to the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004. That law captured the strong, bipartisan consensus in favor of promoting human rights, transparent humanitarian assistance, and refugee protections for the people of North Korea.

The people of North Korea continue to suffer some of the worst conditions imaginable. The totalitarian regime does not permit meaningful political freedom, nor religious liberty, and requires cult-like devotion to the Kim dynasty. It crushes any who dare to dissent.

The vast North Korean gulag holds an estimated 200,000 men, women and children in brutal, sub-human conditions where entire families are tortured, abused and worked to death.

The centrally directed economy that exacerbated the North Korean famine of the 1990s, which killed somewhere between 1 and 3 million people, continues to threaten the basic welfare of the population.

The scores of North Korean women and girls who flee into China are vulnerable to repeated trafficking, sexual abuse, and exploitation. If they are pregnant when repatriated, they are routinely subjected to forced abortions by North Korean officials, often by vicious, physical beatings.

Trying to sweep the refugee problem under the rug before the 2008 Olympics, China has dramatically raised the bounty that it pays for North Korean border crossers, and routinely repatriates refugees to North Korea where they are sure to face prison, torture, and sometimes even execution.

In an attempt to deter escape, the North Korean regime has been stepping up its executions of people involved in border crossings. They execute them at public gatherings, where attendance by the local population, including children, is required.

On February 20 of this year, North Korean officials in Onsung County made their point by shooting and killing 13 women in front of the assembled community. Tragically, these atrocities are common in North Korea. We should, therefore, not be surprised when a dictatorship so willing to brutalize its own people is proven untrustworthy and dangerous in its dealings with the outside world.

Whether the issue is human rights, missiles or nuclear proliferation, the only consistent interest of the current North Korean regime is the continuation of the current North Korean regime. It holds no value and no regard for human life or the welfare of humanity as a whole.

In an effort to help address the grim situation endured by the North Korean people, this bill extends key authorities of the original North Korean Human Rights Act for an additional 4 years, such as funding for humanitarian assistance to North Korean refugees and trafficking victims, efforts to increase freedom of information inside North Korea, support for democracy and human rights activities, and reporting requirements regarding implementation of this act.

It also attempts to energize the United States' anemic North Korean refugee admissions, and clarifies and strengthens the role of the Special Envoy, which Congress intended to be a full-time position within the Department of State to champion better policy making on North Korean human rights, humanitarian, and refugee issues.

The United States is home to the largest ethnic Korean community outside of the Korean Peninsula, and many of our 2 million Korean-American constituents have family ties to North Korea. Our Nation also has the largest refugee resettlement program in the world by far and has resettled approximately 150,000 refugees from around the world since the year 2004, when the act became law. But over the past 4 years, Mr. Speaker, the United States has settled fewer than 50 North Koreans, notwithstanding the clear mandate of section 303 of the act directing the Secretary of State to facilitate North Korean refugee applications. This is an embarrassment, and it is not in keeping with the intent of Congress in passing the North Korean Human Rights Act.

More North Koreans have approached the United States seeking resettlement, but many have been deterred or have abandoned their pursuit because of extended delays that sometimes continue even after they have passed U.S. security screening. A group of increasingly desperate North Korean refugees, some of whom have been awaiting U.S. resettlement for over 2 years, recently carried out a hunger strike to draw attention to their extended limbo. This situation, which continues despite the good work from our regional refugee coordinators, requires persistent, high-level diplomacy by senior executive branch officials to secure permission from more foreign countries to allow us to process refugees, and prompt exit visas when those North Koreans are ready to leave for the United States.

I want to thank my good friend, Chairman Berman, and our original cosponsors from both sides of the aisle for their commitment to this important issue, including my friend, Congresswoman Sheila Jackson-Lee, whose language on North Korean refugees in China was added to section 3 of the bill.

I urge unanimous consent for this measure. And I hope that we can work together to get this bill through to the other body and onto the President's desk.


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