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South Korea

International pressure sought to end rights abuses in North Korea

Catholic institute's conference discusses the isolated country's food crisis and economic problems

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: November 10, 2021 06:23 AM GMT

Updated: November 10, 2021 06:48 AM GMT

International pressure sought to end rights abuses in North Korea

Employees produce wheat cakes stuffed with meat at the Kumsong Foodstuff Factory in Pyongyang, North Korea. The communist country is facing food shortages. (Photo: Kim Won Jin/AFP)

The global community should make effective efforts to bring an end to human rights violations in North Korea with the perspective of establishing peace, experts said during an international symposium.

The Catholic Institute of Northeast Asia Peace under Uijeongbu Diocese of South Korea organized the 5th international conference with the theme "The Role of Religion for Improving Human Rights in North Korea" on Nov. 3-4, reports Catholic Times of Korea.

The seminar discussed the ongoing food crisis in North Korea amid a bad harvest and a devastated economy that has left millions starving and how the international community should get involved to bring an end to serious rights violations in the communist state.

Among the prominent speakers were Jesuit Father Drew Christiansen, distinguished professor of ethics and human development in the School of Foreign Service at Georgetown University and senior fellow in the Berkley Center for Religion, Peace, and World Affairs in the United States. Other speakers included Hazel Smith, professor of Korean Studies at the SOAS University of London and Emeritus Professor Park Han-sik of Georgia University.

Father Christiansen described the human rights situation in North Korea as very serious and complex, and so it requires attention from “the standpoint of human dignity.” 

The Jesuit priest acknowledged North Korea's problems are “difficult to solve right away” and he emphasized on developing expertise on building a network to press for the cause.

We need to acknowledge the unique characteristics of North Korea. Religion can play an effective role because the true role of religion is also to help, not to be embarrassed

Referring to food shortages in North Korea, Smith focused on the importance of “the right to life as a human right.” 

“There is a limit to the Western view of North Korea. Its leaders cite external factors such as sanctions against North Korea as the cause of worsening food crisis. Scientific research is required to determine the causes. The church and humanitarian aid approach can play a huge role,” she said.  

Park said it is important to understand realities in North Korea before any effective steps can be taken to find solutions to the ongoing crisis.

“We need to acknowledge the unique characteristics of North Korea. Religion can play an effective role because the true role of religion is also to help, not to be embarrassed,” he said.

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The speakers and participants agreed that external forces are required to end the pariah status of North Korea, but for now it was more important to ensure humanitarian aid to save millions of hungry people.

Bishop Peter Ki-heon Lee of Uijeongbu, chairman of the Korean Bishops' Committee for the Reconciliation of the Korean People, said that he once again feels “the humanitarian approach such as food aid was missionary.” 

“The core of human rights lies in respect. I expect that many changes will occur in itself when Pope Francis visits North Korea,” the prelate said, referring to a much-hyped potential papal visit to the communist nation.

Following the end of Japan’s imperial rule (1905-45) after World War II, the United States and the Soviet Union divided Korea into two. The efforts to unify the two nations failed following US and Soviet disagreements in 1947 that led to the deadly Korean War (1950-53).

During the war, communist forces from North Korea invaded the South, leading to 4 million deaths and the displacement of some 10 million families. The war ended with an armistice, on July 27, 1953. Technically, the two nations are still at war.

North Korea has a population of about 24 million led by dictator Kim Jong-un, the heir of the powerful Kim family that has been ruling the officially atheist nation since its inception.

North Korea’s constitution recognizes rights to faith but in reality basic freedoms including religious liberty are non-existent.

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