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31 March 2004

House Panel Passes North Korean Human Rights Act

Rep. James Leach's March 31 remarks

The International Relations Committee of the U.S. House of Representatives passed March 31 the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, legislation aimed at promoting international cooperation on human rights and refugee protection and increasing transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea.

Congressman James Leach, Republican of Iowa and chairman of that committee's subcommittee for East Asian and Pacific affairs, said the bill underscores the importance of human rights issues in future negotiations with North Korea and authorizes $2 million per year for programs to promote human rights, democracy, rule of law, and a market economy. It also authorizes a similar amount to increase the availability of information sources not controlled by the North Korean government, and it urges additional North Korea-specific attention by appropriate U.N. human rights authorities.

The bill also offers more U.S. assistance to help defray the costs associated with the North Korean refugee presence in China when Beijing "begins fulfilling its obligations as a party to the 1951 U.N. Refugee Convention."

Following is the text of Representative Leach's remarks on the act:

(begin text)

Statement of Rep. James A. Leach
Full Committee Markup of H.R. 4011
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004

Mr. Chairman, at the outset I would like to thank the many Committee Members who have cosponsored this legislation, including Representatives Tom Lantos, Chris Smith, Howard Berman, Dan Burton, Gary Ackerman, Elton Gallegly, Eni Faleomavaega, Ileana Ros-Lehtinen, Donald Payne, Ed Royce, Earl Blumenauer, Steve Chabot, and Joseph Pitts. I would also like to register my high regard for the thoughtfulness of Senator Brownback who has provided such impressive leadership on this issue.

The people of North Korea have endured some of the great humanitarian traumas of our time. Inside North Korea, they suffer at the hands of a totalitarian dynasty that permits no dissent and maintains an inhumane system of prison camps that house an estimated 200,000 political inmates. The regime strictly curtails freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and movement. Since the collapse of the centralized agricultural system in the 1990s, more than 2,000,000 North Koreans are estimated to have died of starvation.

North Koreans outside of North Korea are also uniquely vulnerable. Many thousands are hiding inside China, which currently refuses to allow the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to evaluate and identify genuine refugees among the North Korean migrant population. China forcibly returns North Koreans to North Korea, where they routinely face imprisonment and torture, and sometimes execution. Inside China, North Korean women and girls are particularly vulnerable to trafficking and sexual exploitation.

Provoked by these crises, this broadly bipartisan legislation aims to promote international cooperation on human rights and refugee protection, and increased transparency in the provision of humanitarian assistance to the people of North Korea.

On the human rights front, this bill underscores the importance of human rights issues in future negotiations with North Korea, and authorizes $2 million per year for programs to promote human rights, democracy, rule of law, and a market economy. It also authorizes a similar amount to increase the availability of information sources not controlled by the North Korean government. Finally, it urges additional North Korea-specific attention by appropriate UN human rights authorities.

On the humanitarian front, the bill authorizes increased funding ($20 million/year) for assistance to North Koreans outside of North Korea. It also attempts to secure greater transparency for aid delivered inside North Korea by authorizing a significant increase in such aid (to not less than $100 million/year), but tying increases to substantive improvements in monitoring. Finally, it conditions direct aid to the North Korean government on human rights and transparency benchmarks, but allows the President to waive those restrictions for national security purposes after reporting to Congress.

In terms of refugee protection, the bill clarifies U.S. policy and urges UNHCR to use all available means to gain access to North Koreans in China. It also attempts to formulate prudent solutions to the practical and legal barriers that presently keep North Koreans from having effective access to U.S. refugee and asylum programs. It does not mandate the admission of any number of North Koreans to the United States, raise the annual U.S. refugee cap, or in any way limit the authority of the Department of Homeland Security to regulate and condition the entry of North Koreans into the U.S. on a case-by-case basis.

Although the principal responsibility for North Korean refugee resettlement naturally falls to the Government of South Korea, the United States should play a leadership role in focusing international attention on the plight of these refugees and formulating international solutions to that profound humanitarian dilemma, which may include accepting an unspecified but credible number of refugees for domestic resettlement. Here, it must be noted that our government must maintain a prudent, case-by-case approach in part due to the circumstance that, not only is the North Korean government oppressive, it has instituted a virtual anti-American brainwashing of its population. Unlike refugees from the former Communist bloc of Eastern Europe, the North Korean people do not yet broadly share the idea of America as a beacon of freedom.

At this point I would like to note that, with regard to China, this bill is not solely critical, it is also aspirational. It makes clear that the United States and the international community stand ready to provide more assistance to help defray the costs associated with the North Korean refugee presence when China begins fulfilling its obligations as a party to the 1951 UN Refugee Convention. We genuinely hope for that opportunity.

I would like to thank my Committee colleagues for the strong, bipartisan support they have given this bill. I urge its favorable consideration.

(end text)

(Distributed by the Bureau of International Information Programs, U.S. Department of State. Web site: http://usinfo.state.gov)



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