Human Rights Must be Included in Talks to Ensure True Peace in North Korea

Statue of Kim II Sung

Just over a week ago, US President Donald Trump met with Kim Jong-Un, leader of the world’s most repressive regime which has been accused by the United Nations Commission of Inquiry of “crimes against humanity”. It was historic – the first time a sitting American President and a North Korean dictator had met face-to-face.

On the surface, in words attributed to Winston Churchill, “jaw jaw” has to be better than “war war”. It is good that the two men have moved from talk of “fire and fury” and whose nuclear button is bigger to discussion of denuclearisation, peace and prosperity. Perhaps a new era may be dawning.

However, one very fundamental issue seemed to be missing from the agenda: the human rights of the people of North Korea.

“However, one very fundamental issue seemed to be missing from the agenda: the human rights of the people of North Korea.”

CSW has been documenting the human rights crisis in the world’s most closed nation for almost two decades. Our report, North Korea: A Case to Answer, A Call to Act, was one of the first human rights reports to call for a UN Commission of Inquiry, in 2007. We co-founded the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea in 2011. We led the applause for the establishment of the Commission of Inquiry when it came in 2013, gave evidence to its hearings, and have championed its recommendations since its report was released in 2014. Two years ago we released a new report on violations of freedom of religion or belief in North Korea – Total Denial – and earlier this year we published a ground-breaking new report on changes in the country over the last decade, titled Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance. And just before the summit, CSW joined over 300 other non-governmental organisations in sending a letter to Kim Jong-Un, urging him to make “lasting improvements to the dire human rights situation”.

“Every one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ thirty articles is denied or violated in North Korea – in particular freedom of religion or belief.”

Every one of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights’ thirty articles is denied or violated in North Korea – in particular freedom of religion or belief. If you identify as a Christian in North Korea, you are risking a death sentence. Christians worshipping in secret risk certain incarceration in a prison camp, and possible execution.

Over the years, we have interviewed – and hosted – North Korean escapees, giving them platforms to tell their horrific tales of torture first-hand. It is therefore no surprise that they feel angry at the way last week’s summit proceeded. Kim Yong-hwa said that it was like “stabbing the heart” of North Koreans. Jung Gwang-il, who met President Trump earlier this year, says he feels let down.

To sideline human rights is disappointing enough, but for President Trump to salute a North Korean General, express admiration for the fact that when Kim speaks, North Korean people sit up, and declare that “I want my people to do the same,” is appalling. North Korean people have no choice, and if they are even suspected of anything other than absolute devotion to the ruling family, they end up in a gulag. Mr Trump said he was joking. But Mr President, gulags are no joke. And North Korea’s regime has incarcerated at least 100,000 people, perhaps twice that number, in prison camps that have been compared to Auschwitz.

Yet we in CSW are not opposed to the summit itself. Indeed, in principle we welcome engagement. We have long advocated engagement. In 2010, I travelled to North Korea with Britain’s tireless champion of human rights in North Korea, Lord Alton, who chairs the All-Party Parliamentary Group for North Korea, to engage the regime. We published a report – Building Bridges, Not Walls – which advocated critical engagement. But human rights must be clearly on the table, as they were in the Helsinki Process with the Soviet Union – a model for engagement with North Korea. For as Soviet dissident Andrei Sakharov said during his 1975 Nobel Peace Prize lecture, “international confidence, mutual understanding, disarmament, and international security are inconceivable without an open society with freedom of information, freedom of conscience, the right to publish, and the right to travel.”

It should not be forgotten that the Trump-Kim summit took place on 12 June, the 31st anniversary of President Ronald Reagan’s Berlin Wall speech. That speech linked the security of the world with the basic human rights and freedoms of an oppressed people. “Freedom and security go together: the advance of human liberty can only strengthen the cause of world peace, said President Reagan.” Just as Ronald Reagan called on Mikhail Gorbachev to “tear down this wall” and “open this gate”, Mr Trump should deliver the same message to Mr Kim.

“Our task now is to insist that at every stage of engagement with North Korea from now on, human rights are part of the discussion.”

Our task now is to insist that at every stage of engagement with North Korea from now on, human rights are part of the discussion. In the meantime, we must increase efforts to increase the information flow into North Korea, to counter the regime’s propaganda and undermine its information blockade. As our new report, Movies, Markets and Mass Surveillance: Human Rights in North Korea after a Decade of Change shows, in the last ten years increased flows of information, through radio broadcasts and smuggling of DVDs and USBs with South Korean dramas on them, have enhanced awareness about the outside world, and about human rights. Together with economic changes, this has led to an opening of hearts and minds in North Korea – despite, not because, of the regime. In this new engagement, we must build on that.

As Justice Michael Kirby, who chaired the UN Commission of Inquiry, said in a recent article, “I am glad that President Trump and Chairman Kim met in Singapore … But I cannot put out of my mind the people who came to the public hearings of the United Nations inquiry. They told their stories of suffering. They trust the world and the United Nations to right the wrongs. Their testimony is on the Internet. It haunts our world. But not North Korea where it is inaccessible to all but the elite around Kim. I will begin to respect his word when he opens up his isolated country to allow United Nations inspectors to visit the mass detention camps. Let him do this immediately and then I can join in the rejoicing for the self-proclaimed triumph of the Singapore Summit of June 2018.”

Real peace is impossible, unless the human rights and dignity of the people of North Korea are respected, crimes against humanity end and accountability established. That must remain the goal for which we work and pray.

By Benedict Rogers, CSW’s East Asia Team Leader

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As a newly elected member of the Human Rights Council, Nepal must practice what it pledges

Prayers inside the Catholic Church of the Ascension, Kathmandu,

Prayers inside the Catholic Church of the Ascension, Kathmandu, Nepal

All elected Member States of the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) have a special obligation to protect and promote human rights. While every State has a responsibility to uphold human rights, in theory and in practice, Member States on the Council are in a unique position; and to that end, it is important that they practice what they’re supposed to preach.

During the HRC elections, candidates submit voluntary pledges, committing to the promotion and protection of human rights, and once elected, to maintaining high standards towards the protection and promotion of human rights.

Often, a State’s campaign for election is not free from criticism. Indeed, current HRC Council Members include Saudi Arabia, Pakistan, and China; countries which are frequently pulled up for serious human rights violations.

“While every state has a responsibility to uphold human rights, in theory and in practice, Member States on the Council are in a unique position; and to that end, it is important that they practice what they’re supposed to preach.”

In 2017, Nepal was elected as a Member of the HRC. The country will serve for a period of three years, and could serve up to two consecutive terms. It is important that Nepal embraces its position on the Council, calls out human rights abuses, makes recommendations, and promotes peace and reconciliation and supports the work of Special Procedures among other human rights mechanisms.

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Faith and a Future: Every Child Free to Learn

Girl Learning

Child at school in Hpa-An, Kayin State, Burma. Credit: Peter Hershey

A child’s right to freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) is guaranteed under international law. Yet children and young people in several countries across the world experience discrimination because of their religion or belief, including in educational settings.

For example, Christian children in northern Nigeria are often obliged to adopt Muslim names in order to access education. Hindu children in Pakistan face psychological and physical abuse from classmates and teachers. Rohingya Muslim children in Burma witness their schools being knocked down. Baha’i children in Iran are regularly abused physically and verbally by teachers.

“I was beaten with sticks approximately twice a week throughout nursery and prep. After that the manner of the abuse changed. As well as physical punishment, I was mentally abused and tortured by consistently being told to convert.”

 

Gurinder Singh, Sikh, Pakistan, 17 years old

The right to education, like the right to FoRB, ‘is crucial to the realization of a wide array of other human rights.’[1] Education can facilitate social mobility, or entrench disadvantage. It can assist in creating a culture of tolerance, or contribute towards fuelling stereotyping, intolerance and extremism.

With this in mind, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has produced a new report entitled Faith and a Future: Discrimination on the Basis of Religion or Belief in Education. Through verified case studies and in depth research in five countries spanning five geographical regions, this report seeks to stimulate vital conversations, encouraging further research and necessary action to address religious discrimination in educational settings.

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North Korea A Decade On: The Regime has not changed, but the people have.

Statue of Kim II Sung

A decade ago, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) published one of the first comprehensive reports on North Korea’s human rights disaster, with the conclusion that it amounts to crimes against humanity.

North Korea: A Case to Answer, A Call to Act was also one of the first reports to call on the United Nations to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate. Initially, we were almost alone in making this call – a voice crying in the wilderness, dismissed by some for pursuing an action that, it was predicted, would never happen. We were banging our heads against a brick wall, some said. We took the view that if enough of us bang our heads for long enough, we might dislodge some bricks.

Four years later, other human rights organisations were making the same call, and we founded the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea, together with over forty other organisations from around the world, to campaign for a UN inquiry. In early 2013 the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights added her support to this call, and a few months later the UN Human Rights Council established an inquiry. What some said could never be done was happening.

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Update: The Status of 2,000 AoG Churches Threatened with Confiscation in Cuba

In January 2015, approximately 2,000 churches linked to the Assemblies of God (AoG) denomination were declared illegal in Cuba under Legal Decree 322, putting them at risk of confiscation and, in some cases, demolition. CSW’s July 2017 report details a new development in the case.

In May 2017, the superintendent of the denomination was summoned to the Office for Religious Affairs (ORA), where government officials gave verbal assurances that the churches were no longer under threat of confiscation. While verbal assurances have been provided in the past have not been honoured, on this occasion a document was provided that officially rescinded the demolition order for one of the AoG churches.

At the same meeting, the superintendent received verbal promises from ORA officials that they would help legalise the churches that had been under threat. This is tentatively being considered a positive development, however it remains dependent on implementation.

It should be noted that while this appears to be good news, this meeting took place one week before the superintendent was due to attend a conference on international religious freedom held by The Billy Graham Evangelistic Association in Washington D.C. The officials at the ORA were aware of this and encouraged the superintendent to say that ‘there are no religious freedom problems in Cuba’. Worryingly, this could signify that the verbal concessions made by the ORA were merely an effort to manipulate what the superintendent was going to say at the conference.

Since May, there have been no further developments in the situation of the AoG churches. While it is good that the government has not done anything to indicate that they are reneging on their promise not to confiscate them, there has been a frustrating lack of movement towards the promised legalisation of the churches.

In addition, recent months have seen no developments in the return of church properties that were confiscated during earlier periods of open persecution. This took place for over three decades after the 1958 revolution, before a 1992 constitutional amendment which changed the official state religion from atheist to secular. After this, persecution became more covert, but churches that had been previously targeted received no compensation.

At present, Legal Decree 322 is still in effect in Cuba. CSW’s July 2017 report therefore makes the following recommendations:

  • Reform Legal Decree 322 to ensure it cannot be used to arbitrarily expropriate property, including property belonging to religious associations
  • Return church properties confiscated by the government, including under Legal Decree 322
  • Enact and implement legislation allowing for the legalisation of house churches, and for churches to purchase property or receive it as a donation transferred by the owner

CSW remains committed to the close monitoring of the situation to see if there are any changes, positive or otherwise, to the status of the AoG churches.

Guilty by Association: Increased Targeting of Family Members in Cuba

The Cuban government has a long-standing policy of targeting the children and other family members of church leaders and activists who it deems to be a problem; one of many tactics designed to ratchet up the pressure on them.

Religious leaders are increasingly standing up to government pressure and becoming bold in their efforts to defend religious freedom in the country, as the Cuban government’s Office for Religious Affairs (ORA) cracks down on unregistered religious groups and other groups that it perceives to be unsupportive of the government.

CSW’s latest report on freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in Cuba reveals that the death of Fidel Castro in November 2016 failed to mark any significant improvements to FoRB in Cuba; instead, the arbitrary detention, harassment, restriction and surveillance of religious leaders and adherents has continued throughout the first half of 2017, as has the confiscation of church properties. In addition, several cases of family members of church leaders and activists singled out for harassment and discrimination have been brought to CSW’s attention in recent months.

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Mexico: Protestants Cut Off From Basic Services

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Chiapas, Oaxaca and Hidalgo are all home to some of the largest and most varied indigenous populations in Mexico. Unfortunately, this diversity sometimes provokes division, and the three states have some of the highest numbers of documented violations of freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) in the country, with the number of documented cases highest in Chiapas.

In Mexico, state and federal governments have a designated office to deal with religious affairs, a responsibility to address violations of religious freedom and to actively mediate a solution to religious conflicts. However, the officials are almost always distinctly under-resourced and lack training in human rights – especially religious freedom.

At best, state and municipal governments are unable or unwilling to protect the religious freedom of their citizens and to address these human rights violations. At worst, they are passively or actively complicit in the violations. A particularly concerning way FoRB is violated in these states is through the cutting off of basic services, like water and electricity, to Protestant families by the local authorities – as is often the case, the violation of one right leads to others

One of the most striking aspects of the cases Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) has profiled in its latest report is the lack of official intervention to resolve them – apart from a few exceptions, for most of the people affected, little has changed.

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No Ifs, No Buts: Torture Should Be Universally Condemned

“He was forced to take medicine. They stuffed the pills into his mouth… After taking the pills he felt pain in his muscles and his vision was blurred… He was beaten. He endured gruelling questioning while being denied sleep for days on end…” 

Wang Qiaoling describing the torture of her husband, lawyer Li Heping

 

“Even our breaths were suppressed. No voices. No texts. No images. No talking. No walking. Our hands, feet, our posture…every body movement was strictly limited. We needed permission for even the most trivial action”.

 Lawyer Zhao Wei, the youngest legal assistant detained in the 709 Crackdown

 

“Prisoners were also put in cages submerged mostly in water, and left inside for seven days, the entire body underwater with a space to breath at the top. As they stood in the water and tried to sleep, rats would scurry about outside the cage, biting their nose and ears.” 

Letter to world leaders by ‘709’ Family Members

These are just a few accounts of the torture experienced by human rights lawyers in China. Over 300 lawyers, activists, colleagues and family members were detained, interrogated or disappeared in a sweeping crackdown beginning on 9 July 2015, dubbed the 709 Crackdown. Two years on, most have been released, some on “bail” conditions amounting to house arrest, but with news of their release have come numerous testimonies of physical and psychological torture including frequent beatings, sleep deprivation, forced medication, violent threats, and prolonged isolation.

Use of torture in China

Lawyers and activists are by no means the only victims of torture. Many of the lawyers caught up in the crackdown had defended clients who had been tortured by police or security agents, including those arrested in connection with their religion or belief such as Falun Gong practitioners and Christians associated with unregistered churches, as well as those accused of crimes not related to politics or religion.

Li Heping reunion

Human rights lawyer, Li Heping (right) pictured with his brother Li Chunfu (left) following his release from detention.

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Ahok’s Case: Indonesia’s Pluralism is still in Peril

UPDATE: In May 2017, Ahok was sentenced to two years imprisonment on blasphemy charges. Click here to read more. 

Three years ago today, Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW) published one of its most important reports in recent times: Indonesia: Pluralism in Peril – The rise of religious intolerance across the archipelago. The report accomplished three things: it illustrated that religious intolerance in Indonesia is now a nationwide phenomenon, contrary to popular myth, and is not confined to particular parts of the archipelago; it demonstrated that it affects everyone, of all religions – Christian churches are closed down or attacked, Ahmadiyya Muslim mosques and homes burned, Shi’as displaced, Buddhist temples targeted and Confucianists vulnerable, as well as pluralistic-minded Sunnis, and atheists; and it proved that the last President of Indonesia, Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono, was responsible for giving the radical Islamists the green light and fuelling the erosion in the values of the ‘Pancasila’, Indonesia’s state philosophy that protects freedom of religion or belief (FoRB) for all six recognised religions.

Three years on, what has changed?

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North Korea and Human Rights: A State of Denial

statue-of-kim-ii-sung

“There is almost complete denial of the right to freedom of thought conscience and religion as well as the right to freedom of opinion, expression, information and association.” That was the conclusion reached by the United Nations commission of inquiry into human rights in North Korea over two years ago. Indeed, the UN inquiry went further, noting that the regime in North Korea “considers the spread of Christianity a particularly severe threat” and as a result, “Christians are prohibited from practising their religion and are persecuted”. Severe punishments are inflicted on “people caught practising Christianity”.

Loyalty to the Regime is expected

Our new report – Total Denial: Violations of Freedom of Religion or Belief in North Koreaprovides further evidence that freedom of religion or belief is a human right that is “largely non-existent” in the country. The ruling Kim dynasty is deified. Pictures of the three generations of dictators – Kim Il Sung, Kim Jong-Il and now Kim Jong-Un – are displayed in private homes and public spaces, cleaned daily and inspected regularly by the authorities to ensure they are in the best condition. Allowing one of these photographs to decay or gather dust is akin to a blasphemy. Anything less than total loyalty to the ruling family is severely punished.

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