Lawmakers on Capitol Hill are calling on the U.S. government to include the issue of human rights in its ongoing negotiations with North Korea. Washington so far has largely concentrated its efforts on trying to persuade Pyongyang to abandon its nuclear programs.
The test firing of seven North Korean missiles earlier this month provoked global condemnation and once again focused world attention on the isolated country's military capability and intentions.
But at a news conference Wednesday, Republican Senator Sam Brownback said Pyongyang's military build-up also has a human dimension.
"Although the missiles fell harmlessly into the ocean, they and the other weapons of mass destruction programs in North Korea have already taken the lives of millions of starving North Koreans who were deprived of food and basic needs so that Kim Jong-il can support his dangerous weapons program," said Mr. Brownback.
The North Korean nuclear crisis has been the main issue under discussion at the so-called six party talks, which began in 2003 and include the United States, North Korea, China, South Korea, Japan and Russia.
Senator Brownback already supports a bill that would impose sanctions on individuals or companies that provide goods, services or technology that support North Korea's weapons programs. The senator added that he will soon introduce a resolution urging the Bush Administration to expand its discussions with North Korea, and include the issue of human rights. Republican Congressman Joe Pitts will introduce similar legislation in the House of Representatives.
"We're here today to stand in solidarity with the North Korean people, and with the refugees," said Mr. Pitts. "They have first-hand experience of suffering in North Korea."
The guests of honor at the news conference were six North Korean refugees who were admitted into the United States in May.
One of the refugees, a 31-year-old man who called himself Joseph, spent about 18 months in North Korean labor camps, prisons and torture facilities.
"Although there are many scars on my body, which I cannot show you, but even on my fingers, they twisted my fingers with pliers, and broke them," he recalled. "They tied me, they stripped me, and then they whipped me with a leather whip."
The four women and two men wore sunglasses and baseball caps, pulled low over their faces. One of the men spent his entire time before reporters covering his face with his hands.
Senator Brownback said the refugees want to try to preserve their anonymity, out of concern for relatives back in North Korea.
The six North Korean refugees are the first to come to the United States since the 2004 North Korean Human Rights Act made it easier for them to apply for refugee status.