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US Agency Calls for Bush to Focus on North Korea's Human Rights Record

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom is calling on President Bush to raise the issue of human rights violations in North Korea, during his visits to South Korea and China.

As the world focuses on North Korea's nuclear program, human rights activists say not enough attention is being paid to Pyongyang's human rights violations.

A new U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom report, called Thank You, Father Kim Il Sung, refers to the harsh and absolute cult of personality surrounding the late North Korean leader. Author David Hawk said the report relies on eyewitness accounts from North Korean defectors and largely details religious persecution.

"There are people who continue to be imprisoned for their religious beliefs, quite a number of people who are punished because of their religious beliefs. Two of the 40 people interviewed for this report personally eyewitnessed executions of religious believers," he said.

Mr. Hawk called on President Bush to raise the issue of human rights in North Korea with South Korean and Chinese leaders. He said he especially thinks U.S. concerns should be conveyed to Seoul.

"I think it would be extremely important, and in my own opinion, the most important element is for human rights to be put on the engagement agenda of South Koreans in their engagement policy with the North Koreans," he added.

The issue has been championed in the U.S. Congress, which last year passed the North Korea Human Rights Act. Republican Congressman Frank Wolf said he believes it is "critical" that President Bush raise human rights concerns in North Korea, while in South Korea and China.

"Both countries are natural destinations for North Korean refugees, among the many human rights concerns that must be raised with China," he said. "And I saw a public report that it didn't look like a lot of these issues were going to be raised publicly, but we hope they are."

Commission chair Michael Cromartie echoed the congressman, saying he is not sure whether President Bush will or will not raise North Korea's human rights record.

"We're hopeful that these issues will be brought to the attention of the president, and that he will, in turn, bring it to the attention of the people he meets with in Korea, both publicly and privately. [We're] hopeful," he said.

Mr. Cromartie said he believes this is an issue the president cares deeply about. He added that his commission has briefed senior administration officials and has made sure they have copies of the latest report.

The U.S. Commission on International Religious Freedom was created by Congress in 1998 to monitor the status of freedom of thought, conscience and religious belief abroad, as defined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.