The U.S. Congress is funding efforts to improve the human rights situation in North Korea.
Following the lead of the House of Representatives, the Senate has approved legislation authorizing up to $24 million a year over the next four years to improve human rights in North Korea.
Human rights groups say the Stalinist state has one of the worst human rights records of any country in the world.
Senator Sam Brownback, a Kansas Republican and sponsor of the Senate bill, agrees.
"The regime strictly prohibits freedoms of speech, press, religion, assembly, and movement," he said. "Torture and execution, often in public, are regular tools of state control. Since the collapse of the centralized agricultural system in the 1990s, more than two million North Koreans are estimated to have died of starvation and related diseases. That is nearly 10 percent of the total North Korean population, over two million people."
The bill would fund private non-profit human rights and democracy programs, expand U.S. radio broadcasting to North Korea, and support North Korean refugees in third countries. It would also make it easier for North Korean refugees in South Korea to apply for immigration to the United States.
The Senate added a provision to the House-passed bill, calling for the appointment of a U.S. envoy to North Korea who would monitor the communist country's human rights situation.
The House must approve the change before the legislation is sent to the president for his signature.