A group of European Parliament members identified North Korea as one of 11 countries where severe violations of freedom of religion or belief occur, in a recently released annual report.
The 11 countries named by the European Parliament Intergroup on Freedom of Religion or Belief and Religious Tolerance also include China, Iran, Egypt, Afghanistan and Pakistan.
“Article 68 of the North Korean constitution enshrines a ‘right of religion,’ but in practice the government systematically suppresses this right through the enforcement of devotion to the ruling Kim family, adherence to the state’s Juche ideology, and through severe penalties for those found to be practicing a religion or belief outside of state control,” the group said in the annex of the 2017 report released last month.
North Korean soldiers patrol behind a border fence near the North Korean town of Sinuiju, March 31, 2017. (Reuters)
“Due to the nature of the North Korean regime, it is difficult to receive and confirm timely reports about religious persecution from the country, but there is little indication that the situation has improved in recent years.”
The group also stated in the report that the DPRK vigorously enforces its ideology through indoctrination of 10 Principles to Firmly Establish the Party’s Unitary Leadership System, which demand that “all must greatly revere” and “accept as absolute the authority of Great Leader Kim Il-sung and Dear Leader Kim Jong-il and the authority of the (Workers’) Party.
“Any expression of a belief deemed contrary to the state’s ideology and personality cult can be punished severely,” the report read.
There are five Christian churches in Pyongyang, the group reported, but their activities are strictly controlled by the government, which does not tolerate any churches outside the capital.
“There are reports of small, secret house churches throughout the country. Anyone caught practicing Christianity outside of the five state-controlled facilities is subject to severe penalties, including imprisonment and torture,” the report read.
The group recommended that a task force led by the United Nations and the European Union, in the process of working toward lifting sanctions and creating a human rights road map, develop a program that incentivizes the North to improve its human rights record. This, it said, should include creating a road map toward the ratification of the UN Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment.
Noting the positive prospects for future dialogue between South and North Korea, the group recommended that the EU “facilitate this dialogue, not only on conflict management and denuclearization but also on human rights issues, including the protection of freedom of religion and belief.”
The EU could potentially offer such funds via the Instrument for Peace and Stability or via Erasmus Mundus or development funds, the report said.
By Kim So-hyun (firstname.lastname@example.org