WASHINGTON -- Religious freedom conditions in North Korea remain among the worst in the world, a US government commission said Monday, recommending the US government to designate North Korea as a country of particular concern.
The US Commission on International Religious Freedom (USCIRF) also called on the state department to bring up human rights issues when negotiating security issues with North Korea.
"In 2021, religious freedom conditions in North Korea remained among the worst in the world," the commission said in its annual report, noting religious adherents in the country are severely persecuted.
"The (North Korean) government attempts to provide an illusion of religious freedom to the outside world through state-backed religious organizations and sites such as the Jangchung Cathedral. In reality, religious freedom remains nonexistent in North Korea as authorities actively and systematically target and persecute religious groups and adherents," the report added.
The report provides country-specific recommendations to the Department of State, which, in turn, produces its own annual report on religious freedom.
The state department in 2021 designated North Korea as a "country of particular concern" for a 20th consecutive year.
The USCIRF recommended the department redesignate North Korea as a country of particular concern and "impose targeted and broad sanctions" that are appropriate for religious freedom violation in the reclusive country.
The commission said the US may consider lifting certain sanctions in "return for concrete progress in religious freedom and related human rights."
Nadine Maenza, head of the USCIRF, noted sanctions alone may not be enough to get North Korea to change when asked how they may promote religious freedom in the reclusive country.
"It's not a magic weapon. It's just a piece of the puzzle in a way that the US government can help to incentivize religious freedom," she said in a webinar marking the release of the 2022 report.
Maenza added, "So there's different ways to use sanctions," noting the commission also recommends lifting certain sanctions when and if the North makes concrete progress toward religious freedom,
The commission also recommended the US government "integrate security and human rights as complementary objectives in broader US policy toward and in bilateral negotiations with North Korea."
"These are very difficult situations, and so there's a lot of different ways the US government can still bring religious freedom to the table as they are dialoguing (holding dialogue) on security issues and other issues, and that's what we encourage them to do," said Maenza.
To this end, the commission called on the government to "fill and maintain the position of special envoy for North Korean human rights issues at the US Department of State," which has been vacant since January 2017.
It said the special envoy can "promote and integrate religious freedom and human rights in US policy toward North Korea, including by coordinating multilateral efforts in international fora, such as in the United Nations, and with the European Union and other like-minded countries." (Yonhap)