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Trump-Kim summit: Human rights abuses must not be neglected


26 February 2019

President Trump and Kim Jong-un will meet for their second summit in Vietnam tomorrow (27th February). Expectations that human rights abuses will be raised are low. Open Doors is asking that people remember the shocking human rights abuses of Christians in North Korea.

Last year’s summit between Kim Jong-un and President Trump in Singapore did little to raise the horrendous human rights abuses of North Korea. Though President Trump declared that he raised it in private, the treatment of North Korea’s 25 million citizens was left out of the official talks. Last year North Korean defector, John Choi*, told Open Doors of his disappointment that such an important opportunity had been missed.

As the two leaders prepare to meet again, many expect the topic of nuclear disarmament to be discussed with others predicting an end to the Korean War. The topic of human rights abuses seems to be a forgotten conversation.

And yet an estimated 50,000 - 70,000 Christians are held in prison camps simply because of their Christians faith.

Henrietta Blyth, CEO of Open Doors, said, “The conditions in which Christians in North Korea are forced to live are appalling and inexcusable. North Korea has consistently been number one on the Open Doors World Watch List for nearly two decades. Human rights abuses must be raised and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights upheld.

“We are praying that this summit brings about lasting change in North Korea, not only for Christians who have no freedom of belief but also for all the citizens of North Korea who are mistreated, malnourished and at the mercy of a dictator.”

Local sources have told Open Doors that despite last year’s summit, there are many signs that the persecution is getting worse. Namely an increased number of arrests and abductions of South Korean and Chinese Korean missionaries in China, the strengthened border control with harsher punishment for North Korean citizens who are repatriated from China, and increased efforts by the North Korean government to eliminate all channels for spreading the Christian faith.

Every aspect of life for North Korean citizens is controlled by the state. All resources, including food, are owned and distributed by the government. Pyongyang has reportedly informed the UN that it is facing food shortfall of 1.4 million tonnes in 2019. In January it cut daily rations from 550 to 300 grams per person per day.

Open Doors’ underground workers smuggle food to keep 60,000 North Korean Christians alive each month, along with medicines, winter clothes, boots and blankets. Open Doors is raising support to keep this vital work operating amid the increase pressure on Christians.

North Korea is number one on the 2019 Open Doors World Watch List. It has been number one since 2002.

Persecution is led by the state which sees Christians as hostile elements that have to be eradicated. Due to constant indoctrination, neighbours and family members, including children, are highly watchful and report anything suspicious to the authorities. If Christians are discovered they are deported to labour camps as political criminals or killed on the spot; their families share their fate. Meeting for worship is almost impossible, so it is done in utmost secrecy. The churches shown to visitors in Pyongyang serve mere propaganda purposes.

Despite the constant surveillance and horrific punishments, Open Doors estimates that 200,000 -400,000 Christians remain in North Korea today. Of those 50,000 - 70,000 are believed to be in prison camps. Christians are treated worse than the other prisoners. They are made to perform the most dangerous tasks, given less food and beaten in the hope that they will denounce their faith. If a guard succeeds in making a prisoner recant their faith they are given a promotion. Guards who show compassion are punished. Most Christians will not survive their imprisonment.

Open Doors' goal has always been to 'strengthen what remains and is about to die' (Revelation 3:2). This verse is especially relevant to the North Korean church. Without our support, many Christians would starve to death. Open Doors works to support the church in North Korea by:

  • Supplying persecuted believers with emergency relief aid such as food, medicines and clothes
  • Distributing books and other Christian materials
  • Training through radio broadcasting
  • Providing shelter, aid, training and training materials to North Korean believers in China - who often travel back to North Korea.

*Name changed for security reasons

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