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Hopes for Korea Will Be Aired At Seoul Summit
By Meghan Clyne
Staff Reporter
A group of North Korean people, disguised as construction workers, try to climb over the wall of the Canadian Embassy in Beijing in September of 2004 in their desperate escape from North Korea to freedom in South Korea.

WASHINGTON — As leaders of the North Korean pro-democracy movement prepare to convene in Seoul next week for a summit on the Hermit Kingdom's lack of human rights, America's first special envoy for North Korean human rights, Jay Lefkowitz, stressed the importance of South Korean involvement in bringing freedom to its communist neighbor.

On the eve of his first trip to the region, Mr. Lefkowitz said he hoped the summit on the "terrible tragedy" of North Korea would prompt on Kim Jong Il's doorstep a spirited debate among South Koreans and the South Korean government, which, one summit speaker said, has exhibited an "oppressive silence" about the situation in the North in order to avoid provoking Pyongyang.

"Very critically," Mr. Lefkowitz told The New York Sun in a phone interview yesterday, "I think it's important to promote a real dialogue within South Korea, because, after all, the people in South Korea are really closest to the tragedy - both geographically and familially."

In addition to speaking at the Freedom House-sponsored summit, which is expected to attract government officials from America, Asia, and Europe, Mr. Lefkowitz said he will use his time in Seoul to meet with the South Korean government, leaders of NGOs dedicated to North Korean freedom, and North Korean defectors. The envoy described the trip as a fact-finding mission to help formulate his strategy for addressing North Korean human rights, which, he said last month at a Freedom House reception on Capitol Hill, will be released "very soon."

Mr. Lefkowitz said he is still crafting the policy, adding: "The most important thing is to figure out a way to convince the people of North Korea, and the government of North Korea, of the opportunities that they will have socially, culturally, economically, if they embrace freedom and follow the path that the rest of the world has been trending toward over the last 30 or 40 years."

"The challenge," Mr. Lefkowitz said, "is how you transmit that message." The envoy said he was "certainly looking into" America's getting free radio programming into North Korea, but said it was only one of many options being considered. Mr. Lefkowitz, however, stressed the content of America's message: "We can never lose sight of the fact that we have to be very morally clear about what the objective here is ... the objective is to improve the conditions for the people who live in North Korea."

The envoy, a former White House lawyer who was appointed to his current post, created by the 2004 North Korea Human Rights Act, in August, held up South Korea as a model to be emulated by the North, saying it was important "to show them the case study to their southern border - to show them what a tremendous success South Korea has been."

According to Freedom House staffers, other Americans attending the summit will include State Department officials, America's ambassador to South Korea, and a staff member of the Helsinki Commission, Sean Woo. Mr. Woo will be representing Senator Brownback, a Republican of Kansas, who is chairman of the Helsinki Commission and was one of the authors of the North Korea Human Rights Act.

Earlier this week, Mr. Brownback told the Sun that he had "high hopes" for the summit, stressing the urgency of getting help to North Korea as quickly as possible because "it could get very bad this winter." Mr. Woo yesterday cited concerns of famine-like conditions afflicting North Korea in the coming months.

Mr. Brownback also stressed the importance of making human rights central and nuclear arms secondary to America's negotiations with the Kim regime, a call that has been growing louder on Capitol Hill and in the Korean-American community. "It's that the State Department doesn't want to muddle the agenda of the six-party talks," Mr. Brownback said. "But they're going nowhere, and meanwhile a lot of North Koreans are dying or living in China and becoming prey for every sort of violent element you could find, because they're people without a country."

Concern about North Korea's human rights situation has also attracted the attention of Japan, which will send government officials to the Freedom House summit, and formerly communist European nations Bulgaria, which is sending a former foreign minister and current member of parliament, Nadezhda Mihaylova, and the Czech Republic, which is dispatching its ambassador to South Korea to the summit. Mr. Lefkowitz yesterday stressed the importance of widespread international concern, saying: "I certainly don't believe that the United States should be the only country speaking out about North Korean human rights, because this crosses all political boundaries and all national boundaries."

Also speaking at the summit will be David Hawk, the author of a recently released report on the Hermit Kingdom's violations of religious freedom and attacks on Christians, issued by the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom. Mr. Lefkowitz said yesterday that he was "very troubled by a lot of what David has reported, and it's unfortunate that it hasn't received more attention."

Such abuses have drawn increasing attention to the North Korean human rights issues from Korean Christians both on the peninsula and in America. To accompany the Freedom House summit, the Roman Catholic Church in Korea, the Christian Church of Korea, and an American group, the Korean Church Coalition, next week will be holding a prayer vigil in Seoul expected to draw tens of thousands of people in solidarity with suffering North Koreans.

Mr. Lefkowitz said Korean Americans are "a very important component here." The envoy likened the activism among Korean Americans and the Christian community to American Jews' efforts to bring about the fall of the Soviet Union in solidarity with Soviet Jewry.

In fact, Mr. Lefkowitz said yesterday that he will be "encouraging more engagement in this issue from some of the large Jewish organizations that have certainly embraced the cause of human rights." He praised the director of the Washington-based Religious Action Center, Rabbi David Saperstein, as an example.

Looking ahead, Mr. Lefkowitz said he was also hoping to engage North Korean leaders soon, but declined to specify whether he would travel there.

"I'd like to have a dialogue with them, and it could be either here or there," the envoy said.

Next week's summit will take place between December 8 and 10 at Seoul's Shilla Hotel. In addition to the speeches from international government representatives, the event will include documentaries about North Korea's human rights abuses and addresses by prominent North Korean freedom activists, including the North Korean Freedom Day chairman, Suzanne Scholte, an analyst at the Hudson Institute, Michael Horowitz, and the executive director of Freedom House, Thomas Melia.

The above article is from The New York Sun.






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