Rep. Chris Smith voices ‘serious concern’ over South Korea’s growing disregard of fundamental civil liberties, acquiescence to Communist North
Republic of Korea on Verge of Penalizing Humanitarian NGOs outreach to North
Responding to reports that South Korea’s parliament was on the verge of passing legislation that would criminalize the sending of leaflets, Bibles and money across the border to the Communist North, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ), co-chair of the bipartisan Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission, made the following statement.
“I am troubled that legislators in an ostensibly vibrant democracy would contemplate criminalizing conduct aimed at promoting democracy and providing spiritual and humanitarian succor to people suffering under one of the cruelest communist dictatorships in the world. Yet a legislative majority of Korea’s Democratic Party members appear poised to do so, in apparent violation of South Korea’s constitution and the nation’s obligations under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.”(ICCPR).
Smith further explained, “Article 19 of the ICCPR provides that ‘Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.’ Why then are parliamentary allies of President Moon Jae-in disregarding their obligations to protect fundamental civil and political rights?”
“The people of North Korea are suffering under a brutal regime. Humanitarian and religious non-governmental organizations launch balloons containing Bibles, videos and information denied people living in the North, giving them hope and objective information instead of despair and communist propaganda. Why in the world would legislators in the free South want to not only stop that, but also put people in jail for simply sharing information?” asked Smith, who has held numerous human rights hearings focused on North Korea.
“Further, I have serious concerns over the trajectory in South Korea under President Moon Jae-in. We have seen the government on the local and national level use the response to COVID as a pretext to curtail religious worship and free speech, directed at critics of the President. We see undue acquiescence not only to the communist Democratic People’s Republic of Korea–as evidenced by this inane legislation criminalizing humanitarian outreach to North Korea–but also a diplomatic tilt towards communist China.
“While I would hope that members of Korea’s Democratic Party would see how damaging this proposed legislation is to democratic principles and human rights, and thus reverse course, in the event that they pass such a law, I call upon our State Department to critically reevaluate the Republic of Korea’s commitment to democratic values in its annual human rights report, as well as in its report on international religious freedom. It may very well be that we will see South Korea put on a watch list, which would be a very sad development indeed.”
Smith further declared that if the legislation passed, he intended to convene a hearing to examine the Korean government’s failure to uphold civil and political rights.
“No government is above scrutiny, not even that of a long-time ally,” Smith said. “Given the great accomplishments of the people of South Korea, I truly hope this legislative proposal is an aberration, and that cooler heads will realize that this bill is not just ill-conceived, but frightening in its implications for democracy and liberty.”