At a human rights hearing on Capitol Hill today, Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) warned against infringements on freedoms of expression in South Korea and urged the U.S. ally to prioritize a vision of universally-binding human rights at this critical and historical inflection point for the peninsula and the world.
“This hearing comes at a critical time when the Biden Administration is faced with a number of policy choices that impact the peninsula,” said Smith, who chaired the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission hearing entitled “Civil and Political Rights in the Republic of Korea: Implications for Human Rights on the Peninsula.”
ABOVE LEFT: Watch photo slide show of the hearing.
“To better defend and safeguard the vulnerable and those at risk of human rights abuse, true friends like the United States and South Korea must have frank and honest conversations,” added Smith, who has engaged extensively with the government of South Korea over many years on human trafficking and refugee issues. Click here to read Smith's full remarks.
In wake of the controversial anti-leafletting law passed by South Korea’s National Assembly in December, the Commission reviewed the freedom of expression and exercise of other rights on the Korean peninsula, including policies pursued by President Moon Jae-in that critics say have constricted the exercise of civil liberties.
“For those of us concerned with human rights, this anti-leafletting law—an attack on free speech—is very troubling,” continued Smith, who has chaired seven hearings focused exclusively on human rights in Korea. “But perhaps even more significant than the bending of the knee toward North Korea, are efforts to equidistance Korea from the United States and toward China.”
PHOTOS: Rep. Chris Smith (R-NJ) chairs virtual hearing of the Tom Lantos Human Rights Commission with testimony provided by key witnesses, including Gordon Chang, Ambassador Inho Lee, John Sifton, and Dr. Suzanne Scholte.
Citing the Moon administration’s delinking of human rights in refusing to cosponsor a resolution at the United Nations Human Rights Council condemning North Korea’s human rights violations, Smith noted: “It is at this historical inflection point – should the world follow a Chinese communist model or a democratic one – where Korea can truly lead, if it were to articulate a vision of universally-binding human rights that was entirely consonant with an Asian, Confucian system of values,” he said.
Gordon Chang, one of the key witnesses and author of Losing South Korea and Nuclear Showdown: North Korea Takes on the World, raised concerns over the policies being pursued by the current administration. “[President] Moon declared in his inauguration speech in May 2017 that he would ‘strive to get rid of authoritarian practices in the presidency.’ That promise has not been kept,” he said. Click here to read the full testimony.
Chang continued: “China, like North Korea, is getting a say in defining the limits of free speech and human rights in South Korea. In the future, there are bound to be more government attempts to restrict South Korean freedoms in order to please an increasingly demanding Beijing.”
Ambassador Inho Lee, former Ambassador of the Republic of Korea to the Russian Federation under President Kim Dae Jung, echoed those concerns. “Persons with vivid memories of the Korean war, especially, are now fearful that the country is headed for populist totalitarianism and that the very survival of the Republic as an independent country is threatened by intense pressure from an increasingly arrogant China and a nuclear-armed, but abjectly poor, North Korea,” she said. Click here to read the full testimony.
John Sifton, Asia Advocacy Director for Human Rights Watch, critiqued the approach that has been taken so far by Korea and the United States. “In focusing mostly on security and weapons counter-proliferation strategies, or trust building exercises in the context of North-South relations, policymakers in both Washington and Seoul have relegated the freedom, health, and the well-being of the 25 million people of North Korea to a distant tertiary status,” Sifton said. Click here to read the full testimony.
Dr. Suzanne Scholte, Seoul Peace Prize Laureate and chair of the North Korea Freedom Coalition, said: “We must never lose sight of the fact that what the Kim regime wants is unification under the Kim Baektu Dynasty, not South Korea’s liberal democracy. So, it is appropriate for any democracy, especially a democracy that sacrificed over 33,000 of its sons and daughters to preserve South Korea’s republic, to raise the alarm when those freedoms are being curtailed.” Click here to read the full testimony.
|WATCH: Congressman Chris Smith (R-NJ) chairs the congressional hearing on concerns about challenges to freedom in South Korea. Click here or on image below to watch the hearing.|