Statement by Rabbi David Saperstein, Director, Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism, on the Plight of North Korean Refugees
Rabbi David Saperstein addressed a press conference on Capitol Hill today concerning North Korean refugees and noted, "In North Korea today, a totalitarian regime subjects its citizens to unspeakable human rights abuses. We pray for an end to the abuses in North Korea."
North Korean Refugees Press Conference
April 7, 2005
Contact: Alexis Rice or Avital Weinberg
In North Korea today, a totalitarian regime subjects its citizens to unspeakable human rights abuses. We pray for an end to the abuses in North Korea. But until the day that this brutal repression of the North Korean people ends and human rights are respected in that country, bordering nations, especially China, have a special role to play in caring for those seeking refuge.
While we cannot tell from the tape exactly who the people executed really were, what we do know is that those caught trying to flee or those returned by China face the mockery of a judicial system depicted here: the prospect of imprisonment, torture and death.
We come together today to join with this diverse array of religious and human rights organizations to urge the United States to make caring for these refugees a foreign policy priority and to condemn China’s refusal to allow the UN High Commissioner on Refugees access to the North Korean refugees seeking haven there. Towards that end, our Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism has joined with the National Association of Evangelicals to disseminate to the entire Congress the painful and alarming recording of the public execution shown here today. We join in sending the attached letter to Congress depicting our common efforts. We know that for the members of Congress, as it has for so many across the globe, this footage will dramatize both North Korea’s human rights abuses as well as the consequences of China’s treatment of refugees fleeing this oppression.
The UN Convention on Refugees, to which China is a signatory, states that: "No contracting state shall expel or return a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion." Yet China has refused sanctuary for these refugees, continuing to insist despite all evidence to the contrary, that they are economic migrants, not protected by the UNHCR. As the UNHCR is consistently denied access to refugees, China continues to send people back across the border where they and the people facilitating their flight, face the public executions that we bear witness to today.
As Jews, we know well the plight of refugees. In two weeks, we will be observing Passover, remembering both our ancient experience of oppression and the desire and determination of the oppressed to flee to freedom. Throughout the centuries, Jews facing persecution and discrimination were forced to flee from land to land. All too often nations closed their doors to us as we fled oppression, leaving us to the mercies of those whom we were fleeing. Our past experiences make us particularly sensitive to the plight North Koreans face today and makes us particularly troubled by China’s response.
The Reform Jewish Movement has expressed concern over China’s human rights record in the past when China persecuted religious minorities and we do now when it sends those seeking freedom back to prison, torture or, as the video shows, death.
And so we call on China to protect refugees fleeing the brutal totalitarian regime in North Korea.
We call on all members of Congress to join Senator Brownback and Representative Wolf in voicing concerns about North Korean refugees and making their plight an urgent concern of U.S. policy.
And we call on the United Nations, particularly the UN High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR), to redouble its efforts to address China’s illegal refugee roundups.
We call on all those who value human rights and human life to join together today to say, in the words of one of the central songs of the Passover ritual, “Dayenu” – enough. “Dayenu” – there has been enough oppression. Dayenu – there has been enough inhumanity. Dayenu – there has been enough killing. Dayenu – there has been enough silence.
The Religious Action Center of Reform Judaism is the Washington office of the Union for Reform Judaism, whose more than 900 congregations across North America encompass 1.5 million Reform Jews, and the Central Conference of American Rabbis, whose membership includes more than 1800 Reform rabbis.