MARLTON, N.J. (AFP)—President Bush signed a law yesterday that paves the way for providing humanitarian aid to North Koreans and making refugees from the Stalinist state eligible for asylum in the United States.
Mr. Bush signed the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, which is “intended to help promote human rights and freedom in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea,” according to a White House statement.
The law allows the president to provide grants to private, nonprofit groups to support programs promoting human rights, democracy, rule of law, and the development of a market economy in North Korea.
The law also provides at least $24 million a year from 2005 through 2008 in humanitarian aid and to promote democracy and human rights.
It also ensures that “North Koreans are not barred from eligibility for refugee status or asylum in the United States.”
Congress made clear in the bill that human rights of North Koreans should remain a key concern in future negotiations to end the nation’s nuclear weapons drive.
The negotiations involve the United States, the two Koreas, Russia, China and Japan.
North Korea refused to participate in the six-party talks in September after attending three rounds, citing Washington’s “hostile” policy toward it and South Korea’s nuclear experiments.
It is also believed Pyongyang wants to await the result of the Nov. 2 U.S. presidential election.
While Mr. Bush backs multilateral talks to resolve the nuclear crisis in the Korean peninsula, his rival for the White House, Sen. John Kerry, is pushing for bilateral talks with Pyongyang aside from international diplomacy.
Congress was told during debate on the bill that the North Korean government held an estimated 200,000 political prisoners in camps that its state security agency managed through the use of forced labor, beatings, torture, and executions, and in which many prisoners died from disease and starvation.
According to eyewitness testimony provided to Congress by camp survivors, inmates were used as sources of slave labor for the production of export goods, as targets for martial arts practice, and as experimental victims in the testing of chemical and biological poisons.
Congress was also told that North Korean officials prohibited live births in prison camps—forced abortion and the killing of newborn babies were reportedly standard prison practices.