- As Delivered –
WASHINGTON—Representative Eliot L. Engel, Ranking Member of the House Committee on Foreign Affairs, today made the following remarks on the House floor in support of the North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act of 2017 (H.R. 2061):
“Mr. Speaker, I rise in support of this measure and I yield myself as much time as I may consume.
“Thank you, Mr. Speaker. But, first let me thank our Chairman who always conducts himself in such a bipartisan fashion. I want to thank him for including everyone and thank him for the work that he does.
“I also want to thank the bill’s author, our former Chair on the Foreign Affairs Committee, Ms. Ros-Lehtinen of Florida. I am pleased to join her as the lead Democratic cosponsor of this legislation.
“She authored an earlier version of this bill, which is a testament to how long she’s been working to shine a light on the daily horror of so many living in North Korea, and to bring American leadership to bear to ease their suffering.
“We’ve been focused on North Korea a great deal lately, because of the Kim Regime’s increasingly provocative behavior—and our own Administration’s inconsistent and irresponsible rhetoric.
“North Korea poses a grave threat to our national security and the security of our friends and allies. We need a smart, coherent approach that combines diplomacy, pressure, and deterrence to halt North Korea’s progress in developing nuclear weapons.
“At the same time, we cannot lose sight over what the North Korean people are enduring.
“This is a country where people don’t have rights—and anyone who dares speak his or her mind may find themselves subjected to beatings, torture, brutal imprisonment, or even death. The United States Commission of Inquiry found that Kim Jung Un’s regime is very likely committing crimes against humanity.
“Mr. Speaker, I’ve visited North Korea twice. And when I was there with a few of our colleagues on both sides of the aisle, our North Korean minders were very careful to make sure we only saw what we were supposed to see. But we could sense that beneath the surface, something was terribly, terribly wrong.
“First of all they wouldn’t let us go out of Pyongyang. That just out of sight, it was amazing that there were so many people living under the most brutal conditions imaginable, and that no one dared shatter the illusion that the North Korean authorities had just created.
“When you go to North Korea, it feels like you’re stepping back into 1953 Berlin–everything was gray and dark and drab and you could just see something was wrong.
“But we know better. We’ve seen year after year of disturbing reports and stories from defectors who have told us exactly what life is like for most North Koreans. And we haven’t forgotten them.
“The law that we’re reauthorizing today first became law in 2004. This legislation will preserve funding for American assistance to North Korean refugees, for humanitarian assistance inside the country, as well as information efforts by our government, and to try every means possible to get the message out to regular North Korean people that we are not their enemy.
“I will say that I am greatly concerned that the latest iteration of the President’s travel ban—which now includes North Korea—sends exactly the wrong message to defectors from that country.
“By closing our door to them, we reinforce the paranoia that the regime perpetrates. We have to be careful not to get caught in the middle of that.
“An earlier version of the law created a senior State Department position to focus on human rights in North Korea. It’s a big job, Mr. Speaker, and in recent years, there’s been someone to do this important work full time.
“But it’s been reported that the Administration plans to combine this position with the Under Secretary for Democracy. I think that would be a mistake.
“The Under Secretary position already oversees the bureaus and offices that deal with a huge range of issues, from counterterrorism to refugees to narcotics to human trafficking. It’s a pretty full agenda.
“Yet the Administration on the one hand says North Korean human rights should be combined with that job, and on the other hand has not yet nominated anyone to fill the position. So, I think there is a lot of work to be done on both sides. And that’s what we’re doing on the Foreign Affairs Committee–we’re working together.
“This reauthorization reaffirms Congress’s view that we should have a senior, full-time diplomat dealing with North Korean human rights. I asked that this provision be included once again, and I’m grateful to Chairman Royce and Chairman Emeritus Ros-Lehtinen that Congress will continue to speak out on the importance of this role.
“It’s also my view that we need to stop neglecting our diplomacy and get these positions filled. We cannot expect the State Department to deal with these challenges—whether North Korea’s nuclear program or North Korea’s human rights record—without leadership in place.
“But I’m glad that Congress is continuing to do its job in helping to promote human rights for the North Koreans. I’m again grateful to my friend from Florida and the Chairman. And I reserve the balance of my time.”
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