Issue Brief

ERLC Supports Freedom of Religion and Belief in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK)

Jun 10, 2019

The freedom of religion and belief is a fundamental human right. The right to believe, practice, and live according to one’s own religious faith is an innate human right of all people. Nearly all modern societies reflect the foundational truth that every individual person has authority over their own conscience.

International law upholds the importance of freedom of religion and belief. The Universal Declaration of Human Rights states in Article 18, “Everyone has the right to freedom of thought, conscience, and religion; this right includes freedom to change his religion or belief, and freedom, either alone or in community with others and in public or private, to manifest his religion or belief in teaching, practice, worship and observance.” In addition to this important declaration, numerous other international treaties provide similar protections for religious freedom such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) and the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR).

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea does not afford its citizens the freedom of religion and belief. Although there are three Protestant churches, one Catholic church, and one Russian Orthodox church in the North Korean capital city of Pyongyang, they are little more than a state-sponsored façade. The reality of religion in the DPRK is best seen in Kim Jong-un’s demand for total allegiance to himself from the North Korean people. The DPRK constitution does not allow religious freedom because the constitution bars any religious ideology from posing a threat to the political status quo. In practice, DPRK government officials completely suppress the religious beliefs of their citizens.

Christians and other religious believers in North Korea face the most severe persecution of any religious minorities in the world. The government does not tolerate those who lead a spiritual life or practice a religion other than total allegiance to its own governing authority. Christians face especially severe punishment because this faith practice is seen as a subversive tool for foreign intervention. Christians are socially and economically ostracized by propaganda efforts and denied access to education, food, and healthcare.

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