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[Editorial] N.K. Human Rights Act

North Korea again blared out warnings of “merciless retaliation,” this time against the move here to pass the North Korean human rights bill at the National Assembly. Their language grew harsher as with a change in activities in the South that they consider to threaten the stability of their system.

Jopyeongtong, Pyongyang’s mouthpiece on South Korean affairs, said the bill represented Seoul’s attempt to unravel the Northern system from inside. Party newspaper Rodong Sinmun vehemently claimed that the bill was a “blatant declaration by the Lee Myung-bak clique that it legally denies our ideology, system and state and its heinous challenge to the dignity” of Pyongyang’s leadership. The hysterical reaction amounts to the regime’s acknowledgement of the dire human rights situation facing the 20 million North Koreans and the vulnerability of the Northern society to outside influences.

The North Korean human rights bill was submitted to the National Assembly in 2005, a year after the United States enforced its North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004, but was shelved by the then majority Uri Party. The revived bill passed the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee early last year and is awaiting the final Assembly vote.

Opponents have argued that applying pressure on the North with this legislation, which would provide financial support for civic groups campaigning for the improvement of human rights in North Korea, would only aggravate relations between the two Koreas and cause further deterioration of the fates of those in the North. Some radical activists question whether the South, with its own human rights problems resulting from social polarization, is entitled to interfere with the situation in the North.

Throughout the past several years, we have had enough discussions on this matter and now is time for our representatives to make a decision. They should never be intimidated by Pyongyang’s vulgar words, but they are reminded that the bill is not to be considered a weapon to attack the North with, particularly in reaction to the provocations last year. It is one of the priority bills on which lawmakers should act solely based on their conscience and good judgment to help the Northern brethren lead freer lives.
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