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‘Failure to pass N.K. rights bill shameful’

Second Vice Foreign Minister Kim Sung-han said it was “shameful” that South Korea has not been able to pass a pending bill on North Korean human rights at the National Assembly for the past three years.

“The U.S., which has signed the North Korean Human Rights Act, is more active than us in making efforts to improve North Korean human rights,” Kim told reporters.

“It is irony, or rather a shame, for South Korea to have the bill pending at the National Assembly for more than three years, while it seeks reunification eventually.”

The U.S. and Japan enacted the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004 and in 2006, respectively. The U.S. act allows the country to provide humanitarian aid to North Korean defectors as well as to offer grants to private, non-profit organizations to promote the human rights of North Koreans.

The South Korean bill, pending in the National Assembly since 2008, calls for the establishment of a human rights envoy to North Korea in the Foreign Ministry, a human rights advisory committee in the Unification Ministry, a North Korean human rights archive at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, and a fund for North Korean human rights.

South Korean politicians are sharply split over the introduction of the legislation, with the conservatives supporting the enactment in line with President Lee Myung-bak’s firm stance on North Korea.

However, progressives are opposed to the bill, saying the legislation will provoke Pyongyang and worsen inter-Korean relations.

Kim’s comments came as Seoul recently shifted its stance on China’s forced repatriation policy for North Korean refugees from a low-profile, “quiet” negotiation to an active appeal for global support to pressure Beijing.

Kim said China was a “responsible stakeholder,” that stood shoulder-to-shoulder with the U.S. as a G2 power.

“If they look at the North Korean defector issue from such point of view, China is likely to handle it with prudence and clarity,” he said.

Mentioning the massive $200 billion trade volume between the two countries, Seoul and Beijing should seek solutions that will not fundamentally rock bilateral relations, Kim added.

By Kim Yoon-mi (yoonmi@heraldcorp.com)
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