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[Editorial] N.K. human rights law

[Editorial] N.K. human rights law

Legislation key to preparations for reunification

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Published : 2014-01-01 19:41
Updated : 2014-01-01 19:41

President Park Geun-hye said in a recent article contributed to a global opinion-focused syndicate that the execution of Jang Song-thaek, North Korean leader Kim Jong-un’s uncle and mentor, has made relations between the two Koreas harder to predict. She pledged that her government would pave the way to peace and unification on the Korean Peninsula while maintaining a strong deterrent capability.

“The government will strive to forge sustainable peace through dialogue, exchanges and cooperation, so as to achieve unification that improves the quality of life and happiness of all Koreans,” Park noted in the article. Doubtless, unification as she envisions it will restore and guarantee human rights for the North Korean people who have suffered under an oppressive totalitarian regime for the past six decades. The swift summary execution of Jang and his associates highlighted again the North’s dire human rights record. It suggested the level of cruelty with which ordinary citizens can be treated in a regime where a man regarded to have been in No. 2 position was executed immediately after a summary trial that had apparently followed torture.

On the path toward the reunification of the peninsula, efforts should continue to be made to monitor and improve human rights conditions in the North. The issue cannot and should not be set aside or allowed to fall into oblivion on the pretext of promoting dialogue and reconciliation with the North Korean regime. Improving ties with Pyongyang can hardly be justified unless it enhances the rights and quality of life of all North Korean people.

In this regard, it is regrettable that South Korea’s efforts to address human rights violations in the North have remained far from satisfactory. Seoul’s responses have often been passive and lukewarm in comparison to efforts by the international community, including the establishment of a U.N. commission in April to tackle the North Korean human rights problem.

Particularly disappointing is the liberal opposition Democratic Party’s persistent objections to enacting a law to deal with the matter. The now-defunct Grand National Party, the predecessor of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party, proposed a North Korean human rights bill for the first time in 2005. Since then, however, parliamentary consultations have made little progress due to the opposition party’s negative stance. Some Saenuri lawmakers recently contacted their DP counterparts to reactivate the move toward the passage of the bill, offering to incorporate separate proposals by the opposition to expand humanitarian aid to the North into the envisioned law.

Considering the negative sentiment that still lingers among DP members, the bill is hardly likely to be passed by February as desired by the ruling party, or even by the end of the four-year term of the current National Assembly inaugurated in May 2012. The bill calls for, among other things, establishing a foundation and an archive focused on North Korean human rights conditions and strengthening support for escapees staying in a third country. Its legislation would be a key part of preparing for the eventual unification of the two Koreas.

The DP has argued the enactment of the law would aggravate inter-Korean ties by provoking the North. But the opposition party should recognize or admit that its mild stance on the oppressive regime in Pyongyang has only exacerbated rights conditions for ordinary North Koreans without helping change the North’s recalcitrant attitude. DP members should no longer stand in the way of laying the legal groundwork for monitoring and alleviating the sufferings of oppressed North Koreans. If they truly honor liberal and progressive values, they must recognize that at the core of these values is the guarantee of basic human rights for all people.

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