The United Nations’ decision to open in South Korea a field office on human rights in North Korea should be welcomed. No place is better suited for the office that will become a frontline unit on rights abuses in the North.
It is said that the Seoul government was not so eager to accept the request of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights to set up an office in South Korea to deal exclusively with North Korean rights issues.
That is a little understandable since one can imagine how the North, which vehemently rejects the international accusation of its human rights violations, will react to the establishment of such an office under its nose.
What’s not arguable, however, is that South Korea is the best place for the office, judging from its geographical proximity, language and the fact that about 26,000 former North Korean citizens, many of them victims of rights abuses, have resettled here.
In fact, some of those who now live in the South gave testimonies to a U.N. investigation panel about what they had suffered and witnessed, which became a key part of a report that led to the establishment of a U.N. field office.
The report by the U.N. Human Rights Council’s Commission of Inquiry, published last February after about one year of work, said that North Korea has been committing “systemic, widespread and gross” human rights violations, whose gravity, scale and nature reveal “a state that does not have any parallel in the contemporary world.”
It listed atrocities like extermination, murder, enslavement, torture, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence, persecution on political, religious, racial and gender grounds, comparing them with those committed by the Nazis.
The COI report drew international attention because in addition to the proposal for opening a field office, it recommended the U.N. Security Council refer the case to the International Criminal Court, which could set the stage for the indictment of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un for crimes against humanity. It would be the strongest international action ever taken against the North.
As seen by these latest U.N. moves, the international community has been increasing pressure on the North. Problem is that we in the South have been doing little to alleviate the sufferings of our 24 million brethren in the North. The most vivid example is that South Korea has yet to legislate an act on the North Korean rights issue.
The United States legislated the North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004 and Japan did the same in 2006. We hardly feel the need to repeat the call that the National Assembly should legislate a North Korean human rights act as quickly as possible, preferably before the U.N. opens the office.