The controversy over South Korea’s decision to abstain from voting on a 2007 UN resolution on North Korea’s human rights abuses raises a few fundamental questions.
First, the case should raise questions about South Koreans who tend to ignore human rights issues in the North. Most of all, it should serve as a reminder of how negligent self-claimed progressives and liberals in this country can be about the human rights infringements perpetrated by the totalitarian regime in Pyongyang against its own people.
The atrocities committed by the North had already grabbed attention from the international community, which, under the leadership of the UN, began taking action. Since 2003, the UN has adopted a resolution on the North every year, in the face of a lack of progress on the situation.
The UN went on to form a commission of inquiry on North Korean human rights abuses, which filed a damning report in 2014 on all the brutalities committed by the North Korean regime. The findings led the UN to take the case to the International Criminal Court.
In contrast to such international endeavors, progressives in the country shunned the North Korean human rights issues in the name of inter-Korean reconciliation. Take the Roh Moo-hyun administration as example: During its five years in office, the Roh administration cast a “yes” vote on a UN resolution on North Korean human rights only once, in 2006.
The problem is that there are still many senseless politicians who have a skeptical view of addressing human rights issues in the North. Sim Sang-jeung, presidential candidate of the leftist Justice Party, said in a recent presidential debate that if she had been the president she would have made the same decision. She argued that a president should make a “political judgment” out of the wish to build peace between the two Koreas.
Is it a good political judgment to overlook the plight of our fellow Koreans, when other members of the international community condemn it and call for action in unison? Is it a good political judgement to regard the dictatorial regime in Pyongyang and ordinary North Korean citizens as being in the same boat?
The second fundamental problem exposed by the 2007 case is that some South Koreans easily mistake appeasement and kowtowing for engagement with regards to approaching North Korea.
The central issue here is that former Foreign Minister Song Min-soon claims that the Roh administration, in which the leading presidential candidate Moon Jae-in held key posts, solicited the view of North Korea before casting the UN vote.
This is like a member of a jury asking the defendant what verdict he or she would like to receive -- guilty or not guilty. Moreover, the dealing is with a regime that often turns hostile for no good reason. Look at what they have done -- the naval provocations in the West Sea, shelling of Yeonpyeongdo and torpedoing of the Cheonan corvette. Is it sensible to discuss with such a potential enemy a key policy decision?
The third issue in the controversial UN vote is about the personal credentials of Moon, who is highly favored to become the next president.
Moon said he “could not remember” what really happened in 2007 when Song first mentioned the episode in his memoir last October. But he soon admitted the Roh administration decided to abstain in consideration of a possible backlash from the North.
Moon denied Song’s claim that the Roh government decided to abstain from the vote after asking the view of the North. What he said was that the Seoul government -- through its spy agency -- only tried to collect information about the North’s view indirectly, using its overseas intelligence networks. As it turned out, the Roh administration contacted the North directly, exchanging telephone messages regarding the vote.
This leads us to call into question Moon’s credentials as the national leader, especially over his view of human rights abuses and overall policy on North Korea on one hand and honesty on the other.