President Park Geun-hye called on officials Tuesday to make aggressive efforts to help improve the lives of North Koreans as she made clear that North Korea's human rights issue is a top priority in dealing with the communist country.
The issue of the North's human rights had long been placed on the back burner in South Korea where many people, mostly liberals, have shied away from the issue out of fear that it could strain inter-Korean relations.
The issue was also pushed back on the priority list as South Korea mainly focused on diplomatic solutions with the United States and other regional powers to end North Korea's nuclear weapons programs.
On Tuesday, Park made it clear that the North's nuclear and human rights issues are "our core agenda in our policy toward North Korea.
"We should not be passive in these issues out of fear of North Korea's backlash," Park said in a Cabinet meeting, a comment that marked a clear departure from her liberal predecessors who rarely spoke about the human rights issue as they sought reconciliation with North Korea.
Park said North Korea's slander against her underscored that the human rights issue is a diplomatic sore point for North Korea.
North Korea has long been accused of grave human rights abuses, ranging from holding hundreds of thousands of political prisoners in concentration camps to committing torture and carrying out public executions.
Still, the North has flatly denied accusations of its alleged rights abuses, describing them as a U.S.-led attempt to topple its regime. It has claimed it has the world's most advantageous human rights system and policies.
Park also called for efforts to ensure a bill meant to help improve North Korea's dismal human rights record wins parliamentary endorsement. (Yonhap)