[VIEWPOINT]Are nuclear and rights issues incompatible?The majority of the public in Korea believes that South Korea, as an interested party, should speak out on North Korea’s human rights situation, but the government has not done so because of wariness about Pyeongyang’s reaction. Those who agree with the government’s silence say they believe Seoul’s strategy is correct: We should not provoke North Korea while efforts are being made to resolve the problems surrounding North Korea’s nuclear arms aspirations.
South Korea’s decision to abstain from voting on a United Nations resolution condemning North Korea’s human rights conditions should not be interpreted as Seoul’s acquiescence to the North Korean regime’s human rights violations. The decision seems to stem from the judgment that North Korea’s nuclear programs are a more urgent issue than its human rights practices. The survival of the Korean people as a whole and human rights of North Koreans are equally important. But only when the survival of the people is guaranteed can human rights be secured.
We have just recently seen the tragic consequences of war in Iraq. If we cannot solve North Korea’s nuclear program peacefully, if the furies of war are unleashed on the Korean Peninsula, many of our people would see even their basic human rights dashed. Therefore, the strategy to bring about a fundamental solution to North Korean’s human rights issue is to first solve the nuclear problem peacefully, coordinate North Korea’s reforms and entry into international society and relieve its economic hardships as well as foster its democratization.
The numerous cases of human rights abuses in North Korea are related in many ways to the famine that has hit North Korea since the 1990s.
There are many things our government could do to improve human rights in North Korea. First, we could try to improve the human rights conditions of those who have already left North Korea and who have settled in China. We could also send fertilizer and food for the starving multitudes of North Korea. We could also step up our demands to North Korea to implement a transparent system to guarantee the fair distribution of food aid.
by Koh Yu-hwan
The writer is a professor of North Korea studies at Dongguk University.
The government announced its decision not to participate in a vote by the United Nations Commission on Human Rights condemning North Korea’s human rights violations, and explained its reasons as follows:
“While human rights are a value worth pursuing, it is more realistic to first induce North Korea to reform for any long-term improvements in its human rights situation.”
This administration is borrowing the same logic that the authoritarian governments of the past used to silence any protests about their own human right violations, but the Roh Moo-hyun government claims to be the legitimate offspring of the democratic movement that resisted those past regimes.
This government is applying a double standard to human rights issues in North Korea. Such duplicity can also be seen from the attitude of the National Human Rights Commission, which is carefully abstaining from any comments on the human rights issue.
The commission recently announced its opposition to the dispatch of Korean troops to the war in Iraq out of concern for human rights of Iraqi citizens, but the same commission is silent on the human rights of our brothers and sisters in North Korea, who are suffering greatly under the dictatorial regime of Kim Jong-il.
This contradiction is all the more ridiculous because our last president was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for his contribution to the cause of human rights and our present president had been a lawyer renowned for his devotion to human rights cases.
This duplicity by our government is leading international human rights organizations to ignore Seoul in their efforts to improve human rights in North Korea.
by Lee Dong-bok
The writer is a visiting professor at Myungji University.