[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Discuss human rights

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[LETTERS TO THE EDITOR]Discuss human rights

What prompted this letter is a proposal by the Assembly floor leader of the Uri Party (July 2). He has proposed that governing and opposition party leaders jointly visit North Korea for “various exchanges.” I have no idea what kinds of exchanges he has in mind. However, at this stage of the inter-Korean relationship, the most urgent item to be dealt with by the legislators is, I believe, human rights issues.
To commemorate the fourth anniversary of the 2000 inter-Korean summit, a four-day long celebration dubbed “the Korean People’s Festival” was held in Incheon in the middle of June. At the festival ground, delegates from North and South mingled with each other and pledged reunification in the not-too-distant future.
But one day after the festival (June 18), domestic newspapers reported an imminent deportation of five North Korean defectors to North Korea by the government of China. This planned expatriation came on the heels of the deportation of another seven defectors to North Korea in May, certainly to a harsh punishment, if not to their death. Our government claimed it had done everything to prevent the deportation, but to no avail.
What matters here is not the government of China, but rather our government’s apparent inability and unwillingness to raise human rights issues with North Korea. This is in spite of the fact that the government of South Korea is led by a former human rights lawyer whose reputation as a human rights fighter put him in the highest elected position in the land.
This is also in spite of hundreds of millions of dollars of taxpayers’ money given to the North in the form of aid since former President Kim Dae-jung paid $100 million to the Dear Leader, Kim Jong-il, under the table for the summit. This is in spite of meeting after meeting at all levels of the two governments since the summit in 2000. This is in spite of the joint entry of North and South Korean Olympic teams as “one nation” in Sydney.
It must be fashionable for politicians to be seen visiting the North and shaking hands with their counterparts there. But please don’t go there unless you are prepared to bite the bullet and raise hard issues like an improvement in human rights in the North.


by Yoo Bong-yeol

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