[EDITORIALS]Focus on North’s rights recordThe U.S. House of Representatives passed on Wednesday the North Korea Human Rights Act of 2004, which would provide $24 million per year toward improving North Korea’s human rights record and assisting defectors. This bill is worth noting in that it signals the United States’ intention to involve itself in issues of the North Korean system.
This legislation will affect us too because not only are there stringent provisions on maintaining transparency in the distribution of humanitarian aid, but they can be applied to a third country. The government must come up with measures to deal with the effect of the bill on inter-Korean relations as well as on our own policy.
What is most important is that there must be a paradigm shift in our perception of North Korea’s human rights situation and the state of defectors. Whether a country is a “protector” of human rights or an “oppressor” will determine whether it is a developed or underdeveloped country. As everyone knows, the North’s human rights conditions are worsening. That is why the United Nations Commission on Human Rights has adopted a resolution on North Korea’s human rights.
Our government has turned a blind eye to the human rights situation in the North because of a reluctance to get involved in North Korea’s internal problems and in order not to provoke Pyeongyang. That is one reason why Seoul abstained from voting on the U.N. resolution. But as we can see from the passage of the legislation by the U.S. House, there is a limit to our passive position.
The time has come for us to show an active interest in how human rights, a universal value of humanity, is improved in the North. We must make statements about the political prison camps and famine there, and must urge the North when necessary. Also, when we need to help, we must provide aid. And that goes for the North Korean defector issue.
The $24 million worth of aid that the United States has proposed in helping North Korean defectors amounts to half of our budget for that purpose. We must not keep our mouths shut about improving human rights in the North, lest this become an impediment to solving the nuclear problem in the North. The nuclear issue and human rights are separate, not interrelated, issues. The reason we seek unification is to enjoy the human rights and freedom that humanity enjoys as one nation.