[OUTLOOK]Put rights before expediency

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[OUTLOOK]Put rights before expediency

As it did last year, the South Korean government has abstained from voting on the UN resolution on North Korea’s human rights violations. The reason, the government said, was to promote the national interest.
I understand what was meant but cannot agree. What should be pursued is not narrow national interest, but “the great cause” of respect for basic human rights. If that is the goal, then the government can attain genuine national interest. But with the abstention, it will see only a small profit and miss a big payoff.
The Roh administration thinks that voting for the human rights resolution will impede the inter-Korean dialogue. This may be true in the short term, but little will be accomplished through dialogue. What obstacle is there to belatedly addressing the issue of the North’s human rights abuses, when the whole world is talking about it? Would it be possible for South Korea alone, isolated from the international reality, to have good relations with North Korea when the entire international community is denouncing the country?
But if we side with human rights, a universal value of mankind, according to the great cause, we can resolve the problem in close cooperation with the international community. Becau-se the South Korean government has kept silent on the North Korean human rights problem, right wingers suspect that President Roh Moo-hyun and his administration are leftist.
If the government is on the side of human rights supporters, this doubt can be removed and national unity in its true sense can be achieved. Also, even if Seoul keeps silent on the human rights issue, it cannot necessarily increase its negotiating leverage with Pyongyang. Rather, the South Korean government will be treated as negligible and may be ignored. The government’s silence gives more room to hard-liners in North Korea while trivializing South Korea’s position.
What is more important is North Koreans’ view of the South Korean government. Why did anti-American tendencies develop among young people? The United States did not follow the great cause to pursue its national interest and instead supported many military dictatorships. Isn’t the Roh administration making the same mistake in tacitly supporting the Kim Jong-il regime? At least North Korean residents will think so.
Pyongyang authorities are criticizing the UN resolution as a ploy to overthrow the North Korean regime. But this is wrong. North Korea’s leaders can make a transition to an open society without a regime collapse when human rights in the country are steadily improved. Then, the South will be able to help the North in earnest.
The governing Uri Party says that humanitarian aid is more important than the human rights issue, and that we should help the North create an environment in which the country can change of its own accord. This is lame reasoning. Expectations that constant assistance will change the North have been disappointed .
Although we have enthusiastically provided aid to the North, its human rights conditions have worsened as shown in the execution of all 62 defectors repatriated last year and the public execution of those who had helped their defection.
The disappointment with the North has grown so that the public is loathe to donate money to help the North. Civic groups trying to aid North Korea should honestly tell Pyongyang that to increase the aid, the human rights situation needs to improve.
Why is there so much confusion over this?
This is because intellectuals, particularly liberal intellectuals, in our society are blind to the circumstances. Those who had protested against Park Chung Hee’s dictatorship in the 1970s, thinking they should firmly stand against the oppressive regime, are now keeping silent before the North Korean regime, hundreds of times harsher than Mr. Park’s.
They also regard those who raise the North Korean human rights issue as “hard-core conservatives.”
Moreover, many intellectuals are wishfully thinking that they can contribute to the country’s unification by becoming like the independence fighter, Kim Gu, who is supported in both North and South Korea. But the problem is that this “Kim Gu complex” makes us turn away from cries of wretched North Koreans, who, in the meantime, will continue to die.

* The writer is the head of Joy of Sharing, an NGO. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.


by Suh Kyung-suk

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