The elephant in the room

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The elephant in the room

North Korea’s human rights conditions will come under intense United Nations scrutiny next week.

The move is part of the UN Human Rights Council’s fledgling Universal Periodical Review, which was launched in 2006 and aims to make its first assessment of human rights conditions in the North by 2011.

All 192 UN member countries will participate in the review. The council is set to evaluate and start the debate on the situation in North Korea on Monday.

The international community has raised human rights and humanitarian concerns involving the North numerous times over many years.

Still, the review is expected to shed fresh light on the country’s human rights abuses and violations - which are often eclipsed by its nuclear weapons program - in a broad UN context.

A large-scale body of North Korean representatives will be present, likely to repudiate any negative aspects of the review.

It’s no news that the country’s people are deprived in countless ways politically, socially and economically. Yet South Korea has long shied away from the issue due to inconsistency in government policy.

Past governments that championed a policy of engaging the North turned a blind eye to the situation and bypassed the UN vote condemning the country’s abuses against human rights.

The incumbent government, though, takes a completely different position. It became one of the sponsors behind the General Assembly resolution in favor of condemning North Korean human rights abuses.

However, the Democratic Party, which had ruled during the past two administrations, remains opposed to the Grand National Party-led bill on North Korean human rights issues that passed a subcommittee meeting last month.

The wearisome political divide is exhausting and bodes poorly for our state interests. Whether we want it or not, the state of North Korea’s human rights climate is high on the international agenda. We can no longer avoid it.

We must remember that ameliorating the egregious living and human rights conditions in the North will work best in the longer run for a future unified society.

The government, together with the private community, must take a greater interest in improving the human rights situation in North Korea.

Human rights is an extensive theme that encompasses every corner of society. It is vital to take an active stance on the issue on the international front, but at the same time we must offer practical help to improve conditions there through humanitarian and economic aid.

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