Time for action on rights

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Time for action on rights

Calls for a bill designed to improve human rights conditions in North Korea have gained momentum here after nine young North Koreans aged between 15 and 23 were repatriated by Laos and China last week. It may be a stretch to connect the legislative move with the unfortunate deportation of the defectors who could face severe punishment upon their return to North Korea. But concerns for human rights abuses in the secluded nation resurfaced after the incident.

Many have argued for a strong need for legislation to help improve the deplorable human rights conditions across the border. But the conservative and liberal camps have differed greatly in how such a law should be passed and what it should say. There are six bills focused on human rights in the North pending at the National Assembly. But there remains an unbridgeable gap between the proposals by the conservative ruling and liberal opposition parties.

North Korea’s human rights conditions have long been widely condemned. Records and testimonies of concentration camps underscore how vulnerable and oppressed North Koreans are in their civil and political rights. Residents are stripped of basic economic, social and cultural rights, and they live in dire conditions at the edge or below the poverty line. The country and its people seriously need outside attention and help to improve the substandard human rights situation.

Although agreeing on such a need, the conservatives and liberals are still poles apart in their preferred methods. The ruling Saenuri Party wants to come down on political and civilian rights abuses in North Korea through “open” pressure, while the opposition Democratic Party demands a “private” approach aimed at improving economic, social and cultural rights for North Koreans to help upgrade their living standards and livelihoods.

Both are right and wrong in various ways. But what’s important is that we do something substantial to improve the lives and rights of North Koreans. Instead of wrangling over details, the legislative branch must set the basic direction to helping their compatriots across the border and reach an agreement on enacting the law.

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