Legislate for North’s human rights

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Legislate for North’s human rights

The United Nations Commission of Inquiry for North Korea held a press conference in Seoul yesterday after wrapping up 10 days in South Korea of exploring the North’s human rights situation. At the press conference, Michael Kirby, chairman of the commission, said a wide range of human rights abuses are presumed to take place in the secluded country, including inhumane treatment of political prisoners and POWs at prison camps, public executions, a guilt-by-association system, restrictions on the freedom of movement and free speech, forced abortions and human trafficking.

The chairman urged North Korean authorities to allow the commission to launch an on-site survey to affirm the existence of such human rights violations in the North, despite the North’s claim that such findings are lies and slanders.

It is the first time that the Geneva-based UN Human Rights Council set up a commission charged with examining North Korea’s human rights conditions since its establishment in 2006. The COI plans to submit the results of its inquiry to the Council next March. When the Council announces the COI’s findings next year, it will help raise the international community’s awareness about the North’s human rights situation. We cannot rule out the possibility of an international legal procedure to hold the North Korea regime accountable for its massive infringement on human rights.

Controversy over the recalcitrant country’s dire human rights situation has been simmering for decades. Despite the Human Rights Council’s persistent efforts to raise the issue through a series of annual reports, the situation has not improved a bit. Therefore, South Korea, along with the international community, needs to beef up efforts to improve human rights in the North. But the absence of a law on North Korean human rights is a major stumbling block in establishing a systematic support system at the governmental level.

Both the government and the civil sector have been closely monitoring human rights conditions in the North. Despite their considerable achievements, those activities are inherently fragmentary - and repetitive - without practical solutions to enhance human rights across the border. This is due to a lack of awareness that human rights can be improved through economic means as well as political and social ones. All of this calls for the writing of legislation aimed at backing diverse measures to improve the human rights situation for our fellow Koreans in a comprehensive way. Both the ruling and opposition parties must narrow their differences on this legislation.

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