Bipartisanship and North Korea

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Bipartisanship and North Korea

The purge and execution of Jang Song-thaek, the powerful uncle of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un, and his followers have thrust human rights conditions in the reclusive state back into the spotlight. Concerns about egregious violations of human rights have been built on empathy toward common North Koreans living in a country where even the second-most powerful man in the regime, who was a member of the Kim dynasty, was not safe. But it is becoming more and more clear that we Koreans across the border should not turn a blind eye to those lives dominated by the politics of terror.

The main opposition Democratic Party has supported a law promoting the livelihoods and human rights of North Koreans, though it has been shelved in the National Assembly for years.

The South Korean government and legislature so far has no consistent, comprehensive or established policy addressing the human rights situation in North Korea. Laws and aid have only focused on certain pending issues like separated families, defectors, South Korean prisoners and North Korean infants. And policies change every time a new administration takes power. As a result of our own ideological conflicts, we have failed to seriously piece together a law that would help improve the lives of North Koreans.

Our perspective and policy on North Korean human rights and the crimes against humanity there naturally fell out of tune with those of the international community. The United Nations Human Rights Council has been adopting resolutions condemning North Korea every year since 2003. Those voting for a resolution on North Korea have risen, and the council last year created a commission dedicated to investigating North Korea’s human rights situation. The United States passed a North Korean Human Rights Act in 2004 to set aside funds to help North Korean refugees and send humanitarian aid. It also established a special envoy in the U.S. State Department focused on North Korean human rights. Japan has also been vocal against North Korea on the human rights front.

The details of the laws differ by country, but the underlying focus is the human rights situation. It is embarrassing that we, of the same race and living just next door, have for so long kept silent and neglected to improve conditions there through a legal framework covering humanitarian aid and peaceful intervention.

The time could not be better to establish a law on North Korean human rights in light of the precarious developments there, international interest and public opinion at home. The consensus may exist, but the conservative and liberal parties differ in their focus. The Saenuri Party proposes a bill to help enhance freedom, suggesting the appointment of a special envoy and the establishment of a foundation and an archive. The DP wants to specifically target humanitarian aid to help North Koreans.

Conflict and wrangling may be inevitable, but the two sides should refer to the international trend. The UN reports on North Korea address both the breaches of freedom and the nation’s poor health. Conditions can only get better when North Koreans’ rights and livelihoods improve. Politicians must address this issue, taking into account the extraordinary nature of the inter-Korean relationship. We must send a strong message to Pyongyang as well as win the hearts of ordinary North Koreans. We expect wise bipartisan work from the National Assembly next month.

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