Seoul should join in condemnation

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Seoul should join in condemnation

The United Nations Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights opened a field office in Seoul to better observe North Korea’s human rights conditions. The office will collect testimonies from North Korean defectors and document material to build a stronger case to expose the North’s dire human rights conditions. The office considered Geneva and Bangkok but chose Seoul due to its proximity to North Korea.

The United Nations established an office committed to investigating the country’s human rights conditions in March 2013. A Commission of Inquiry in February 2014 issued a report illuminating the brutal human rights violations by the Pyongyang regime that included murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment and rape. It said the abuses were “without parallel in the contemporary world.”

To Pyongyang’s humiliation, the office said leader Kim Jong-un and other senior officials could face trial at the International Criminal Court for culpability in the atrocities. The United Nations has been building pressure to create systemic changes in North Korea despite violent protests and condemnation from Pyongyang. North Korea suddenly notified that it won’t send athletes to the Summer Universiade games in Gwangju, South Korea, next month to protest Seoul licensing the opening of the U.N. office. It also reversed its offer to release two South Korean detainees, instead slapping them with life sentences of hard labor. Members of left-wing civilian groups protested, saying human rights issues should not be used as leverage with the North.

But abuses and deprivations of human rights in North Korea have become too severe to be restricted to the borders of the Korean Peninsula. We must not turn a blind eye towards the atrocities and suffering taking place on the other side of the border. We must actively join the international campaign and regard the issue as one that affects all Koreans, and will affect our shared future.

The United States and Japan have separate legislation on North Korean human rights. Ours has been gathering dust in the legislature for more than a decade. With the presence of the UN office, Korean legislators must resume discussions to establish a law on human rights violations in North Korea.

JoongAng Ilbo, June 24, Page 30

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