Human Rights Act in tatters

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Human Rights Act in tatters

The North Korean Human Rights Act, which has been delayed for 11 years, is at the forefront again. On Jan. 23, the ruling and opposition parties agreed to pass the act and the so-called One Shot Act, a business vitalization measure, but the friction over the labor reform cancelled the agreement.

But Unification Ministry officials seem relieved. The proposed law has been changed a lot from its original form.

The most notable change is the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights. The center is in charge of investigating and recording human rights violation cases in the North, including torture, public execution, political imprisonment and forced labor. When the country is reunified, it would provide legal grounds to remedy damages or punish the assailants.

The ruling and opposition parties had decided to install the center under the Ministry of Unification. Instead, the ministry will deliver the research and data on human rights violations to the Ministry of Justice every three months. It is the result of bargaining. The Saenuri Party wants the center under the Ministry of Justice, but the Minjoo Party has been promoting the Ministry of Unification. The opposition party argues that installing the center under the Ministry of Justice would emphasize “punishing the assailants” and could provoke the North Korean regime. In order to pass the bill that was first proposed in 2005, the ruling party accepted opposition’s demand.

However, the agreement does not reflect reality. Three of the high-level officials at the Ministry of Unification said so. Mr. A said, “Improving inter-Korean relations is the main job of the Ministry of Unification, and it is not appropriate to have the center collecting human rights violation cases in the ministry.” Mr. B said, “It was not how West Germany handled the issue. In November 1961, West Germany had the Central Registry Office archive under the justice ministry in Salzgitter and effectively discouraged human rights violations by East Germany.” Mr. C said, “The opposition said that having the center in the Justice Ministry could provoke the North. But the Ministry of Unification has to engage in inter-Korean talks, and its involvement with the center could provoke the North even more.”

A Saenuri Party lawmaker who visited Kaesong last year said, “Some North Koreans protested that we were trying to pass the Human Rights Act. Having a human rights apparatus denouncing violations in the North in the Unification Ministry does not make sense as it should engage in talks and negotiations.” He also added that the opposition party values inter-Korean talks, so it does not make sense to have the center within the Unification Ministry because it does not trust the Ministry of Justice.

A law should be properly drafted before passing. Passing a bill for legislation’s sake is worse than not processing it at all.

The author is a political and international news reporter of the JoongAng Ilbo.

JoongAng Ilbo, Jan. 28, Page 29

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