South Korean parliament passes North Korean Human rights law
South Korea’s National Assembly on Wednesday passed a North Korean human rights bill that was stuck in parliament for more than a decade, which is intended to enhance and protect the basic rights of North Koreans from Pyongyang’s rogue regime.
The bill, which was proposed in 2005 by former lawmaker Kim Moon-soo but repeatedly failed to make headway, finally cleared any hurdles this time amid mounting pressure over nuclear developments in the impoverished North.
A total of 2012 South Korean lawmakers voted for the bill and 24 others abstained in the floor vote.
The law would see the establishment of the North Korean Human Rights Documentation Center, the provisional name for a research center dedicated to studying and amassing information on the human rights situation in North Korea.
Launched under the Ministry of the Unification, the venue would be South Korea’s first official state organization tasked with investigating human rights in North Korea.
Every three years, the unification minister would report to the National Assembly to brief lawmakers on government plans for enhancing the rights situation in North Korea.
Other clauses include humanitarian aid to North Koreans and inter-Korean discussion on human rights. Seoul will also push for cooperation among international organizations in promoting awareness around these issues. The bill is likely to be implemented in six months once adopted.
On Wednesday, North Korea denounced the bill on its external propaganda website Uriminzokkiri as an “unjust law” that demonstrates the South’s goal for “anti-national unification” by fabricating records about North Korea’s human rights record.
Go Myong-hyun, a research fellow at the Asan Institute for Policy Studies, acknowledged the gravity of the bill’s symbolic meaning, but said the bill didn’t specify how to make use of information on North Korean victims collected by the Unification Ministry.
“It is uncertain whether the South Korean government could ensure legal accountability for the people responsible for human rights violations in the event of unification,” Go said.
Activists have urged the government to adopt a bill that would send a clear message to Pyongyang that human rights are not negotiable, pointing out that South Korea already lags behind the United States and Japan, which adopted such bills in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
“North Korea’s residents would acknowledge and welcome the fact that the South Korean government would not only deal with the North Korean regime but also care about their lives,” said Ji Seong-ho, the president of a civil group acting for the North Korean human rights Now Action and Unity for Human Rights (NAUH). “It is significant that the South Korean government would document the wrongdoings happening in North Korea.”
The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution on crimes against humanity in North Korea every year since 2005. On Tuesday, North Korea’s foreign minister said that the country would boycott any session of the UN Human Rights Council in which its record is examined. Last month, Marzuki Darusman, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, asked the UN to officially notify North Korean leader Kim Jong-un that he may be investigated for crimes against humanity.
BY KIM SO-HEE [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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