Human rights act goes into force after 11 years

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Human rights act goes into force after 11 years

South Korea Tuesday approved an enforcement ordinance for the North Korean Human Rights Act, allowing the law to come into effect this Sunday, 11 years after the bill was first submitted to the parliament.

Prime Minister Hwang Kyo-ahn passed the ordinance during a cabinet meeting Tuesday, five months after the law was passed by the National Assembly, ending 11 years of partisan wrangling over the content and purpose of the law.

Under the law, a special advisory group will be formed to come up with government policies to improve human rights in North Korea. The law requires academic figures with more than 10 years of experience in the field and public officials such as prosecutors and judges with 10 years of experience in their fields to become members. A state-funded North Korea Human Rights Foundation and a special archive of human rights violations by the Pyongyang regime will be created. Evidence such as testimonies of human rights violations provided by North Korean defectors collected by officials of the Unification Ministry will be transferred to the Justice Ministry every three months.

The law stipulates that the unification minister should promote dialogue with the North for improvement of human rights in North Korea and can also financially and administratively assist non-governmental groups to that end.

It took 11 years for the law to reach a cabinet meeting since it was first proposed by then-lawmaker Kim Moon-soo in 2005. The law became subject to partisan bickering. Opponents said it would only sour inter-Korean relations, would have no means to force Pyongyang to change its ways and would only further isolate it. The law was finally passed on March 2.

“Improving North Korean human rights requires our timely action. And it is important work to be done to open a path toward peaceful unification,” said a government official involved in the law Tuesday, speaking on the condition of anonymity.

The official noted the government would mostly rely on testimonies of defectors about the dire human rights conditions in the North to make the human rights archive, as non-profit civic groups have been doing for years.

The enactment of the law comes at a time when inter-Korea relations are at rock bottom, affected by the North’s fourth nuclear test in January and a long-range missile launch the following month. Seoul responded by withdrawing South Korean companies from the joint Kaesong industrial park, which led to the closure of the last vestige of inter-Korean cooperation.

BY KANG JIN-KYU [kang.jinkyu@joongang.co.kr]

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