Striking a balanceThe North Korean Human Rights Act, first proposed by the conservative party in 2005 and passed this March, has finally gone into effect after more than a decade of partisan wrangling.
Laws to help raise awareness and improve human rights conditions in the reclusive state had been put into force in the United States in 2004 and in Japan in 2006. We cannot expect human rights in North Korea to suddenly improve with a law in South Korea, but the legislation nevertheless can help contribute to improving the lives of North Koreans if implemented well.
As the first article of the law stipulates, it is designed to protect and improve human rights conditions in North Korea in accordance with international conventions. An advisory group and archive will be installed in the Ministry of Unification for this purpose. The law also requires the establishment of a foundation and appointment of an ambassador specializing in North Korean human rights.
The move will demand a sizable budget. All concerned government offices must do their part and cooperate to fulfill the design of the law.
The ministry plans to create a bureau to promote a coexisting community between the two Koreas and oversee work to improve human rights in North Korea, resolve the issue of separated families and support North Korean defectors. But the government must also consider whether enlarging an office is that necessary. The purpose of the law would be impaired if it is used to increase the number of public positions and expand the budget.
The law also sets guidelines for humanitarian support for North Koreans and requires the government to endeavor to enhance human rights for North Koreans through the development of inter-Korean relations and the pursuit of peace in the region.
The government must be subtle so that the moves to help the lives of North Koreans do not trigger conflict over policies on North Korea and peace. It must stay true to the design of the law so that it does not worsen relations with North Korea and cause disputes among South Koreans.
JoongAng Ilbo, Sept. 5, Page 34