The National Assembly’s Unification, Foreign Affairs and Trade Committee passed a bill Thursday authorizing the creation of a body to monitor North Korea’s human rights situation and support activists in the South.
South Korea is the third country to pass a bill aimed at improving North Korea’s human rights situation. The U.S. enacted a similar bill in 2004, and Japan followed suit in 2006. But the main opposition Democratic Party is against the bill, fearing it would harm inter-Korean relations. As a result, the passage of the bill by the Legislation and Judiciary Committee and the plenary session of parliament is expected to be a tough process.
The 29-member committee on Thursday voted on the bill, with DP lawmakers against but outvoted by the 14 ruling Grand National Party lawmakers and two lawmakers of the conservative Liberty Forward Party. “It may be late, but we welcome the introduction of measures to raise awareness of human rights in North Korea,” a spokesman for the GNP lawmakers said. But DP lawmaker Chung Dong-young said, “The bill is ineffective since it does not take into account the unique relationship between North and South Korea and will only give a false impression of pressure on the North
DP lawmaker Shin Nak-kyun said the bill “could throw cold water on budding expectations of an inter-Korean summit.” But the DP did not physically block the passage of the bill. DP lawmaker Park Sang-cheon said. Park Jin, the head of the committee, “didn’t give us enough time to voice our views and I plan to report this to the National Assembly’s ethics committee.”
The bill includes the creation of a body to investigate the human rights situation in North Korea and to deal with such problems. The bill also guarantees funding for NGOs working to improve the human rights situation in the North, and mandates a human rights advisory committee at the Unification Ministry and a basic plan every three years to improve respect for human rights in North Korea.
It was proposed during the 17th National Assembly, but was scrapped due to opposition from the then-ruling party, which is now the DP, and fared no better during the 18th National Assembly after the DP labeled it an “evil law.”