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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. 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. This includes a basic plan every three years to improve respect for human rights in North Korea.

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 that 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.

Voting for the Bill

A 29-member committee on Thursday voted on the bill, with DP lawmakers were 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. DP lawmaker Chung Dong-young objected by stating, “The bill is ineffective since it does not take into account the unique relationship between North and South Korea. He continued, “(the bill) will only give a false impression of pressure on the North.”

Bill Controversy

DP lawmaker Shin Nak-kyun said that the bill “could throw cold water on budding expectations of an inter-Korean summit.” DP lawmaker Park Sang-cheon said that 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.

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.”