Civil group presses for North Korean Human Rights Act

A leading international human rights organization Wednesday called for the prompt passage of the North Korean Human Rights Act, a bill stalled at the National Assembly since 2005.

The Human Rights Foundation, a nonprofit organization based in New York, organized a delegation of democracy advocates to speak at a conference at the Seoul Press Center.

“The North Korean government is unquestionably the worst oppressive and tyrannical regime in the world, having purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation and mass executions,” said Garry Kasparov, a Russian chess grandmaster, writer and political activist.

Human rights activists and experts attend a conference Wednesday on human rights abuses in the North at the Seoul Press Center in central Seoul. Yonhap

Also attending were Serbian human rights advocate Srdja Popovic, Jimmy Wales Foundation CEO Orit Kopel, Venezuelan human rights advocate and film producer Thor Halvorssen, North Korea defector Ji Seong-ho and Korean lawyer Kim Tae-hoon.

The group collectively stressed the “universal” nature of the issue, arguing that it is everyone’s responsibility to speak against the grave rights violations in North Korea and demand the South Korean government deal with the issue apolitically.

“Our coalition aims to unite all efforts to get this long overdue bill approved, and provide moral and material support to those willing to make changes,” Kasparov said.

Since being proposed by former Gyeonggi Provincial Gov. Kim Moon-soo in 2005, a bill for the Act has been gathering dust at Korea’s parliament amid political gridlock. The opposition New Politics Alliance for Democracy has opposed the bill out of worries that it might provoke the hostile Pyongyang regime, proposing instead humanitarian assistance.

According to lawyer Kim Tae-hoon, who leads a civil group dedicated to the cause, most of the bill’s content has been agreed upon by the National Assembly’s Foreign Affairs and Unification Committee, but the key issue of establishing an archive center dedicated to recording Pyongyang’s human rights violations, similar to West Germany’s Salzgitter Center, is at an impasse between the two parties.

Over the last decade, Japan and the United States passed North Korean human rights acts, Canada established a North Korea human rights day and the United Nations has created a Special Rapporteur and Commission of Inquiry on the matter.

Human rights activists and experts attend a conference Wednesday on human rights abuses in the North at the Seoul Press Center in central Seoul. Joel Lee / The Korea Herald

Halvorssen claimed that the South Korean government has been largely absent in the international coalition on this universal issue, adding that nonviolent action in the form of information, education and global attention can initiate bottom-up developments.

If enacted, the act would institute a monitoring and documentation program modeled after Germany’s unification experience, launch a campaign to educate South Korea’s public and defector groups, increase humanitarian aid, dramatically boost the flow of information into the reclusive country and create high-level posts in the government for financial and administrative support.

Halvorssen added that the National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Unification, the North Korean defector community and President Park Geun-hye have supported the bill.

“I lived half of my conscious life under the bloody dictatorship of Slobodan Milosevic. My compassion for North Koreans comes from my knowledge of how it is to live in a country of fear,” said Popovic.

“Exactly 15 years ago, Serbian people launched a nonviolent movement that successfully ended the rule of Milosevic. My country is a very different place now as a democracy.”

Popovic underscored that while it is the duty of people inside the country to topple their dictator, the job is much easier “when you know that you are not alone.”

Serbia’s successful transition to a democracy and market economy could not have been possible without the Serbian diaspora and defectors from the military who financially and politically supported their compatriots, he pointed out.

Democratic allies provided radios that helped spread information about freedom outside, and in the end, the International Criminal Court prosecuted Milosevic and his gang, Popovic added.

By Joel Lee (joel@heraldcorp.com)

The Korea Herald

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