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(EDITORIAL from Korea Times on Jan. 27)

All News 07:13 January 27, 2016

Voting on NK rights bill
This time the law must be enacted without fail

The ruling and opposition parties have agreed to vote on a long-delayed bill on North Korean human rights during Friday's plenary session.

The agreement is belated but welcome. If the bill is approved, the legislative process will be completed 11 years after a ruling party lawmaker first proposed enacting such a law in 2005.

The United States passed a law on the North's human rights situation in 2004, and Japan followed in the footsteps of Washington two years later. The United Nations General Assembly has adopted a resolution on Pyongyang's brutal human rights violations every year since 2005.

In both 2014 and 2015, the General Assembly also approved bills asking the U.N. Security Council to refer the North Korean leadership to the International Criminal Court, citing the North's state-perpetrated crimes against humanity.

It's shameful that South Korea has been dragging its feet on enacting the much-touted human rights act. And for that reason, the political opposition can't avoid criticism.

The center-right Saenuri Party has submitted draft legislation on North Korea's human rights violations to the National Assembly repeatedly since 2005. But the opposition has been against any such bill, alleging that it could worsen inter-Korean relations.

However, given the universal value of human rights, the liberal opposition should have reacted more furiously to the dismal rights situation in the repressive state.

It's clear why the human rights bill must be enacted. Needless to say, it ought to serve the purpose of improving North Koreans' human rights -- albeit slightly.

The bill calls for establishing a foundation to look into the North's human rights records and develop preventive measures and an archive to preserve written testimonies and other resources. It also envisions creating an advisory committee under the wing of the Ministry of Unification, which will consist of 10 members -- five each from the governing party and the main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea (MBK).

The parties have yet to reach an agreement on the objectives of the human rights law. The Saenuri Party is focused on stepping up efforts to improve human rights, whereas the MBK sheds light on improving inter-Korean relations. But they are expected to negotiate a fair solution by Friday because their differences are not so serious as to betray their earlier compromise.

What's worrisome is a possible violent backlash from Pyongyang after the passage of the bill and its adverse impact on the already-sour inter-Korean relationship.

All this explains why Seoul should be more prudent and restrained than ever, and that is a prerequisite to making the law instrumental in improving the rogue state's human rights conditions.

One of the key purposes of the law is to provide financial support for private organizations, which have been providing human rights activities for North Koreans. But ill-advised support might irritate the impoverished state unnecessarily.

The bipartisan agreement on the North Korean human rights law is quite significant in that it will normalize what has been abnormal. The law would prove to be successful only if it could serve to cause the North to acknowledge its human rights issues.

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