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(LEAD) Gov't urges early passage of N.K. human rights bill

All News 17:32 January 29, 2016

(ATTN: ADDS more details in 5-6 paras; RECASTS headline)

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- The government expressed hope on Friday that the National Assembly will pass a pending bill aimed at improving North Korea's dismal human rights situation as soon as possible.

South Korean ruling and opposition lawmakers agreed to approve the bill on the North's human rights on Friday, but it is still pending at a parliamentary committee due to differences of opinions over details, casting cold over the passage.

The bill, first introduced in August 2005, has been languishing in parliament, apparently out of concern its passage could have a negative impact on inter-Korean relations.

The bill calls for efforts to improve the North's human rights situation and setting up a center tasked with investigating the North's human rights situation and relevant archives.

The ruling Saenuri Party stressed that the improvement of the North's human rights situation should come before making efforts to achieve peace on the Korean Peninsula.

The main opposition Minjoo Party of Korea, meanwhile, argues that efforts in human rights and improving inter-Korean relations to stabilize peace should be carried out together.

The Unification Ministry voiced a hope that the bill could be passed soon to help resolve the severe human rights violations in North Korea.

"As the protection of human rights is a universal value of mankind, it is natural to make efforts to enhance the North's human rights records," Jeong Joon-hee, a ministry spokesman, told a regular press briefing. "North Korea should also take necessary steps to improve its situation."

A day earlier, North Korea rebuked South Korea for making efforts to pass the bill, calling Seoul's move a confrontational scheme.

"We think that the North's criticism against Seoul's move to pass the bill is not right," Jeong said.

Pyongyang has long been labeled one of the worst human rights violators in the world. The communist regime does not tolerate dissent, holds hundreds of thousands of people in political prison camps and keeps tight control over outside information.

In December last year, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a resolution for the second consecutive year that calls for referring the North to the International Criminal Court for human rights violations.

sooyeon@yna.co.kr
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