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Human rights law aimed at improving plight of N. Koreans goes into effect

All Headlines 09:15 September 04, 2016

SEOUL, Sept. 4 (Yonhap) -- A new human rights act that aims to improve the plight of North Koreans went into effect Sunday with the government vowing to use the legislation to bring about change in the reclusive country.

The law that had been held up in parliament for 11 years due to political wrangling was passed in March, and is expected to create conditions in South Korea to prod Pyongyang to treat its people humanely. It can also make it easier to tackle the separated families issue and assist North Koreans wanting to defect, the government here said.

Pyongyang is consistently blasted by the international community for its dismal human rights abuses that include summary executions of "enemies of the state" and confinement of dissenters to concentration camps.

The unification ministry, which handles inter-Korean policies, said it will set up new offices and advisory panels to better prepare for the eventual merging of the separated peninsula.

It said an office dedicated to laying the foundation for a unified community will focus on measures that can help ordinary North Koreans. The office can reflect one of the changes in Seoul's policy toward Pyongyang as outlined by President Park Geun-hye's Liberation Day speech last month.

In the speech, the chief executive called for a different set of policies in regards to dealing with the North Korean government and ordinary people.

Besides concentrating more on ordinary North Koreans, the enactment of the law will make it possible for South Korea to keep better tabs on the North's human rights abuses and hold officials responsible for acts against humanity. It can moreover be able to support a North Korea foundation that will be tasked with carrying out campaigns to improve human rights conditions in the country.

Keeping track of abuses will be the task of the North Korean human rights record center, while the foundation will be made up of directors recommended by the National Assembly. Both will be managed by the unification ministry.

The human rights foundation will be responsible for assisting local nongovernmental organizations and have 42 staff members with a budget of 13.4 billion won (US$11.9 million), while the record center that keeps files on testimonies made by North Korean defectors, will pass on the data every three months to the justice ministry. The justice ministry can build criminal cases against North Korean policymakers.

In addition, a special advisory group of experts will be formed under the unification ministry to offer expert advice on tackling human rights issues, while a special ambassador in charge of North Korean human rights will be created at the foreign ministry to strengthen international cooperation so as to pressure the North to mend its ways.

Meanwhile, observers said the new law could lead to South Korea releasing its own list of North Korean violators of human rights.

"Just as the United States released its list of North Korean policymakers accused of human rights abuses, South Korea is carefully considering similar measures," said a source, who did not wished to be identified.

yonngong@yna.co.kr
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