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(EDITORIAL from The Korea Times on Sept. 9)

All Headlines 07:15 September 09, 2016

Improving human rights
It's long past time to address abuses in North Korea

A law intended to improve human rights conditions in North Korea went into effect Sunday after 11 years of partisan wrangling. The law might be belated, considering that the United States and Japan began to enforce similar laws in 2004 and 2006, respectively.

The North Korean Human Rights Act is specifically aimed at helping protect the freedom and human rights of North Korean citizens. Under the law, an archive will be established to record rights abuses in the reclusive state. The archive will hand over its findings to the Ministry of Justice every three months.

The unification ministry will establish a foundation to support activities of non-governmental organizations. A 10-member advisory group will also be formed to develop policies to improve human rights in the North.

The law will certainly apply stronger pressure on the repressive regime in Pyongyang as the Seoul government embarks in person on surveying and documenting rights violations committed in North Korea. The records will be used as grounds to punish violators later.

Given the urgency of human rights abuses in the dictatorial state, no one can dare to deny the rationale behind the law. In its report to Congress last month, the U.S. State Department detailed rights violations involving overseas North Korean workers who were subject to harsh labor without pay. The report said 50,000 to 60,000 North Koreans were working abroad in labor-intensive industries, which makes it possible for Pyongyang to earn between $300 and $400 million a year.

True, it's difficult to expect remarkable improvements in the North's dire human rights situation merely with the law at a time when the two Koreas stand off more fiercely than ever. Rather, shedding light on Pyongyang's rights abuses might be seen as Seoul's ploy to topple the Kim Jong-un regime and result in inflaming tension on the Korean Peninsula and hampering cross-border dialogue.

It's long overdue nevertheless for South Korea to act decisively to help protect human rights in the North, the universal values of mankind.

In previous governments in the South, especially liberal ones, bringing up the North's human rights problems used to be taboo. Those governments just tended to focus on inter-Korean reconciliation and cooperation while turning away from issues that could provoke Pyongyang.

But human rights abuses committed by the North's young leader and his underlings have already surpassed a tolerable level. These days few seem to be surprised to find out that a high-ranking North Korean official was executed brutally at the behest of Kim.

Given that Kim has so far ordered the execution of more than 100 North Korean officials, one could easily guess how dire human rights conditions in the North are. It's also no secret that up to 120,000 political prisoners are being held in the country's concentration camps.

All this explains why our political parties should drum up nonpartisan cooperation to let the law make a practical contribution to improving human rights in the North. Policymakers, for their part, need to take a careful approach so that the law won't heighten military tension.
(END)

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