Saenuri Party lawmaker Ha Tae-keung urged rival parties to put aside differences in their grand approaches to North Korea and reach a compromise to unshackle its people from oppression, based on a shared recognition of human rights as a universal value.
Led by the conservative party, a bill supporting North Korean human rights has been languished for more than seven years due to partisan and ideological divides.
Ha, one of the most fervent campaigners for freedom in the communist regime, said the issue should be kept away from partisan rifts and swings in inter-Korean relations.
“A quantum leap can only be realized when you acknowledge inconvenient truths, compromise, negotiate and take a step forward even though it’s unpleasant and difficult to do so,” he said in an interview with The Korea Herald.
“Although not entirely agreeable, we can reach a compromise and pass the bill if the Democratic United Party shows sincerity.”
Early this month, the freshman lawmaker suggested merging two different bills proposed by the ruling and opposition camps through a bipartisan consultative body.
The Saenuri bill calls for the establishment of a North Korea human rights foundation, support for relevant civic groups at home and abroad, and the drawing up of a triennial road map by the unification minister on ways to improve the living conditions in the North.
Introduced in 2011, the DUP version focuses on expanding humanitarian assistance and reunions of separated families.
“The point is to have both sides concede an inch rather than to formulate a single bill for its own sake,” Ha said.
“Now I sense that more DUP members are evolving in their thoughts on the issue, unlike in the past when a majority in the party simply opposed the plan. Those people should raise their voices within the party.”
He acknowledged the DUP’s concerns over a likely backlash from Pyongyang. But he opined that the bill’s impact would not jeopardize cross-border relations in the long term in light of other countries’ cases.
The U.S. has endorsed the extension of its North Korean Human Rights Act since 2004, ensuring refugee protection, humanitarian aid and democracy promotion. Its 2012 edition added a new clause urging China to stop repatriating North Korean defectors.
The European Union has also passed related resolutions for seven straight years since 2005. Japan also enacted similar legislation in 2004 and 2006.
“Over the past eight or nine years the North Korea-U.S. relations have repeated a cycle of progress and impasse. But the human rights law has never made any significant rupture in their relationship ― it was always the North that triggered shifts, whether through a nuclear test or missile launch,” Ha said.
“Pyongyang will surely harden its rhetoric against Seoul if it passes its own legislation. But even from a North Korean viewpoint, a human rights law is not something that can result in the overthrow of its system but a tool for other countries to criticize the regime and keep it in check.”
Rather, the National Assembly’s enactment of the bill means removing a “major source of inner conflict” in the South and will ultimately help change the North’s behavior, the lawmaker said.
He pointed to intensifying international pressure as the mainspring of apparent signs of change, such as the communist state’s first-ever mentioning of human rights in its 2009 constitutional revision, leader Kim Jong-un’s touch on the issue in his speech last year and its approval of visits by U.N. special rapporteurs.
“Those things may amount to the first step toward a normal state. There would’ve been no such changes if no one had said anything about its human rights record,” Ha said.
“As Kim appears to be paying greater attention to foreign media than his father, I believe the trend will pick up the pace in the years to come.”
By Shin Hyon-hee (email@example.com