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Purge puts NK rights issue back in spotlight

Publication Date : 19-12-2013

 

The issue of the dire human rights conditions in North Korea has resurfaced after the recent execution of Jang Song-thaek, the uncle of leader Kim Jong-un.

Some South Korean lawmakers called for a prompt passage of a bill on North Korean human rights, which has remained pending at the National Assembly due to political bickering since the first legislative move began in 2005.

Seoul’s National Human Rights Commission on Wednesday sent to the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights a letter calling the execution of Jang an “explicit violation” of the right to life stipulated in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

“Many people close to Jang Song-thaek are continuously exposed to threats to their right to life for political reasons. It will be difficult to know even when they are executed or sent to political prison camps due to the isolationist nature of North Korea,” the letter said.

“It explicitly ignored its pledges to the international community by attempting to overlook even the most fundamental international human rights treaties.”

On Monday, UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called Jang’s execution a violation of human rights law.

“The period ahead should be used to build confidence in the international community and to improve living conditions for the country’s long-suffering people,” Ban said in a press briefing. “I stand ready to offer my good offices.”

Jang, once dubbed the No. 2 man in the North, was executed last Thursday immediately after a special military court meted out the death penalty for plotting to subvert the regime. The court did not give him a chance to lodge an appeal.

Observers said that the international community should continue to voice concerns over the violations of human rights by the reclusive regime to pressure it to improve the situation.

“It is hard to judge the situation when we don’t have hard facts. Yet, the immediate execution after only a single trial hinted at the country’s lack of procedural or institutional mechanisms to protect a defendant’s human rights,” said Chang Yong-seok, an analyst at the Institute of Peace and Unification Studies, which is affiliated with Seoul National University.

“It may be counterproductive for you to only highlight that the regime is politically bad. But there is a need to point to procedural problems there so that the North can keep thinking about what should be done with regard to the criticism from outside.”

The North is notorious for its human rights record. Countless people suffer from severe suppression and poverty. Those, branded political prisoners, are put in harsh prison camps, while defectors reportedly face torture and even execution if repatriated.

On Wednesday, Rep. Hwang Woo-yea, the leader of the ruling Saenuri Party, stressed that the legislature should quickly enact the North Korean human rights act, while calling on Pyongyang to immediately stop the politically-motivated executions.

“In North Korea, executions take place openly and they are being used politically,” he said during a meeting with senior party members.

“As the North is a member of the UN, it should be bound by human rights law. We should create bipartisan consensus over the human rights bill so that the universal values can be respected in the North as well.”

Former Saenuri Party lawmaker Kim Moon-soo, currently governor of Gyeonggi Province, and his fellow legislators submitted the first North Korean human rights bill to the National Assembly in August 2005. But it was scrapped amid political opposition.

Similar bills were submitted later. But they have not made it to a main vote, with left-wingers arguing it would provoke the North, damage the already strained bilateral relations with Pyongyang and deepen ideological division in the South.

 

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