The debate over the North Korean Human Rights Law (NKHRL), which has been a victim of almost endless verbal jousting for the last six years, is about to ignite once more, with major obstacles still in its way, not least a competing law put forward by the opposition Democratic Party.
Although the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) and opposition Democratic Party (DP) floor leaders both agreed yesterday to deal with a law in the June extra session of the National Assembly, that law is not actually the North Korean Human Rights Law, but the alternative North Korean Livelihoods and Human Rights Law.
The law was put forward by the DP, and it says it plans to complete the law and submit it to the Legislation and Judiciary Committee. All of which seems to indicate that the DP has decided that it cannot keep opposing a law on the human rights of North Koreans forever, so has made the strategic decision to bring forward alternative legislation.
Some criticize the new law, saying that it is intended to cancel out the core issues included in the NKHRL and at the same time to call for food aid to go to North Korea. Therefore, it could incapacitate the May 24th Measures; those sanctions against North Korea applied after the Cheonan sinking.
Shin Ji Ho, a member of the Grand National Party, took this view, explaining to The Daily NK, “Now public opinion (on the NKHRL) has almost reached a tipping point, the DP is trying to use the typical tactic of watering down the law.” Shin went on, “The NKLHRL is clearly meant to provide the North with food and medicine. Thereafter, it is likely that a law aiding North Korea will be established.”
Alternatively, given that in order to initiate a discussion in the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the Democratic Party must forge an agreement on the new law and then submit it to the Committee, it is possible that they simply hope to run out the clock until the end of the extra session.
Certainly, as long as there is a member of the DP as chairman of the Legislation and Judiciary Committee, the NKHRL cannot easily be discussed without discussion of the new law. In that case the NKHRL will end up being pushed back to the regular session of the National Assembly which starts in September.
An official from the GNP explained, “From the aspect of DP floor leader Kim Jin Pyo, suggesting the NKLHRL happens to save GNP floor leader Hwang Woo Yea’s face.” The official also added, “Since Park Jie Won, the former floor leader of the DP, is not there, the situation became just a little bit better, but it will not be easy to pass it.”