It is clear that existing differences of opinion between the ruling Saenuri Party and opposition Democratic United Party over the proposed North Korea Human Rights Act will perpetuate long into the life of the 19th National Assembly.
Members from both sides spoke in familiar terms at a forum arranged by the Korean Council for Reconciliation and Cooperation on the 27th. Saenuri Party lawmaker Chung Moon Hun, a key member of the Foreign Affairs, Trade and Unification Committee on the conservative side, emphasized the need for an investigation into the state of the North Korean people’s human rights conditions, while his opposite number on the left, Shim Jae Kwon, asserted that the immediate need is for aid, exchanges and cooperation.
Chung said, “Plans to improve North Korean human rights are going to be more effective if drawn up using exact information. We need to establish a ‘North Korea Human Rights Foundation’ to conduct an investigation into the North Korean human rights reality in order to obtain, investigate, assess and record information objectively and deal with the related research, policy development and domestic and international activities.”
He also emphasized the need to ensure the transparency of any aid that is delivered to North Korea, allowing organizations to deliver it to those in need directly.
However, Shim took an opposing stance, reiterating the long-standing position of the progressive side, that “If the government directly supports organizations whose activities include investigating and recording the state of human rights in North Korea, the North will strongly protest. Contrary to the intention, the authorities will step up civilian controls, and inter-Korean relations will suffer.”
“We believe that humanitarian aid does get through to the people,” Shim went on. “And so we must step up our humanitarian aid provision, because the North Korean people are not being guaranteed the basic social rights, food, housing and health care that can allow them to live human lives.”
In June 2011, there was a brief discussion of the North Korea Human Rights Act in the National Assembly Legislation and Judiciary Committee, but there has never been a formal effort to pass it through the full Assembly by either side.
As a result, the Saenuri Party is regularly accused of using the act as a mere political ‘card’ to be played when necessary to obtain concessions from the opposition.