Ministry of Justice must lead way on human rights investigations

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The creation of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation as stipulated by the 2016 North Korean Human Rights Act has been postponed due to budgetary reasons. It can be argued that there is a need to transfer the governing authority that deals with the task of investigating and recording claims of human rights abuse from the Ministry of Unification (MOU) to the Ministry of Justice (MOJ). The question of whether the MOU should remain the authority on this matter is questionable, as its key objective is to strengthen ties with North Korea.

At a national assembly seminar for “Improvement of North Korea Human Rights legislation” on October 8, Yoon Yeo Sang, the director of the North Korean Human Rights Archives at the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights (NKDB) said, “If the MOJ were to be put in charge of matters concerning human rights, then it would be possible to switch the emphasis of investigations towards punishing the offenders. Unlike the MOU, the MOJ is not constrained by having to worry about maintaining friendly relations with North Korea.”

“In the case of West Germany, the Justice Department dealt with all cases of human rights abuses perpetrated by those in East Germany. If we want to likewise put the data collected to good use, then the competent authority needs to change to the MOJ,” Yoon went on to further explain.

“While the reallocation of responsibilities concerning the human rights bill needs to be addressed, you also have to consider the inclusion of articles related to humanitarian aid and North Korean rights that may also be moved. There needs to be a simultaneous effort to preserve the ability of the Ministry of Reunification to continue with making human rights policies.”

“It has been over two years since the passing of the North Korean Human Rights Act and yet there is still no Human Rights Foundation,” Yoon noted. One major reason for this delay is the inability of the opposing political parties in the national assembly to agree on the appointment of a director.

“The power for such appointment needs to be transferred from a committee of people to a single person. I suggest that the head of the competent ministry should be given the authority to select a director for the foundation and also the members of the North Korean Human Rights Advisory Committee.”

The seminar also covered the topic of whether the North Korean regime may request the South Korean government to abstain from voting on UN resolutions dealing with the North Korean human rights situation. This is assumed to be a tactic to avoid associating Kim Jong Un’s name with human rights abuse.

“Due to it being impossible to put a stop to the global conversation regarding human rights abuse in North Korea, the government is changing its approach to trying to decouple Chairman Kim’s name from the problem instead, Thae Yong Ho, the former North Korean deputy ambassador to the United Kingdom, said in his remarks.

“If North Korea is going to ask South Korea to abstain from voting on human rights issues in North Korea, our government needs to show that it is unwilling to concede on this issue. We need to be persistent in our pursuit of the improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea separately, turning it into a separate conversation from the peace talks going on between the South and the North.”

*Translated by Brian Boyle

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