South Korean law on North's human rights comes into force

SEOUL • A South Korean law aimed at improving human rights in North Korea came into force yesterday, days after reports that the regime in Pyongyang had executed a top official.

The Bill, proposed in 2005 but shelved for more than a decade because of bickering between parties, has modest aims, such as funding for civil activist groups and the creation of an official archive to record rights abuses in the North.

The funding could be extended to defector groups which regularly float anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border with helium balloons - a practice fiercely condemned by the North.

The ruling Saenuri Party said the law would act as a "light to protect the freedom and rights of North Korean citizens" and provide the grounds to punish violators.

"The government must address the urgency of human rights abuses in the North and actively seek diverse ways to improve the situation, such as releasing a list of human rights violators," the party said in a statement.

While conservative legislators have long advocated a "name and shame" approach towards Pyongyang's rights record, liberals have argued that the Bill would inflame tensions and prevent cross-border dialogue.

 "All humanity condemns the nuclear-obsessed Kim Jong Un who squeezes the blood of his own people to fire rockets!"
Activists with a banner ahead of a launch of balloons carrying anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border in July. The banner reads: "All humanity condemns the nuclear-obsessed Kim Jong Un who squeezes the blood of his own people to fire rockets!" PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

Seoul's Unification Ministry said last week that North Korea had executed a vice-premier for showing "disrespect" to North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

The regime also banished two other senior officials, Seoul said, the latest in a series of punishments that Mr Kim is believed to have ordered in what analysts say is an attempt to tighten his grip on power.

Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to criticism of its human rights record, which was the subject of a scathing 2014 report by a United Nations commission of inquiry. The commission concluded the North was committing rights violations "without parallel in the contemporary world".

AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on September 05, 2016, with the headline 'South Korean law on North's human rights comes into force'. Print Edition | Subscribe