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[Editorial] Korea’s Double Standard on Human Rights

Posted November. 28, 2005 05:44,   


Amid the international community’s elevated interest in North Korea’s human rights situation, one of the goals of the Seoul Summit for Promoting Human Rights in North Korea is to show that the world is united in its efforts to enhance freedom and human rights in the North.

However, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea is turning its back on the conference. Many well-known civic groups are also hesitating to participate.

“ There are many issues concerning law, including whether we should recognize North Korean citizens as South Korean citizens as well,” said Cho Young-hoang, the president of the National Human Rights Commission, after being requested to attend the summit by Lee In Ho, the co-chair of the summit. The Constitution states that North Koreans are also from the same nation.

Although the South does not realistically govern North Koreans, human rights are a universal value and do not know national boundaries.

The Commission released a statement opposing the government’s plan to dispatch troops to Iraq, citing human rights issues of Iraqi people. Did the commission oppose the deployment because Iraqi citizens are Korean citizens?

When Robert Arsenault, president of the International League for Human Rights, pointed out that most North Koreans are close to starving to death and that they do not have the freedom of assembly and movement, Cho said in response, “North Korea seems to be changing; it revised its criminal law, reducing the number of death penalty provisions from 33 to 5.”

From this, are we to assume that torture, public execution, labor camps for political dissidents, abduction of foreigners, and human rights violations pointed out by the UN Resolution for North Korean Human Rights are issues of law provisions as well? It would be more persuasive to say that the commission is fearful of damaging relations with the North.

Civic groups should be criticized for not participating in the summit when they intervene in just about every other issue. Their ambivalent attitude regarding human rights violations is hard to understand. They turn a blind eye to violations in the North, while in the South, they are so active that they use legal prescriptions to try to punish human rights violators. Moreover, they always say that we share the same blood. However, in the case of human rights violations, it appears that they do not think the same.

Considering the circumstance, it may not be too much to say that when the commission and civic groups call for human rights, they merely do so for their own good.