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Archive for NK Human Rights

Posted April. 29, 2010 07:25,   


Berlin in 1945 was occupied by military forces of the Soviet Union, the U.S., the U.K. and France before being divided into East and West Berlin in 1948. More than 2.5 million residents in the eastern half of the city fled en masse to the other half after the partition in search of freedom. So the East German government built the Berlin Wall at night on Aug. 11, 1961. Landmines were planted and guards were posted at many locations along the wall. Many East Germans who tried to scale the wall were killed either by landmine or gunfire.

The justice ministry of the West German state of Niedersachsen, which bordered East Germany, established a central legal archive in Salzgitter on Nov. 24, 1961, with the support of the German federal and state governments. The state started to archive systemic records of human rights violations suffered by East Germans who escaped. This work continued until West German Chancellor Willy Brandt, who emphasized embracing his country’s divided half, signed a framework treaty with East Germany. West Germany did this because it perceived East Germany as part of Germany and human rights as a universal value that went beyond sovereign rights. These records were used to indict East Germans after German reunification and check identities in hiring.

South Korea cannot immediately punish human rights violations committed by North Korea at its political prisoner camps. Yet Seoul must keep detailed records of such crimes and suspend the statute of limitations for them. In 2005, the then opposition Grand National Party enacted a North Korean human rights act on setting up an archive for the North’s human rights records. The Unification Ministry under the Lee Myung-bak administration opposed, however, saying it could hinder negotiations with Pyongyang. Thus, the parliamentary foreign affairs and unification committee late last year approved a North Korean human rights act that omitted the archive. Instead, the ministry decided to create a foundation on North Korea’s human rights and entrust the mission to the foundation. Related bills are pending at the parliamentary judiciary committee, but there is no guarantee of passage.

The North’s deployment of spies to assassinate Hwang Jang-yop, the highest ranking North Korean to defect to the South, constitutes an act of terrorism. Most of the 17,000-plus North Korean defectors in the South suffered serious human rights violations while in their former country. If Seoul preserves evidence and well-compiled records on the atrocities, Pyongyang’s leadership and confidants will feel uneasy. The Kim Dae-jung administration of South Korea excluded the archive of North Korean human rights when it crafted its “sunshine policy” of engaging the North by benchmarking West Germany’s policy of embracing East Germany. Kim’s government dumped a measure that could prove useful for pressuring Pyongyang. If the Lee administration does the same thing, this will be pitiful indeed.

Editorial Writer Lee Jeong-hoon (hoon@donga.com)