“For decades, North Korean people have suffered serious human rights violations by national organizations,” said Tomas Ojea Quintana, the UN special rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, urging that the North Korean Human Rights Act that passed the South Korean National Assembly in 2016 must be implemented. He criticized the anti-Pyongyang leaflet ban and called for “lowering limitations on freedom of (inter-Korean) communication” stressing that the issue on human rights should be dealt with when negotiating with the North. It has come to the fore even within the United Nations that anti-humanitarian law is being pushed for while legislation meant to promote human rights in North Korea is being dismissed in South Korea.
The latest report is an outcry from the international community that human rights policy towards the North is radically regressing under the Moon Jae-in administration. While the North Korean Human Rights Act was passed in the National Assembly 11 years after it was first proposed, it has been effectively rendered useless for five years under the Moon administration. The planned installation of a North Korean Human Rights Foundation as stipulated under this law is going nowhere even when the opposition party is recommending a director material for the foundation and urging to launch it. Without a doubt, it is an outgrowth of negligence on the parts of the government and the ruling party. This also draws a contrast against the leaflets ban, which was railroaded by the Moon administration and the ruling party last year despite the heavy opposition from human rights groups from home and abroad. One can only conclude that the hesitance of enacting the human rights law is meant to curry favor with Pyongyang.
In fact, the Moon administration refused to co-sponsor the UN's North Korean human rights resolution in 2019 and 2020. Yet, it has claimed to have made an effort to practically improve the human rights conditions of North Korean people. If the Moon administration wants to prove its words, this time it must agree to become a co-sponsor of the human rights resolution for 2021.
If Seoul were to maintain a low key on North Korean human rights conditions, it might cause friction with the Joe Biden administration as well. A champion of values such as democracy and human rights, the Biden administration has instantly returned to the UN Human Rights Council to show “America has come back.” Universal values cannot be compromised for them. But the South Korean government is putting the issues of human rights on the back burner simply to dialogue with the North. Down the road, Seoul might find itself driven to the wall, being dismissed by Pyongyang and questioned by Washington.