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Human Rights law and North-South Relations

At the dawn of 2015, numerous predictions for the North-South Korean relationship have appeared. Some expect improvement in the relationship while others remain negative as long as North Korea’s risky military adventures such as nuclear tests and missile launches continue. However it is difficult to provide a single prediction. The North-South Korean relationship is extremely sensitive to specific events that happen unexpectedly. To point out the determining factor of North-South relationship of 2015, ‘Legislation of North Korean human rights law’is therefore critical. The reason is simple. The legislation that South Korean politics, especially the Blue House and the ruling party, are strongly pushing forward includes two factors that will make North Koreans resistant.

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First, it contrasts the perception of North Korea’s attitudes toward human rights which stresses Right B (civil, political Right) from ‘International Bill of Rights’ more than Right A (economic, social, cultural Right). Second, it legitimizes the possibility of prosecuting Kim Jung-Un by establishing ‘North Korea Human Rights Record Center’ within the Department of Justice of South Korea. Of course, it does not mean South Korea should neglect the violence of human rights in North Korea because of the worries for its relationship with the North. If needed, anything more than the legislation of North Korea human rights law should be considered.

What is of concern here is to politicize human rights with the intention of changing the political system of the North. Politicizing human rights can be found in the example of Europe. The Helsinki Final Act (1975.7.1) which addresses human rights in its 7th principle out of 10 barely states, “The participating States recognize the universal significance of human rights and fundamental freedoms, respect for which is an essential factor for the peace, justice and wellbeing necessary to ensure the development of friendly relations and co-operation among themselves as among all States”. Such a statement took into account the sensibility of the topic to the Soviet Union and Eastern European nations.

With respect to the improvement of human rights conditions, it only mentions the continuous need of intergovernmental conferences and focused on smoothing the environment to take a step towards human rights improvement. Within 15 years from Helsinki Final Act, in 1990, declared the Charter of Paris for a New Europe, which states human rights, democracy and constitutionalism as European fundamentals. West Germany’s human rights policy towards East Germany was not too different from the Helsinki Final Act. The West German government, which desired to root out the human rights violation in the East, first tried to improve the condition by pressuring the East through cold war and oversetting its government.

However, even with continuous protest and denunciation the human rights condition in the East did not improve. When West Germany reached the conclusion that such pressuring was ineffective, it changed its method to persuasion, communication and prior improvement of humanitarian matters. Especially in 1985, Hans-Dietrich Genscher, Foreign Minister and Vice Chancellor of West Germany said, “Whoever is seeking for cooperation to solve the human rights issues in East Germany should not give them the impression that we are seeking for the collapse of its government”. Such attitudes built up to Germany’s reunification.

The legislation of North Korean human rights law should not, in the same respect, force the superiority of South Korea’s political system to the North. The Vienna Declaration and Programme of Actions states “All human rights are universal, indivisible and interdependent and interrelated.” Neither civil liberties nor rights for living should come before one another and should always be in balance. However, the current legislation in process considers human rights issues in North Korea only biased to the former. If North Korea perceives it as a threat to their political system, the North-South Korean relationship might face an unrecoverable phase.

Therefore, on the one hand, legislation of North Korean Human Rights Law should target the universal standard of human rights with regard to the Helsinki Final Act. On the other hand, it should also consider North Korea’s sensitivity towards the issue and aim for a long run improvement rather than an instant success. To solve the humanitarian issues, it has to take gradual steps through communication to form a pro-change environment for human rights and aim for long run improvement both in Human Rights and North-South relationship.

Translated by Yoonwon Chang

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