Representative Kim Moon-soo is only in his third term in the National Assembly, something that might have deterred an American couterpart from putting forth so bold a proposal on the most important issue of South Korean diplomacy, economics, politics, and nationhood. Just twenty-nine fellow lawmakers, all from the Grand National Party, co-sponsored his new North Korea human rights bill, suggesting that the GNP leadership continues to suffer some discomfort at Kim Moon-Soo’s brash confrontation of a sensitive and still unpopular issue.
The bill begins by declaring that even the most basic human rights conditions in North Korea have not improved from their horrific status quo, notwithstanding (growing) concern by the international community. The bill extends the same concerns South Korean abductees and prisoners of war still held in the North. The bill reminds the Korean government that North Koreans remain lawful citizens of South Korea under the Republic of Korea Constitution, equally entitled to the government’s protection. Among the bill’s specific provisions:
- Establishes a human rights archive (dubiously, under the Human Rights Commission) to systematically record data on crimes against humanity in the North. The bill does not expressly state that such data would be of great use to prosecutors.
- Within the Ministry of Unification, creates a Committee for Promotion of North Korean Human Rights, an Advisory Committee for North Korean Human Rights, and a planning board for arranging the return of South Korean prisoners and abductees.
- Within the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, creates an Ambassador for North Korean Human Rights.
- Provides for grants for NGOs to work with other international organizations to promote human rights in the North.
- Calls on the government to devise ways to allow North Koreans to freely receive information from the outside.
Of course, this is not the first such effort to get a human rights bill through the National Assembly. Kim is under no illusions about the short-term prospects for success:
The possibility [of passage] as of now is pretty low. This is because the Uri Party and the Democratic Labor Party believe such a bill will negatively influence the inter-Korean relations. However, if the change continues in the international and domestic societies, I believe that its acceptance could become possible for the Uri Party.
Kim is looking toward a longer-term ideological aim:
Today’s conference is one of the efforts for the change. Voicing out of the young students without political or economic understanding. North Korean democratization movement is a hopeful thing.
What does Kim expect the North Korean reaction to be? It depends on whether the reaction in question is that of state or citizen:
I do not believe it will be a negative influence to the inter-Korean relations in any circumstances. It is a requirement for a sincere inter-Korean relation building. . . . When I was in prison, I gained strength when I heard that people remember me. People become weak when they think history and the people do not remember them. If our brethren in the North learn about South Korean people understanding their sufferings, they will become a hundred times more brave. Also, it will work as a strong pressure on the human rights violators.
In Kim Moon-Soo, one sees something more than a party man challenging those on the opposite political pole. One sees an idealistic insurgent battling the forces of realpolitik in his own party and others. It is too early to know whether this new insurgent will be the New Right’s Barry Goldwater, its Ronald Reagan, or something else entirely unlike either. But Kim Moon-Soo’s activities over the last year demonstrate a shrewdness for attracting publicity to issues that other politicians have hestitated to approach. Along the way, Kim has alternatively shown himself to be diplomatic, confrontational, and flat-out temperamental.