How Will Chung Dong Young Answer a Truth and Reconciliation Committee?

After years of unproductive debate, the South Korean National Assembly’s Unification and Foreign Affairs Committee finally approved a bill on improving human rights conditions in North Korea last week, on a vote divided along party lines:

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) said the overall budget for its activities in 12 categories was cut by 5.38 percent on-year to 4.63 billion won (US$4 million) for the 2010 fiscal year. Funding for research into North Korean defectors and human rights conditions in the socialist state remained unchanged, however, at 331 million won, the independent commission said. The North Korea-related budget is far larger than 140 million won that the commission initially asked for, indicating that the government is putting an emphasis on the issues.

The North Korea budget will be used to fund local and overseas surveys of defectors from the North and human rights conditions there, as well as to host an international symposium and domestic forums, and to publish and purchase books. [Yonhap]

Yet the vigorous and outspoken South Korean press informs us that the idea that North Koreans ought to be able to read anything but the pablum spat out by the state’s propaganda mills is “controversial.” Got that? The South Koreans are having a vigorous debate about whether North Koreans also have an equally inalienable right to have vigorous debates. Equally controversial is the idea that South Korean humanitarian aid should be monitored as a safeguard against the regime stealing it from hungry kids and diverting it to the army by the trainload:

The tentatively-called “North Korean Human Rights Act” calls for, among other things, strictly regulating humanitarian aid with respect to delivery and distribution, making even the provision by private groups far more difficult than now. It also stipulates the establishment of a human rights foundation under the unification minister, which will likely hinder the ministry’s conduct of its foremost duty of improving inter-Korean relationships with a broader perspective.

Although the bill stresses the need for actively supporting private organizations engaged in promoting human rights in the North, critics point out these are the groups mainly involved in instigation and subversion activities by dropping anti-Pyongyang leaflets from balloons or planning organized defection.

Supporters of the bill may refute that mere criticisms and expressions of anger will be of little help to bringing about real changes. True, there will be clear limitations to sharply improving human rights situations without a fundamental change in their one-person rule and collective leadership.

But this is why it is more important to induce the reclusive regime to gradually change its system and join the rest of the world through ceaseless dialogue and the improvement of ties. [Korea Times]

You say these like they’re bad things.

When advancing this particular idea, the Times would do well to point out a single measurable accomplishment derived from the billions of dollars in unconditional aid to Kim Jong Il … that is, aside from financing Kim Jong Il’s acquisition of a bona fide nuclear weapons capability and a vastly improved missile arsenal to aim at Seoul. And the human rights policy pursued by men like Roh Moo Hyun and Chung Dong-Young was to say and do as little as possible to help North Koreans. Starving refugees were told to die in place, South Korea abstained from supporting even meaningless U.N. resolutions asking North Korea to moderate its mass murder, and the “quiet diplomacy” it claimed to be pursuing turned out to be a complete sham when revealed in practice.

Their own bankruptcy of ideas reveals the disgraceful cynicism of Roh and Chung’s political progeny. If we are to accept the legitimacy of retroactively purging and punishing collaboration with fascism — I don’t, but the South Korean political system has — this ought to be fine fodder for some Truth and Reconciliation Committee ten years hence. The Democratic Party’s view here is laid out by its mouthpiece, the collaborationist Hankyoreh:

The Democratic Party voiced strong opposition, saying it plans to take committee Chairman Park Jin to the National Assembly Ethics Committee for ignoring their objections. In its statement, the DP condemned the law, and criticized the ruling Grand National Party (GNP) for railroading the law through the committee. The DP is saying the law would not contribute to improvements in North Korean human rights, rather, they are saying it is an “Anti-North Korean Citizens Law,” and the North Korean government, who views the law as a threat to their government, could repress the actual human rights of North Koreans by strengthening its controls over them. The DP also says the law bans humanitarian aid to North Korea by strictly limiting humanitarian assistance and is a “New Right Support Bill” to support groups that send balloons and pamphlets to North Korea under the guise of promoting North Korean human rights.

DP Lawmaker Chung Dong-young said the current administration is setting as its departure point the Basic Agreement of 1991, signed during the Roh Tae-woo administration, but the law clashes with the spirit of the agreement, which calls on both countries not to slander or commit libel against the other country’s government. Chung asked whether the administration could hold an inter-Korean summit with this law in effect.

You can always count on Chung to set a new low for breathtaking stupidity. I’d ask whether these people read the Rodong Sinmun if the answer weren’t so obvious. You can say “sticks and stones” to most of this, but you’d think that if Chung possessed an ounce of civic and patriotic regard for the interests of his own country, he’d at least ask the North not to use its official state media as an instrument of terrorism, for example, by threatening civilian airliners at Incheon Airport.

Civic groups also slammed the law. Koo Kab-woo, head of the People’s Solidarity for a Participatory Democracy’s (PSPD) Center for Peace and Disarmament, said it is possible to address the North Korea human rights issue under the Inter-Korean Relations Development Law passed by the ruling and opposition parties in December 2005, and he does not understand why it was necessary to unilaterally pass the North Korean Human Rights Law at this time. Suh Bo-hyuk, research fellow of the Korea National Strategy Institute, said there is concern that by making the Ministry of Unification the primary body to handle North Korean human rights policy, the law could weaken the ability of the ministry to negotiate with North Korea and have an adverse effect on the development of inter-Korean relations and bringing about substantive improvements in North Korean human rights. [The Hanky]

If this opposition were interested in a sincere regard for the lives of the North Korean people rather than servility toward Kim Jong Il, don’t you suppose the South Korean Left would actually have bothered to formulate a human rights policy for North Korea? It’s their intellectual bankruptcy and their complicit silence during their years in power and ever since that are the most telling.

3 Comments

  1. Maybe we should have a debate in the US about whether South Koreans have a right to live free of Japanese domination. Maybe they really deserve to just be a satellite state of the Japanese, and we shouldn’t interfere in such matters. It’s not really up to us to “impose” our cultural values like a reverence for life, liberty and property on another people, right?

    We could include in this debate whether or not having Korean women forced into sexual servitude to Japan was really a violation of anyone’s rights.

    I mean, we wouldn’t want to slander or commit libel against the Imperial Japanese Army, right?

  2. I could easily be convinced that the preening Chung Dong-young is actually a plant of the DPRK, a Manudaean Candidate, if you will.

    Mr Gardner, I think the analogy would work better if you were talking about a debate whether South Koreans should be freed from military dictatorship, say, prior to the 1980s. And I’m pretty sure that that idea— along with the virtues of Japanese or Russian rule over Korea — has been discussed by some people in power in Washington at one time or another.

    Not to defend the anti-American folks in the the DP or the pro-Pyonygang operatives of the DLP. Just sayin’.

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