Seoul urged to expand role on N Korea human rights

Seoul urged to expand role on N Korea human rights
View of Pyongyang, North Korea.

Seoul should take on a greater role in addressing North Korea's unbridled violations of human rights to help pile pressure on the communist regime and better prepare for future unification, experts said Tuesday.

Dozens of policymakers and scholars in law and international politics gathered in Seoul to discuss ways to address rampant rights breaches in the reclusive country at home and on the world stage. The one-day seminar was hosted by the Center for International Law at the state-run Korea National Diplomatic Academy.

Though a referral to the International Criminal Court is difficult in practice, participants raised the need for the international community to maintain pressure in the wake of a recent UN report.

The landmark paper by the Commission of Inquiry detailed "systematic, widespread and gross" human rights violations in North Korea that constitute crimes against humanity, calling for the offenders including its leader Kim Jong-un to be brought to an international criminal justice mechanism.

"The existence of the possibility of a referral serves as a deterrence itself, and in the long term we can secure accountability," said Ahn Eun-ju, director for treaties at the Foreign Ministry.

"There was a myriad of UN Security Council resolutions before ad hoc tribunals were set up for previous cases, but not so many for North Korea human rights. It's imperative not to lose momentum ― it will be a long journey."

An ad hoc tribunal is deemed a more realistic option as Pyongyang is not a signatory of the treaty that created the ICC, while China would almost certainly veto any referral to The Hague.

The special court may be established by a majority vote at the General Assembly.

Scholars also urged Seoul officials and politicians to take a more active stance, including passing long-pending legislation on North Korean human rights to make way for the establishment of a database for abuse cases.

Lawmakers, mostly of the conservative ruling Saenuri Party, have proposed the bill since 2005. But it struggled to pass a standing committee in the face of progressives' concerns that it may rile Pyongyang and freeze cross-border relations.

"The law may look hostile to Pyongyang but we need to be more active about this as a means to realise universal values," said Je Sung-ho, a law professor at Chung-Ang University who helped a lawmaker propose the 2005 bill.

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