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PSPD    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Peace/Disarmament
  • 2004.04.01
  • 701
What is the North Korean Freedom Act of 2003?

Yu Cheong-Ae, Developmental Sociology Doctoral Candidate at Cornell University

About the North Korean Freedom Act of 2003: The North Korean Freedom Act, a 562 million dollar bill under consideration by the U.S. Senate, claims to “end the development, sale, and transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related the delivery systems, material, and technologies in and from the Korean peninsula, assist in the reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government, and to achieve respect for and protection of human rights in North Korean in accordance with UN conventions.” While this act appears to an attempt improve security on the Korean peninsula and the human rights conditions in North Korea, a closer look reveals that the bill does little improve security on the Korean peninsula or improve human rights north of the 38th parallel.

Yu Cheong-Ae is the author of “The U.S.’s North Korean Freedom Act of 2003,” which is available at www.peacekorea.org. She is a developmental sociology doctoral candidate at Cornell University and is currently a visiting scholar at Iwha Women’s University. She worked for about 20 years in international development and tracks to diplomacy before returning to school.

Your paper on the North Korean Freedom Act (hereafter referred to as the Freedom Act) of 2004 asks, “Does the Freedom Bill really intend to promote the well being of the North Korean people and strengthen the security of Korea or does it potentially harm the North Koreans and escalate further the fear of military conflict in an already tense situation in Korea?” How would you answer this question?

Based on my research and the context and background with who is involved in coming up with the Act itself, I think it is pretty self evident that many of the groups and individuals who are coming up with the act itself and drafting the act are certainly people who are not really concerned with North Korean human rights alone. (Their concern for human rights) may be part of it, as it should be part of everyone’s concern, but the other part, the even bigger part I think, is really how they will use this to sort of pressure North Korea to do what the US wants North Korea to do. And we know from our experience that North Korea does not do things because you want them to, they will do what they want to do.

And with that, basically now I am afraid that the North Korea human rights issues are being used as a third card against North Korea. As a matter of fact during the first six party talks in august 2003, James Kelley, the U.S. representative, brought human rights issues as a third card to the negotiations. So it is somewhat like if I were a North Korean, while playing the game, the goalpost is constantly moving, and you have no say in the matter that your goalpost in constantly moving… But from our side, as we are looking at it, this is a problem, because now there is not only the nuclear and missile issues to solve, but human rights issues. (Given that) the U.S. is continuously banging on (the human rights issues) and North Korea is fighting back, the hostage in my view (as a result of) doing this, if anything goes wrong with this kind of butting heads and conflict, is the 70 million Koreans on both sides of the peninsula and probably the region as well.

The human rights issue is very important and I think North Korea human rights situation is at a very bad place, I think that there really is abuse that is taking place and gross abuse that is taking place. There are many documents out there, some of documents that you cannot trust, while many other documents seem very probably. So based on this, the human rights issue needs to be raised. Civil society in South Korea and elsewhere needs to talk about this, but not as a part of the US strategy against North Korea. That is what I am objecting to, that (human rights) should not be politicized- the human rights issue on its own accord should be the end sight.

What is the political climate like in South Korea with regard to the North Korean Human Rights Act?

If I was the SK government looking at the North Korea Freedom Act, I would have an issue with the Act itself because when you look at the act, it has three specific purposes that are outlined… and two are directed towards the Korean peninsula, which includes North and South Korea, and the third is on human rights. The first is “To end the development, sale and transfer of weapons of mass destruction and related delivery systems, material and technologies in and from the Korean peninsula.” This is saying that both North and South Korea cannot develop sell or transfer (WMD and related delivery systems). South Korea is an ally to the U.S. and the US cannot tell an ally what they should or should not do. This is a clear violation of the sovereignty of one’s country.

The second (listed) purpose is “to assist in the reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government.” Again it is directed to the Korean peninsula. It is the same to me in other words, is that there will be an absorption of North Korea into the South Korean system… If you were the South Korean government, what I am being told by the US is that we should absorb North Korea. Frankly, it is not the US government’s position to care about the Korean governments, and how they should reunify the country. It has a lot of implications to it. So this is supposed to be a human rights act, but of the purposes that are listed… two of them have nothing to do with human rights, so you really begin to question the purpose of this act.

Several weeks ago, the EU publicly condemned NK human rights abuse and the United States State Department said it was “highly likely” that the North Korean government is involved in illegal narcotics trade. Do you feel that there is any significance in the timing of these accusations, namely in relationship to the six-party talks?

I think there is always timing in politics. I don’t keep much time record of how things are said and what’s said and when it’s said, but when they release reports like that or press releases of what North Korea is doing (allegedly) illegally… before the six-party talks or while negotiation is going on is certainly not going to help the negotiations, it is only going to derail the negotiation. One would then wonder, does the U.S. really want to negotiate? This is not a position that any party should take in a negotiation.

You believe that there are better alternatives to the North Korea Freedom Act. Briefly, what are these alternatives and why are they better?”

First I think the civil society in Korea has to build a discourse around human rights violations around Korea. What I mean by that is to look at the available documents that are credible and begin to talk about what is actually going on in North. Human rights issues are debated right and left and even the UN could not come to an agreement of the right definition of human of rights. There are peculiarities and universalities on these human rights issues, and I think that these are the things that civil society in the South needs to look at… Certainly there are issues with economic rights that are driving people to death from starvation and disease, driving people to leave their homeland and to become a refugee… that is clearly a violation of human rights. There are a different of ways in which this can be solved, and that is to lift the sanctions against the North Korea…

But then there are these violations of individual rights such as an individual right to speech and freedom to move, etc… (These kinds of things) need to be looked and discussed. Then (after deciding) what the facts are, the credible documents, how is it being described, South Korean civil society needs to come to a place where they understand and agree on certain things that civil society will not tolerate, and they need to criticize these things and call on the NK government to stop. Then if there is a kind of system that is given from South Korea, it can be an exchange of improving their specific points of human rights into what North Korea can provide to alleviate suffering by giving food or agricultural development or economic reconstruction. I think that the options are abundant…

You need to look at E and W Germany for many years prior to the reunification, and what kinds of things were talked about and done that alleviated the suffering of the groups and people in East Germany. These kinds of things can be studied and looked at to see what is appropriate for North and South interaction…Other conscientious groups (Yangshim seryuk)- those with both ethical and integrity and respect for human rights…need to come together and work together to make sure that this happens.

The groups that are using human rights issues in North Korea to bring down the North Korean regime may be able to do bring down the North Korean regime, but what are they going to do about the society then, are they going to be responsible for the well being of these people? And the rebuilding of the country? Look what they are doing in Iraq, we know that the best people to rebuild the country are those that are living there…

Do you believe the Freedom Act will pass?

I probably would say it this way, I don’t even want to go there in thinking that it will pass but I have to work as if it will pass, and that assumption is not so far fetched if you are to look at 1998 Iraq Liberation Act, as the same individuals were involved. Brownback was involved in Iraq Liberation Act in 1998, there is a aspect of Iraq Lie act similar to NK case…

However, what people in Washington, NGOs, and others familiar with legislative process say is that it is likely to be divided into several pieces and that each piece will possibly tacked onto some whole different bill- so that in a sense it passes even though it could not pass. That is much more difficult to stop and that is a real problem. So again I come back and say that I don’t want to think about it having passed, and it is likely as an act that a good part of it may pass…

The other thing is that as a result of our work (the people in the US, and civil society in Korea), we can stop the act from passing, but unless there is some real alternative to deal with the North Korean human rights situation, this type of act will come up again and again. So this is the first time, but this will not be the last, so I think we have to be prepared to solve the problems in sort of a long stretch.

If John Kerry wins the 2004 US presidential election and Neo-Conservatives are pushed out, do you believe this will this affect the outcome of negotiations with North Korea?

Well, Kerry has said that the current track o f the Bush administration has been on is not the way to go, so certainly I think that if you are to trust a campaign promise and platform, then yes, definitely there will be a difference. But based on my experience in the past, Will there be a different relationship between the two countries? Yes and no. Yes, because there was the 1994 Agreed Framework. The Clinton Administration took a different track that the confrontational track taken by the Bush administration, so definitely I think there will be a difference. And not so different based on my past observations, in that both Democratic governments and Republican governments have been very slow in trying to solve the problem that is through direction negotiations and lifting sanctions and so forth. (The Kerry) administration can not do it alone. Obviously, the North Korean government has to do their part. The House, the Senate, the American public, the administration really has to take a leap forward in relations with North Korea- dancing around and about is not going to solve the problem.

You can see original document at www.peacekorea.org
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