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PSPD  l  People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Peace/Disarmament
  • 2004.04.19
  • 1948
By MINBYUN(Lawyers for a Democratic Society), SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights, Good Friends, Center for Peace and Disarmament of the PSPD (People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy), Catholic Human Rights Committee in Korea, The Human Rights Committee The National Council of Churches in Korea, Civil Network for A Peaceful Korea, Solidarity for Peace & Human Rights, Korean House for International Solidarity, DASAN Human Rights Center, Korea Reunification Alliance for 6.15 Joint Declaration Attainment and Peace in Korea.

Korean civil society is watching with grave concern the development of the North Korean Freedom Act of 2003, and the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004, now pending in the U.S. Congress. If passed, both bills will have significant impact on future negotiations over human rights issues in North Korea. In reviewing the North Korean Freedom Act in particular, we have concluded that the proposed bill will negatively affect the fragile dialogue process under way to establish sustainable peace on the Korean peninsula while jeopardizing the chance to improve human rights conditions in North Korea.

I. Issues to Consider

1.1 Right to food is a human rights issue.

Currently, one of the most critical issues for the North Koreans is the hunger and poverty caused by chronic food shortages and economic crisis. We believe that because one's survival precedes and is a precondition for her human rights, the right to food is an essential element in improving human rights. Where there is no guarantee that people will survive the next day, there is little prospect that they will be interested in improving their political and economic rights. In order to create favorable conditions for human rights in North Korea, the international community needs to continue its humanitarian and development assistance, along with its support for North Korea's economic reconstruction. As the prospect for North Koreans' survival improves, it will create a greater room to improve human rights in North Korea by facilitating a condition where ordinary citizens will take a greater interest in and demand their rights. Hence, what is likely to concretely contribute to improving North Korean human rights is an increased budget for humanitarian assistance to North Korea, not a politicized human rights bill.

1.2 Engagement is more effective than isolation.

The North Korean Freedom Act politicizes human rights concerns by linking them to such security issues as negotiations over weapons of mass destruction (WMD) and Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI). This approach will further isolate North Korea and increase tensions on the Korean peninsula. A better way to improve human rights in North Korea is to engage them fully, and help it become part of the community of nations. To further isolate North Korea that currently is making efforts to engage the world is to undermine its nascent but serious reform attempts. It is critical that the U.S. encourage North Korea to carry out further reforms by allowing North Korea to receive development assistance from International Financial Institutions such as the World Bank and Asia Development Bank. Also it is the right time for the U.S. to lift the half-century old economic sanctions, and remove North Korea from the list of the terrorist states.

1.3 Prevent making of refugees by continuing the humanitarian assistance

It is far better to prevent people from becoming refugees than to provide relief after they have become refugees. Food shortage is the most basic reason why many North Koreans cross the border and become refugees. Therefore it is far more cost-effective in terms of financial and human resource to find a durable solution, such as assisting North Korea to secure enough food for its population, before people end up refugees in neighboring countries. Programs to build refugee camps and coordinate a massive flight of refugees ?as proposed in the North Korean Freedom Act and the North Korean Human Rights Act ?run the risk of actually creating more problems while failing to address the root cause of the refugee problem.

1.4 Human rights should not be used to undermine North Korea

Chair of the Senate Foreign Relations Committee, Richard Lugar opined in a Washington Post op-ed on July 17, 2003, about four months prior to the introduction of the North Korean Freedom Act that, "...we should authorize the resettlement of some North Korean refugees in this country, and press our allies to do the same. If this sparks a greater flow of North Koreans from their gulag-like country, some would argue, that could help keep pressure on North Korea or even hasten the fall of the Pyongyang regime, much as the flight of East Germans in 1989 helped undermine the Communist system there. International steps to help North Korean refugees would also be an unmistakable signal to Pyongyang that the world community will not turn a blind eye to the regime's systematic human rights violations and its unconscionable neglect of its people's basic needs..."

Such comments raise the suspicion that the real motive behind the North Korean Freedom Act and North Korean Human Rights Act may be to hasten the collapse of the North Korean regime, not to improve human rights for North Korean people. Washington must not use the refugee issue to accomplish its political goals. It must deal with the issues of refugees and human rights in North Korea on their own merit, and seek concrete solutions to improve the situation for the North Koreans.

Again, we believe that as long as the North Korean Freedom Act, the North Korean Human Rights Act or any other bills that contain a proposal for a "regime change" in North Korea will harness unnecessary tensions in the Korean peninsula. Increased tension and likelihood of war in the Korean peninsula will further hinder any possibilities to improve the human rights for people in North Korea. Therefore, establishing sustainable peace in the Korean peninsula and in the region must be a priority.

1.5 The North Korean Freedom Act and North Korean Human Rights Act affect the South Korea-U.S. relationship.

South Korean civil society is perplexed by U.S. Congress's actions on the North Korean Freedom Act and the North Korean Human Rights Act. We have been working for many years to promote positive inter-Korea relations as we believe that increased interaction will promote a better understanding between the two Koreas, and ultimately to peace and security in the Korean peninsula. The introduction of the two bills is a cause of deep concern to Korea's civil society. Majority of people in South Korea hope for a positive U.S. policy toward the Korean peninsula ?a policy based on dialogue and consultation with both South and North Korea, not one-way U.S. monologue. We are deeply disappointed by the disrespectful way in which the U.S. Congress treated its ally by paying little attention to our views as it contemplated the North Korean Freedom Act of 2003 and the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004.

II. Our Recommendations

We, the Korean civil society, strongly recommend that the international community, including the U.S., adhere to the following principles as it works to improve the human rights situation in North Korea. Also we reiterate our commitment to collaborate with the international community to build peace in Northeast Asia.

2.1 The North Korean human rights issues should not be used to achieve political goals. The international community should endeavor to free itself of political linkages as it works to improve the human rights situation in North Korea. It must make conscious and continual efforts to ensure that its activities do not interfere with the ongoing negotiations between the U.S. and North Korean governments.

2.2 The North Korean people's right to life and subsistence must be unconditionally protected, and humanitarian assistance must be provided without any condition. These measures will help promote North Korean's political freedom in the long run.

2.3 Mutual recognition and respect for each other is the best and most effective way to improve human rights and help democratize North Korea as well as to promote peace in the Korean peninsula. Only when South and North Korea are able to freely exchange ideas and cooperate in the spirit of Agreement on Reconciliation, Non-aggression, and Exchange and Cooperation Between South and North Korea (The Basic Agreement), can peace on the Korean peninsula be realized. U.S. policy should therefore be designed not to hinder but to encourage progress in inter-Korea relations ?such as mutual recognition of difference in political systems and ongoing economic cooperation ?and international cooperation.

2.4 The North Korean Freedom Act and North Korean Human Rights Act cause a deep concern as they contravene our recommendations. We urge the U.S. Congress to take our views into consideration as it endeavor to contribute to improving North Korean human rights.



ATTACHMENT I

Korean Civil Society's View on Specific Points to The North Korean Freedom Act of 2003

--- Sec. 3 Findings

Section 3 has clauses that are similar to the preamble of the Act. We are concerned about the biases that seem to lay the foundation for the distorted view on North Korea. Before passing a hasty judgment, it is necessary to carefully analyze the current situation of North Korea in its full complexity based on facts and to interpret it within a proper context. In order to adequately evaluate the dire situation in the North, internal as well as external causes must be simultaneously taken into consideration. Perceptions of North Korea should not override the realities of the situation. --- Sec 4. Purpose of the Act

Its purpose can be grouped into three major categories: 1) Eliminating WMD in the Korean peninsula; 2) Supporting the unification under a democratic government; 3) improving North Korean human rights.

First two categories are of political in nature, and only the last category relates to the North Korean human rights. This illustrates to us that the North Korean Freedom Act may be predominantly motivated by politics, not concern for human rights. This outstrips any credibility in the bill of being a truly humanitarian in nature.

We call for the U.S. government to respect the UN resolutions ?such UN resolution No. 2625 (XXV) in 1970 Declaration on Principles of International Law concerning Friendly Relations and Co-operation among States in accordance with the Charter of the United Nations (A/8082) ?as when it is formulating the policies toward North Korea. Title I. Human Rights Protection for North Koreans

We find Sec. 101 problematic. Sec. 101 requires the Department of State to submit a secretive report on North Korean refugees and political prisoners in collaboration with intelligence agencies such as CIA. This way of approaching information on human rights in North Korea raises many questions regarding accuracy, honesty and transparency of the report as well as access to the report.

We believe that the human rights protection of North Koreans can best be provided by international organizations with objectivity and fairness in collaboration with North Korea.

Title II. Preventive Measures for North Korean Refugees

Sec. 207 authorizes the U.S. government to grant entry visa to refugees who provide information on WMD. This is an unequal, discriminatory practice in the human rights protection of refugees according to the value of their information.

Sec. 210 (Sec. 211 in House Bill) outlines government funding support to individuals, organizations and government agencies that assist outflow of refugees in ways that can be understood as an attempt to increase instability inside North Korea. If so, this appears to be violating the principal of humanitarian assistance to provide refugee protection.

Title III. Democratization of North Korea

The North Korean Freedom Act states one of its aims is to support the Korean unification under one democratic government. Although the human rights issue does not fall into the sphere of inviolability of territory, raising political system of an independent state as an issue can hardly be recognized by international law.

We are concerned that the subject of North Korean democracy is being used to cover the intention of overthrowing the North Korean government. We believe that the process of democracy in North Korea must include the voice of North Korean people regardless of how difficult the task may be, and the means to achieve democracy must be peaceful.

Sec. 301 and Sec. 302 extended the hours of radio broadcasting to 24 hours. Such measures are potential to induce unnecessary tensions such as physical collisions.

Sec. 303 encourages countries in Northeast Asia to participate in the Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI) in order to receive economic and other assistance from the US government. Such a condition may raise a legal dispute, and North Korea already claims it to be an unfair act as an attempt to make a military blockade against it.

Sec. 305 states that the US government will provide financial assistance to individuals and organizations that promote economic liberalization of the North Korea. Such an approach is unlikely to make practical outcome in the democratization of North Korea.

In summing up, each section in Title III aims to bring the North Korean regime collapse, and threatens the reconciliation and cooperation process between North and South Korea. Title IV. Negotiating with North Korea

Sec. 401 requires the North Korean human rights issue to be included in every negotiation between the U.S. and North Korea. Politicizing the issue of human rights by linking it with political and security goals will not bring positive results; rather it will create an obstacle to political negotiations such as the six-party talks currently underway, and to the integrity of the human rights issues. Thus, each issue must be dealt independently through a peaceful procedure.

Sec. 402 bundles up the issues of lifting economic sanctions and providing humanitarian assistance with more fundamental issues such as transforming the North Korean economy and punishing North Koreans for committing international crimes such as drugs and counterfeit notes trafficking. However, such strategy only adds more reasons to implement more restrictions on North Korea instead of rebuilding the troubled economy. Rather, the US government needs to exercise leadership by assisting North Korea to cope with international economic regulations by helping its economic recovery.

Sec. 403 interrupts both humanitarian and non-humanitarian assistance to support improvements in North Korean human rights and reconstruction of economy. This section stipulates that the humanitarian assistance should not be continued unless it is evident that the humanitarian assistance were not used for political purposes, and it is successfully distributed to the people in need. While WFP and UNICEF on recent reports mention about the improved transparency of food distribution in North Korea and acknowledge the positive results made by the humanitarian assistance, they emphasize the continued support from the international community to resolve food shortage. We fully agree with WFP and UNICEF stands and affirm the fact that the humanitarian support must be unconditional. The scope of humanitarian assistance must be extended in order to better protect rights to food of North Koreans.

We view that the bill makes unreasonable demands to North Korea under the condition of providing non-humanitarian assistance. Stipulating preconditions in relation to non-humanitarian assistance would make the North Korean nuclear negotiations in progress even more difficult. Reunion of separated families and kidnapped Japanese are issues to be resolved by the concerning states. Other human rights issues such as prison and labor camps must be discussed through collaborative efforts by international human rights organizations.

We believe that overall, the North Korean Freedom Act is unlikely to bring any substantive improvement on the human rights in North Korea. Instead it is likely to increase tensions in the Korean peninsula, and between North Korea and the U.S. We would like to remind the U.S. Congress that the Korean peninsula is technically still in the state of war, with a half-century long pause. Hence, it is not desirable for one party outside the concerning group to raise human rights issues in order to initiate a regime change. Such an attempt to take advantage of human rights for political purposes does not comply with fundamental concepts of human rights.

We recognize the universality of human rights. We also believe that human rights issues in North Korea must be discussed in the context of cooperation and practical steps between concerning parties and international community without the linkage to political goals. ATTACHMENT II

The Korean Civil Society's View on Specific Points To the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004



Although the North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 is a marked improvement from the North Korean Freedom Act of 2003 by deleting the issues pertaining to Weapons of Mass Destruction (WMD) and Proliferation Security Initiative (PSI), we find it to be still very threatening to the peace and security of the Korean peninsula. The proposed bill continues to politicize the issues of human rights by linking it with the political goals.

The Korean civil society is concerned about the human rights conditions in North Korea. We fully agree with the need for improving human rights, however, we do not agree with the fundamental perception and the approach of employing pressure and isolation to achieve human rights in North Korea. We are concerned that the bill could negatively affect sustainable peace in the Korean peninsula rather than contributing to the improvement of the human rights condition in North Korea.

Sec. 3. Findings.

There are uncertainties and disputes surrounding available information concerning the human rights condition in North Korea. These uncertainties and disputes stem from the politicization of the issue, competing claims on the authentication of the source of information, and unverified nature of most of the available information. In view of the fact that there are these disagreements and questions, sufficient verification of the original document and information is critical for testimonies provided to the U.S. Congress and to the public. For example, the alleged claim on using labor/prison camp inmates in biological testing has not been clearly confirmed. Because of the gravity of such an action, it is utmost important to obtain data from a broader range of sources to verify such claims. Since South Korea is also a country concerned, it is critical to consult and cooperate with the South Korean government when the process of the information verification takes place.

Sec. 4. Purposes.

We realize that providing assistance to refugees is urgent and important. However, we are concerned that by overly emphasizing items (2) and (3) of Section 4, there may be a tendency to sideline timely response to the ongoing humanitarian concerns in North Korea We are also concerned about item (4) since it implicates the violations of the sovereignty of North Korea.

Most of all, we are concerned about item (5) in Section 4, since it prescribes the "reunification of the Korean peninsula under a democratic system of government." In the context of the Korean peninsula, this statement could be interpreted to mean overthrowing the North Korean system, and absorption of the North by South Korea. This will produce negative response from the North Korean government and Koreans alike.

The U.S. Congress needs to be mindful of the fact that the great majority of Koreans wish for peaceful reunification and reconciliation, and that South and North Korea are engaged in steps toward achieving this goal by mutual consent, while recognizing each other's system at present time. This rapprochement between South and North Korea should be recognized and respected. The North Korean Human Rights Act will likely be perceived by Koreans as a retrogressive motion against the South-North reconciliation and cooperation. We believe the bill will also be an obstacle to the future negotiations between North Korea and the U.S.

TITLE I - PROMOTING HUMAN RIGHTS OF NORTH KOREANS

Sec. 101 calls for the North Korean human rights issue to be included as a key concern in the negotiations with North Korea. This could be interpreted as having the potential to demand the concerned states to link the political, security, and economic issues with human rights concerns. Sec. 102 prescribes the utilization of non-state actors to intervene in the affairs of North Korea in the name of promoting human rights and democratization. It may lead to undesirable results, as those activities could be interpreted as interfering with the sovereignty of North Korea.

Sec. 103. The US radio broadcasting to North Korea has potential to induce unnecessary tensions. Such measures violate the South and North reconciliation policy, which prohibits mutual aspersion.

Sec. 105. We consider UN to be an appropriate agency in promoting human rights in North Korea, especially when there is an opening for gradual improvement by implementing concrete cooperation and building mutual confidence. We suggest that the U.S. to work through the existing UN channels and to utilize UN's technical cooperation and advisory services before it resorts to adopting a national legislative action such as the North Korean Human Rights Act. We find the proposed bill to be rather confrontational. We learned from the history of the United Nations Commission on Human Rights that the confrontational targeting brings about political criticisms against a particular country rather than improving human rights. We are concerned that the North Korean Human Rights Act is likely to repeat the mistake. We recommend that the U.S., as a member state of the UN, to proceed through the UN system in lodging the human rights claims against North Korea.

TITLE II - ASSISTING NORTH KOREANS IN NEED

Sec. 202. Assistance provided inside North Korea. (a)(b) The humanitarian assistance to North Korea should not be delayed or decreased for the sole purpose of satisfying the condition upon substantial improvements in transparency, monitoring, and access.

(c) Stipulating preconditions in relation to non-humanitarian assistance would make the North Korean nuclear negotiations in progress even more challenging. Above all, we are concerned that this approach is inconsistent with the South Korean government's policy on promoting South-North reconciliation and cooperation through the expansion of non-humanitarian assistance under South-North Economic Cooperation.

TITLE III - PROTECTING NORTH KOREAN REFUGEES

Sec. 302 has potential to cause disputes in the event that a North Korean makes an application for refugee status or asylum in the U.S., as it is inconsistent with the Constitution of the Republic of Korea that deems a national of the Democratic People's Republic of Korea as a national of the Republic of Korea. We believe that, in order to protect the North Korean refugees, and to deter the occurrence of refugees before everything else, it is necessary to have the consent of the relevant nations as well as the expansion of humanitarian assistance inside North Korea.

Sec. 306. ~ Sec. 307 Determining North Korean refugees based on the value of information he or she possesses, and utilizing them for the information about the operation of North Korea have no practical relevance to human rights protection for refugees. We are concerned that the U.S. is approaching the North Korean refugee issue from the perspective of their political interests instead of human rights protection.
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