The Human Rights Foundation (HRF) on Wednesday launched a global effort, led by Garry Kasparov and other democracy activists, to raise awareness about the North Korean Human Rights Act, a bill stalled in South Korea’s National Assembly since 2005.
At press conference in Seoul, HRF President Thor Halvorssen said that if signed into law, the North Korean Human Rights Act would establish a human rights monitoring and documentation program inspired by the East German transition; launch a campaign to educate the South Korean people about the human rights situation in North Korea; send humanitarian aid to the North Korean people; dramatically increase the flow of information into the isolated North by mandating financial support for the civil society groups that carry out this work from South Korea; and create high-level positions in the South Korean government—at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Ministry of Unification—dedicated to promoting human rights in North Korea.
“The North Korean government is unquestionably the worst oppressive and tyrannical regime in the world, having purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation and mass executions,” said Garry Kasparov, HRF chairman. The Russian chess master and political activist said that “The South Korean government, every year, provides US$1.7 billion of aids to foreign countries’’ yet “not a single dime has been given to the North Korean society.”
“Consider that there is already a North Korean human rights act in Japan, in the United States. Canada has a North Korean human rights day. The United Nations has an entire commission devoted to North Korean human rights, and South Korea has nothing,” Halvorssen said, criticizing South Korean lawmakers, saying they have been “invisible in this fight.”
Also attending were Serbian human rights advocate Srdja Popovic, Jimmy Wales Foundation CEO Orit Kopel, North Korean defector Ji Seong-ho and Korean lawyer Kim Tae-hoon.
For the past decade, a bill for the Act has remained stalled in South Korea’s National Assembly, trapped in political gridlock. South Korea’s opposition party opposes the bill, arguing that South Korea should not criticize the North’s human rights record, in an effort to avoid “offending” the dictator. They instead propose a different bill, which focuses on sending only humanitarian aid to the regime.
However, strong support for the bill does exist in South Korea, Halvorssen said.. National figures in favor include the country’s National Human Rights Commission, the Ministry of Unification, the North Korean defector community, and President Park Geun-hye, who has personally expressed support for the act.
“A larger global voice is needed to express solidarity with the North Korean people and help the South Korean government and people pass the North Korean Human Rights Act,” said Kasparov.
“Nonviolent action—in the form of information, education, and global attention—is a key component to bringing an end to the living nightmare of the North Korean people,” said CANVAS co-founder Srdja Popovic. “We only need look at the history of Apartheid South Africa and the Soviet Union to see how international pressure can assist in bringing down dictatorship. In both conflicts it was ideas, not military hardware, that brought about change. This rings true in the struggle against modern dictators, everywhere from Azerbaijan to Zimbabwe. With support from world figures, our coalition hopes to provide encouragement for South Korean lawmakers to overcome differences and unite to create a lifeline for humanity’s most oppressed people.”
“The North Korean government’s crimes against humanity are known throughout the free world. The Kim family’s theocratic dynasty has purged millions of its own citizens through concentration camps, enforced starvation, and mass executions. The horror is so great that Japan and the United States have passed laws to formalize the promotion of human rights in North Korea, while the European Union has held hearings on the subject. Canada has established a North Korea human rights day, and the United Nations has created a Special Rapporteur with the aim of investigating the North’s tyranny and a Commission of Inquiry, which in 2014 found that the Kim regime continues to commit crimes against humanity. Absent in this global effort is South Korea’s government—which has done nothing of the sort,” said Kasparov.
The Global Coalition in support of the North Korean Human Rights Act is led by Garry Kasparov and includes democracy activist Srdja Popovic, Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales, Malaysian opposition leader Nurul Izzah Anwar, former Ukrainian president Viktor Yushchenko, Stanford professor Larry Diamond, former Peruvian president Alejandro Toledo, Harvard cognitive scientist Steven Pinker and several others.