May 13, 2011 13:29
Hyun Byung-chul, the head of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, on Wednesday apologized to North Korean defectors for his agency's failure to address their grievances and record human rights abuses in the North. "I sincerely regret that there was no communication channel for you to voice the pain and injustices you suffered in North Korea," he said in a letter to North Korean defectors in Korea. "It may be painful to recall the human rights situation in North Korea, but please have the courage to report the abuses you suffered. If this courage builds, we will see miraculous changes happening in North Korea."
The letter was sent to 15,000 of the 21,000 North Korean defectors in Korea whose home addresses were available. It was the first time that the government apologized to North Korean defectors for failing to address rights abuses in the North.
Defectors are witnesses to human rights abuses in North Korea, yet the NHRC, which was established a decade ago, ignored their testimonies. Only in March this year the NHRC opened a center that receives reports of human rights abuses and created an archive to document such acts and began gathering accounts of the murders, public executions and other abuses suffered at political prison camps. The UN dispatched a special rapporteur on North Korean human rights to Korea many years ago and has been publishing annual reports based on the accounts of defectors, drawing up the North Korean Human Rights Resolution urging Pyongyang to clean up its human rights record.
But here lawmakers have shelved a North Korean human rights bill for six years that calls for the creation of an archive at the Justice Ministry documenting rights abuses in the North. Leftwing politicians claim to uphold human rights above all things, but they have been blocking the passage of the bill saying it would be ineffective and hurt inter-Korean relations. No wonder they are being accused of hypocrisy.
Keeping detailed records of human rights abuses, which are crimes against humanity that have no statute of limitations, is the best way to prevent such abuses from being committed. West Germany maintained such a record between 1961 until unification in 1990 and used the data to indict those who committed abuses. The War Crimes Tribunal of Cambodia sentenced to 35 years behind bars the head of the Tuol Sleng prison who either tortured or executed around 14,000 people during the bloody reign of the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s.
North Korea has at least 480 detention facilities, including labor camps and re-education centers as well as six political concentration camps, where people are tortured and publicly executed. The NHRC should have a sense of responsibility and commitment that thorough recording of defectors' testimonies can bring the North Korean regime to justice and reveal the truth in history. What criminals fear most is evidence.
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