How Can North Korea Become a Civilized Country?

The international community was shocked by the brutality of the purge of North Korean leader Kim Jong-un's uncle Jang Song-taek and his summary execution. What became evident is that North Korea has no routine process of law to handle those who are suspected of offenses against the state.

Jang's sentence did not bear even the most cursory semblance of a legal decision, but was filled with insults and expletives, calling the former eminence grise "worthless scum." The military tribunal that found Jang guilty of treason declared that he was unworthy of even being buried in North Korea, leading to speculation that he was executed by machine gun and his shattered remains incinerated on the spot using flame throwers.

This type of behavior is no better than a lynching. The U.S. State Department said North Korea's actions were "reckless and ruthless."

The first thing Kim did after executing Jang and his confidants was to visit a ski resort under construction in Masikryong, Kangwon Province. North Korea's economic situation and the living conditions of its people lie in tatters, but the leader's attention is focused on leisure facilities that have very little to do with the lives of ordinary North Koreans. This shows just how abnormal things are in the North.

Kim has also invested the country's money in a water park and equestrian club. And this week, the eccentric former NBA star Dennis Rodman said he is visiting Pyongyang again at the invitation of the North Korean leader. In any normal country such developments would be unimaginable.

Democratic Party lawmaker Moon Jae-in, a confidant of former President Roh Moon-hyun who himself ran for the presidency last year, on Saturday said North Korea is misunderstood. "Given the way it executed [Jang], the country is simply still barbaric," he said.

North Korea has done many things that would make anyone question the regime's sanity. And each of the 20,000 North Koreans who fled their country to defect to South Korea attests to this abnormality. But already the horrors are being forgotten again.

Many left-leaning politicians and experts have ignored the atrocities committed by North Korea against its own people and view criticism being leveled against the North as propaganda. Some of them have even praised the North as "rational" or "brave" in its defiance of the rest of the world.

That is why the bill on North Korean human rights is still stuck in the National Assembly.

The bill simply requires North Korea's human rights abuses to be documented and the government to support efforts to improve human rights in the North. The opposition is worried that the passage of the bill would upset Pyongyang. If they can learn one thing from Jang's execution, it is how much further North Korea has to go until it becomes a civilized country, and they should roll up their sleeves to civilize the North.

Nobody can deny that Kim Jong-un's leadership is erratic. Jang's sentence and subsequent statements in the North Korean state media show that the regime is not completely shutting out international opinion. It can be made to feel the weight of everything it does, and if that happens consistently, perhaps the regime will one day realize that its people are not disposable assets of the state.

Even the Soviet Union ended up changing. Much depends on whether South Koreans can overcome their political differences and cooperate as civilized people to help North Korea. / Dec. 17, 2013 13:21 KST