South Korean President Park Geun-hye has responded to North Korean criticism by saying the North's human rights record is “the crux” of Seoul’s policy toward the communist country.
Presiding over a Cabinet meeting held Tuesday at Cheong Wa Dae, South Korea’s presidential office, Park said the North’s human rights situation, along with its nuclear ambition, is integral to her administration’s North Korea policy.
The president said improving the livelihood of North Korean citizens is an important goal and that the human rights issue is crucial to building a solid foundation for peaceful reunification.
In a speech to the United Nations General Assembly last week, Park called on Pyongyang to improve its human rights record and follow the recommendations of a U.N. Commission of Inquiry, which accused North Korean officials of crimes against humanity.
The North responded in its official media by attacking Park and calling her remarks reckless and insulting.
Park said the reason the North's state-owned media slam her on a daily basis is that the human rights issue is painful and uncomfortable for the regime of Kim Jong Un to face.
She pointed out the South’s National Assembly has not passed a law promoting human rights in the North for almost 10 years, while other countries have already passed similar measures.
Park ordered related government agencies to work on passing the North Korean Human Rights Act and take the necessary steps to implement recommendations by the U.N. Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea.
The United States signed its North Korean Human Rights Acts into law in 2004, which called for a host of actions to improve human rights in the North and protect North Korean refugees.
Jee Abbey Lee contributed to this report, which was produced in collaboration with the VOA Korean service.