News / Asia

    S. Korea Fails to Pass N. Korean Human Rights Bill

    FILE - People watch a live broadcast of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's press conference, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 13, 2016. Park called for resumption of nuclear talks, even if Pyongyang does not participate.
    FILE - People watch a live broadcast of South Korean President Park Geun-hye's press conference, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, Jan. 13, 2016. Park called for resumption of nuclear talks, even if Pyongyang does not participate.
    Brian Padden

    South Korean legislators failed to hold a vote this week on a proposed North Korean Human Rights Act, despite an agreement between the two major political parties to consider the measure.

    The legislation, first proposed in 2005, reportedly mandated that future humanitarian aid and cooperation projects be linked to human rights improvements in the North. But it remains a divisive issue in the South Korean parliament where opponents argue it would obstruct any possibility for improving inter-Korean relations.

    Divisive aspects of bill

    Earlier this week, it appeared a consensus had been reached when reports said the ruling Saenuri Party of President Park Geun-hye and the opposition Minjoo Party had reached a breakthrough deal to consider legislation intended to hold the Kim Jong Un government accountable for alleged widespread abuses.
     
    “One of the reasons the bill was not on the [legislative] agenda is that there is a gap in positions between the majority party and the opposition party on whether inter-Korean relations should be addressed in the bill or not,” said activist Choi Yong-sang, with the Network for North Korean Human Rights.
     
    Another controversial aspect of the bill was that it would include financial support for organizations that actively work to undermine the Kim Jong Un government, including North Korean defector groups that regularly send anti-Kim propaganda leaflets across the border.

    “Everybody around the world has been getting tough on North Korea, and in South Korea there has been this political divide that prevents them from taking the sort of actions you would expect to have occurred a long time ago,” said Phil Robertson, Human Rights Watch's deputy director for Asia.
     

    FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.
    FILE - North Korean leader Kim Jong Un.

    In 2014, the U.N. General Assembly backed a resolution to refer North Korea to the International Criminal Court (ICC) for crimes against humanity, based on an extensive U.N. human rights report that documented ongoing and systematic atrocities including a network of political prisons, murder, enslavement, torture, imprisonment, rape, forced abortions and other sexual violence.
     
    Critics of the bill recognize the extreme severity of the atrocities committed by the highly restrictive, authoritarian North Korean government, but disagree that publicly confronting the leadership on this issue will force them to change.
     
    “It is impossible to improve the situation by the idea of calling Kim Jong Un to the ICC. It is necessary to approach North Korea with specific action plans such as proposing to demolish the criminal camps owned and operated by North Korea within five years, step by step,” said political analyst Cheong Seong-chang with the Sejong Institute.

    South Koreans watch a TV airing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 1, 2016.
    South Koreans watch a TV airing North Korean leader Kim Jong Un's New Year speech, at the Seoul Railway Station in Seoul, South Korea, on Jan. 1, 2016.

    Inter-Korean relations

    However, any prospects for improving inter-Korean relations have faded in the wake of North Korea’s fourth nuclear test conducted on January 6. And there is increased public support in South Korea for harsh economic sanctions to further isolate and punish Pyongyang and heighten military readiness to respond to any provocations.
     
    “I think the people who have been arguing for engagement with North Korea have frankly very little to show either in terms of peace or in terms of improvement of human rights,” said Robertson.
     
    Parliamentary procedures may have also played a part in undermining the legislative initiative. Even though the Saenuri Party holds 158 of the 300 seats in the Assembly, the speaker needs the support of 60 percent of lawmakers to bring a bill up for a vote. Also, analysts speculate that with elections pending in April, the opposition could be holding up the human rights bill and other measures supported by the Park government until it agrees to pass redistricting legislation.

    Youmi Kim in Seoul contributed to this report.

    You May Like

    Post-White House, Obamas to Rent Washington Mansion

    Nine-bedroom home is 3 kilometers from Oval Office, near capital's Embassy Row; rent estimated at around $22,000 a month

    Red Planet? Not so much!

    New research suggest that Mars is in a warm period between cyclical ice ages, and that during Ice Age Maximum over 500,000 years ago, the red planet was decidedly ice, and much whiter to the naked eye.

    Taj Mahal Battles New Threat from Insects

    Swarms of insects are proliferating in the heavily contaminated waters of the Yamuna River, which flows behind the 17th century monument

    Featured Videos

    Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
    Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trendi
    X
    May 27, 2016 5:57 AM
    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Chinese Americans for Trump Going Against National Trend

    A new study conducted by three Asian-American organizations shows there are three times as many Democrats as there are Republicans among Asian-American voters, and they favor Hillary Clinton over Donald Trump. But one group, called Chinese-Americans For Trump, is going against the tide and strongly supports the business tycoon. VOA’s Elizabeth Lee caught up with them at a Trump rally and reports from Anaheim, California.
    Video

    Video Vietnamese-American Youth Optimistic About Obama's Visit to Vietnam

    U.S. President Barack Obama's visit to Vietnam later this month comes at a time when Vietnam is seeking stronger ties with the United States. Many Vietnamese Americans, especially the younger generation, are optimistic Obama’s trip will help further reconciliation between the two former foes. Elizabeth Lee has more from the community called "Little Saigon" located south of Los Angeles.
    Video

    Video First-generation, Afghan-American Student Sets Sights on Basketball Glory

    Their parents are immigrants to the United States. They are kids who live between two worlds -- their parents' homeland and the U.S. For many of them, they feel most "American" at school. It can be tricky balancing both worlds. In this report, produced by Beth Mendelson, Arash Arabasadi tells us about one Afghan-American student who seems to be coping -- one shot at a time.
    Video

    Video Newest US Citizens, Writing the Next Great Chapter

    While universities across the United States honor their newest graduates this Friday, many immigrants in downtown Manhattan are celebrating, too. One hundred of them, representing 31 countries across four continents, graduated as U.S. citizens, joining the ranks of 680,000 others every year in New York and cities around the country.
    Video

    Video Vietnam Sees Strong Economic Growth Despite Incomplete Reforms

    Vietnam has transformed its communist economy to become one of the world's fastest-growing nations. While the reforms are incomplete, multinational corporations see a profitable future in Vietnam and have made major investments -- as VOA's Jim Randle reports.
    Video

    Video Qatar Denies World Cup Corruption

    The head of Qatar’s organizing committee for the 2022 World Cup insists his country's bid to host the soccer tournament was completely clean, despite the corruption scandals that have rocked the sport’s governing body, FIFA. Hassan Al-Thawadi also said new laws would offer protection to migrants working on World Cup construction projects. VOA's Henry Ridgwell reports.
    Video

    Video Infrastructure Funding Puts Cambodia on Front Line of International Politics

    When leaders of the world’s seven most developed economies meet in Japan next week, demands for infrastructure investment world wide will be high on the agenda. Japanese Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s push for “quality infrastructure investment” throughout Asia has been widely viewed as a counter to the rise of Chinese investment flooding into region.
    Video

    Video Democrats Fear Party Unity a Casualty in Clinton-Sanders Battle

    Democratic presidential front-runner Hillary Clinton claimed a narrow victory in Tuesday's Kentucky primary even as rival Bernie Sanders won in Oregon. Tensions between the two campaigns are rising, prompting fears that the party will have a difficult time unifying to face the presumptive Republican nominee, Donald Trump. VOA national correspondent Jim Malone has more from Washington.
    Video

    Video Portrait of a Transgender Marriage: Husband and Wife Navigate New Roles

    As controversy continues in North Carolina over the use of public bathrooms by transgender individuals, personal struggles with gender identity that were once secret are now coming to light. VOA’s Tina Trinh explored the ramifications for one couple as part of trans.formation, a series of stories on transgender issues.
    Video

    Video Amerikan Hero Flips Stereotype of Middle Eastern Character

    An Iranian American comedian is hoping to connect with American audiences through a film that inverts some of Hollywood's stereotypes about Middle Eastern characters. Sama Dizayee reports.

    Special Report

    Adrift The Invisible African Diaspora