A South Korean law aimed at improving human rights in North Korea came into force on Sunday, days after reports that the regime in Pyongyang had executed a top official.
The bill, proposed in 2005 but shelved for more than a decade by bickering between parties, has modest aims — such as funding for civil activist groups and the creation of an official archive to record rights abuses in the North.
The funding could be extended to defector groups which regularly float anti-Pyongyang leaflets across the border with helium balloons — a practice fiercely condemned by the North.
The ruling Saenuri Party said the law would act as a “light to protect the freedom and rights of North Korean citizens” and provide the grounds to punish violators.
“The government must address the urgency of human rights abuses in the North and actively seek diverse ways to improve the situation, such as releasing a list of human rights violators,” the party said in a statement.
While conservative legislators have long advocated a “name and shame” approach toward Pyongyang’s rights record, liberals have argued the bill would inflame tensions and prevent cross-border dialogue.
Seoul’s unification ministry said last week that North Korea had executed a vice premier for showing “disrespect” to leader Kim Jong-Un.
The regime also banished two other senior officials, Seoul said, the latest in a series of punishments Kim is believed to have ordered in what analysts say is an attempt to tighten his grip on power.
Pyongyang is extremely sensitive to criticism of its human rights record which was the subject of a scathing 2014 report by a UN Commission of Inquiry. It concluded the North was committing rights violations “without parallel in the contemporary world.”