On the North Korean Human Rights Act

Stephan Haggard (PIIE) and Jaesung Ryu (East Asia Institute)
August 5, 2011 7:15 AM

We were recently asked about the competing DP and GNP human rights bills; voila. Jaesung Ryu reports from Seoul on the current state of play:

Legislation regarding a South Korean version of the US North Korean Human Rights Act has been deadlocked since its initial introduction to the National Assembly by a GNP representative in 2005. The 17th National Assembly came to an end without the bill being scheduled for consideration. In 2008, the bill was re-introduced by the GNP to the current 18th National Assembly but remains in limbo because of opposition disapproval.

The GNP could in principle exploit its majority to force it through, but concerns about a backlash or perhaps quiet opposition within the GNP's own ranks have prevented that from happening. The GNP has also been preoccupied with other issues in the June session, notably the savings bank corruption scandal and college tuition protests.

In an odd international move, some 20 British MPs sent out a joint letter to the leaders of the four main political parties in South Korea urging a swift passage of the bill.

In the coming August session, both the GNP and the DP seem prepared for yet another round of conflict over the bill. The DP introduced a competing bill last June, which is known as the North Korean Public Welfare and Human Rights Act. Although some of the provisions are similar, the DP bill frames the human rights issue in a very different way. The bill puts more emphasis on the humanitarian aspect of the human rights issue while downplaying certain issues of concern to the GNP; these include particularly transparency requirements for the provision of aid and financial support for South Korean human rights organizations.

In turn, conservatives are criticizing the DP bill as being simply a return to the unconditional support of the Kim Dae Jung and Roh Moo-hyun administrations. In response, the DP points out that the GNP bill would only empower conservative civilian groups in South Korea with taxpayer’s money.

Below, we post a rough translation of the two bills. The full texts of the GNP and DP proposal are available in Korean as well.

GNP bill

North Korean Human Rights Act (Bill)

- Introduced on December 26, 2008

- Sponsors: Yun Sang-hyun et al. (GNP)


Despite the fact that human rights must be respected and guaranteed as a universal value for everyone, children, elderly and the weak in North Korea have their lives threatened by a lack of food, medicine, and other necessities, and suffer from harsh human rights abuse under the ruling regime.

The intention of this legislation is to provide institutional mechanisms and ways to secure North Korean people’s basic right to live and improve their human rights status so that their dignity and value as human beings are respected and their right to the pursuit of happiness is guaranteed, by invigorating humanitarian aid programs to North Korea such as the provision of food and medicine, ensuring transparency for their necessary procedures so that support can reach those who are in need, and cultivating a system of international cooperation that seeks North Korean human rights improvement.

Key content

  1. The goal of this legislation is to guarantee the North Korean people the basic right to live and improve their human rights status by stipulating the necessary conditions for humanitarian aid and human rights protection for the people of North Korea. (Article 1)
  2. Our nation should affirm the human dignity and value of the North Korean people and their right to the pursuit of happiness, and put in all the efforts to improve their individual human rights in every aspect of their lives such as in politics, the economy, society, and culture. (Article 3)
  3. Create a North Korea Human Rights Advisory Committee under the Ministry of Unification (MOU) in order to provide consultation for policies pertaining to North Korean human rights. (Article 5)
  4. Every 3 years, the MOU minister shall provide a basic plan for humanitarian aid and human rights improvement with respect to the North Korean people, and related heads of central administrative agencies will provide an annual implementation plan in accordance to their jurisdictions and carry them out, according to the basic plan. (Article 6)
  5. With regards to North Korean human rights, the government shall consult and cooperate with the international community in its North Korean human rights improvement activities, and appoint a North Korean Human Rights Ambassador at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MOFAT) in order to effectively conduct the relative policies of the government. (Article 7)
  6. The nation shall provide humanitarian aid under the condition that it is delivered, distributed, and monitored in accordance with the accepted international standards, reaches needy North Koreans, and is not diverted for other political or military purposes. (Article 8)
  7. The nation shall cultivate a cooperative system such as personnel and information exchange with international organizations, groups, and foreign governments related to the improvement of human rights of the North Korean people, and work towards increasing the international community’s interest in the North Korean human rights issue. (Article 9)
  8. Create a North Korean Human Rights Archive at the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) in order to collect, document, and preserve case examples and evidence pertaining to North Korean human rights violations. (Article 10)
  9. The NHRCK shall investigate North Korea’s human rights situation and report on key issues to the National Assembly, whereas both activities will be required to be prepared in detail, by type and context of the basic rights, as stipulated by Article 10 of the Constitution. (Article 11)
  10. The nation shall work towards the improvement of human rights for North Koreans through strengthened inter-Korean exchange and cooperation such as an expanded target and scope of civilian exchange and cooperation activities. (Article 13)
  11. The government shall actively support civilian group activities related to supporting of the North Korean people and North Korean human rights improvement, and be able to provide entire or partial support in financial expenses that are necessary for their projects. (Article 14)

DP bill

North Korean Public Welfare and Human Rights Act (Bill)

- Introduced on June 14, 2011

- Sponsors: Kim Dong-chul et al. (DP)


Despite the fact that human rights must be guaranteed for everyone as a universal value, people in North Korea have their lives threatened by lack of necessities such as food and medicine, and are situated under poor human rights conditions.

The intention of this legislation is to contribute to a real improvement of the human rights situation in North Korea and to a positive development of inter-Korean relations thereof, by invigorating the provision of humanitarian aid to North Korea with items such as food and medicine and stipulating human rights improvement measures.

Key content

  1. The goal of this legislation is to stipulate the relative points with respect to human rights improvement and humanitarian aid towards the people of North Korea (Article 1)
  2. The minister of the Ministry of Unification (MOU) will provide annual reports pertaining to North Korean human rights improvement and humanitarian aid at the regular session of the National Assembly. (Article 4)
  3. Create a body at the MOU that can devise plans to expedite inter-Korean humanitarian projects such as the returning of the prisoners of war (POW) and abductees as well as holding family reunions, provide material support such as food, fertilizer, and medicine that are necessary for basic human rights protection and subsistence of the North Korean people, and assist with the provision of tools and equipment such as machinery and medical appliances along with related training and education support so that North Koreans can sustain their living and become independent. (Article 5)
  4. Create a Humanitarian Advisory Committee at the MOU to provide consultation with respect to human rights improvement and humanitarian aid towards the North Korean people. (Article 6)
  5. Create a Humanitarian Information Center at the MOU that can collect, preserve, and publish various materials and information related to POW, abductees, and separated family issues, and to the protection and improvement of human rights as well as livelihood support to the North Korean people. (Article 7)
  6. Work towards the improvement of inter-Korean exchange and cooperation pertaining to human rights and humanitarian aid with respect to the people of North Korea. (Article 8)
  7. Conduct public campaigns and promotion activities to facilitate peaceful reunification and expand the fraternal love of Korea. (Article 9)
  8. Expend an annual budget, provided by the President’s executive order, in support of human rights improvement and humanitarian aid with respect to the people of North Korea. (Article 10)



Thanks for posting a rundown in English of both proposed bills.
The DP's boo-hoo-hoo argument about not wanting to fund right-wing groups gets little sympathy from me. If the left in SK would wake up from their moral stupor on all things NK, their groups too could benefit from its passage! That would be a most welcome development indeed.

Andrew Logie

If this post was in response to my question, thank-you kindly.It's extremely useful, especially the original Korean texts. The irony is, overall the two bills don't seem to be so different in content: it's obviously much more about the political motivations behind them and how they would be implemented as a result.
Does anyone know who the 20 British politicians are?


Dear Andrew,
The following link from the UK parliament website provides the information you look for.


The key difference is that the DP bill creates nothing that will force the kim dynasty to actually improve the human rights situation and not even gives South Korea or the international community the means of information about it. Funding conservative groups is a very low price for improving the condition for dozens of millions of people in North Korea. I'm more with the DP on almost all other issues but their ostrich tactics (put your hand in the sand) in regard to north korea and their blindness towards the gross atrocities there would make me vote conservative.
I once thought about founding an economically socialist minded anti-kim-regime online organisation but I've been too lazy so far.

Andrew Logie

Dear Jaesung,
Thank-you kindly for the link!

Andrew Logie

I notice, unlike the US North Korean Human Rights Act the GNP human rights bill has zero explicit provision for refugees and the DP bill only mentions them in reference to their information centre. Neither bill mentions confronting Beijing over forced repatriation - though that probably wouldn't be the best tactic.
The DP bill really doesn't appear to introduce anything substantial beyond what was already being done during the Sunshine Policy.
Incidentally, wasn't a human rights archive (GNP key point 8) already opened in March?
How would the human rights report (GNP key point 9) differ from the already comprehensive white papers on human rights published by KINU? They could just present that to the National Assembly.
In Article 12 of the GNP proposal it talks about including information in school textbooks which I think would help in overcoming the level of denial and disinterest prevalent in South Korea. Not saying that it wouldn't all become heavily politicized in the process though!

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