The ideological divide between Korea’s two major parties widened Tuesday as key members clashed over a North Korean human rights bill on top of controversy over allegedly “pro-North Korea” lawmakers.
Lee Hae-chan, a former prime minister running for chairperson of the main opposition Democratic United Party, precipitated partisan bickering by branding the ruling Saenuri Party’s latest North Korea human rights bill a “diplomatic discourtesy.”
“It is not desirable to interfere in domestic affairs of other countries (via legislation). It is true that North Korea has human rights problems, but it is a task for North Korea itself, not for foreign intervention,” he told KBS Radio on Monday.
Saenuri spokesman Rep. Kim Young-woo blasted Lee’s comments, saying that they “lack the least amount of consciousness of human rights at a time when the world is making concerted efforts to safeguard human rights in North Korea.”
Proposed by Rep. Yoon Sang-hyun, the bill calls on the South Korean government to carry out a consistent investigation into North Korea’s human rights situation and make efforts for improvement at home and abroad. If passed, the Ministry of Unification will be required to outline roadmaps every three years, launch a fact-finding group, and submit the results to the National Assembly.
Other DUP bigwigs, including floor leader Park Jie-won and supreme council member Chung Se-kyun, have expressed skepticism about the efficacy of the proposed law.
Similar motions were made in the parliament in recent years by both conservatives and progressive camps, but failed to pass the legislature in the face of partisan division.
In stark contrast, the European Union has passed North Korea human rights resolutions for seven consecutive years since 2005. The US and Japan also enacted similar laws in 2004 and 2006, respectively.
Lee on Tuesday added fuel to the flames after abruptly hanging up during a telephone interview with YTN Radio.
He complained that the host went off the point by concentrating questions on his previous remarks on the rights bill, as well as North Korea-friendly lawmakers and defectors, in what was supposed to be a conversation about his leadership and vision for the liberal party.
“Even though I’m a candidate for the party leader, you still should pose questions in line with the initial intent of the interview if you want me to answer,” Lee told the interviewer before ending the call.
YTN rejected Lee’s claim.
“As a leadership contender, he was obligated to answer the questions,” the broadcaster said on Twitter, adding that it has received numerous complaints from listeners.
Meanwhile, the Saenuri Party’s new head Hwang Woo-yea ratcheted up pressure on the DUP to take punitive measures against Rep. Lim Su-kyung, who has come under fire for calling North Korean defectors “apostates.”
“North Korean refugees are undeniable citizens of the Republic of Korea who can help lay the cornerstone of the unification of two Koreas in the future,” Hwang said, urging the DUP to “take due disciplinary action.”
A former high-profile pro-unification activist, Lim is a proportional representative of the main opposition party and was once called the “flower of reunification” by the North. She came to prominence for her unauthorised participation in the 1989 World Festival of Youth and Students in Pyongyang when she was a college student.
The 44-year-old lawmaker reportedly made the remarks during an impromptu meeting with a defector-turned-college student at a bar on Friday. The incident came to light after the student, Baek Yo-sep, posted it on his Facebook account.
Controversy lingers despite her apology on Sunday, with representatives of North Korean defectors pressing Lim to voluntarily resign.
The incident came at a delicate time when leftist politicians of the United Progressive Party are being criticised anew for their past pro-North Korea activities.
Cross-border tensions remain high since the nuclear-armed state’s botched rocket launch in April. Conservative lawmakers, government officials and even conservative President Lee Myung-bak relayed criticism against pro-North figures.
Rep. Lee Han-koo, the floor leader of the Saenuri Party, on Tuesday reiterated his calls on the DUP to cooperate to oust Lee Seok-gi and Kim Jae-yeon of the UPP.
The two lawmakers were convicted of engaging in pro-North Korean activities in the past and are suspected of espousing the communist state’s philosophy of “juche,” or self-reliance. They are also accused of being involved in the UPP’s alleged rigged primary designed to select candidates for the April general election. -By Shin Hyon-hee