(MENAFN - Khaleej Times) SOME NORTH Korea observers in Seoul, and even a few politicians, maintain that South Korea should not raise the question of the poor human rights situation facing North Koreans before the North overcomes its chronic famines.
However considering the history of human rights, their argument is nothing more than sophistry. In the course of the adoption of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights by the United Nations General Assembly in 1948 during the Cold War era, the East and the West blocs reached an agreement that the basic human rights for freedom and subsistence do not contradict each other and are, in fact, of equal value. These powers also agreed that if either of the rights is in jeopardy, the other one will actually be in trouce.
Clause 1 in Article 25 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights stipulates: "Everyone has the right to a standard of living adequate for the health and wellbeing of himself and of his family, including food, clothing, housing, medical care and necessary social services..."
Amartya Sen, an Indian economist who was awarded the 1998 Nobel Memorial Prize in Economic Science and is best known for his work on the causes of famine, wrote in his book, Democracy as Freedom: "No famine has ever taken place in the history of the world in a functioning democracy. This is because democratic governments have to win elections and face public criticism, and have strong incentives to undertake measures to avert famines and other catastrophes."
This is the very reason why North Korean citizens should enjoy basic rights as the freedom of speech. Once they do, the North Korean regime will undoubtedly change its agricultural policy for an increase in the output of farm products if and when it listens to its citizens, in particular, farmers. China succeeded in solving the food problem just in two years after it took active measures for reforms and an opening-up in the late 1970s.
North Korean citizens need to be cognizant of the fact that their government has wasted as much as 850 million for launching a long-range rocket " enough money that the North could have used to buy enough food grain to feed its citizens for three years. Thus, North Korea's chronic famine was not caused by South Korea's behaviour discontinuing its food assistance to the country. North Korean citizens have suffered famines because they have no basic human rights.
Let us remind North Koreans of the days when South Koreans were under the rule of an authoritative government. Then due to the unyielding efforts of some South Korean journalists, the South eventually succeeded in furnishing itself with a free democratic political system and an advanced economy. Some South Korean politicians argue that the enactment of a South Korean law for promoting human rights in the North is an infringement on the North's sovereignty and diplomatic disrespect toward the North - an assertion that is the same as to speak up for Hitler's Nazi government, saying it massacred the Jews simply under its sovereignty. If so, should the Nuremberg Trials, the Tokyo Trials, the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia and Rwanda be accused as diplomatic disrespect toward the countries concerned?
Reflecting on the fact that a serious infringement on human rights has touched off world wars twice, the United Nations has established human rights that have universal applicability. Some South Korean politicians will trumpet their ignorance of human rights when they deny the principle of universal validity: that freedom and dignity of human beings should be guaranteed regardless of their nationality. And if they do so, they are actually siding with the North Korean socialist regime, which is ignorant of the fact that many of its citizens have starved to death.
Since 2003, South Korea has abstained from voting in the United Nations for a resolution regarding the extremely poor human rights situation in North Korea. And the National Human Rights Commission of Korea - a state office in the South - has announced that its position on human rights in the North is to stay clear of the issue.
But the commission realigned its position in December 2010 and advised the South Korean government and social organisations to lobby for the right of North Koreans to know about developments in the global community - South Korea in particular.
In fact, there will come real peace on the Korean Peninsula and the reunification of the two Koreas only when North Korea guarantees basic human rights of its citizens and its dictatorial rule over them comes to an end, let alone a solution to the question of feeding North Korean citizens.