Bush signs bill earmarking funds for aid to N. Korean refugees
SEOUL — Despite concern it could throw another wrench into talks to end North Korea’s nuclear weapons program, President Bush signed into law Tuesday a measure providing money and other aid for organizations seeking to protect human rights in North Korea.
The North Korean Human Rights Act of 2004 provides at least $20 million a year through 2008 for humanitarian aid for refugees, many living in China. It also gives asylum status to North Korean refugees and defectors.
The law will “promote human rights and freedom in North Korea, and authorize humanitarian assistance to North Koreans,” read a White House statement.
North Korea reportedly holds upwards of 200,000 people in political prison camps, human rights groups have said. The South Korean government says about 5,000 North Koreans have defected since the end of the Korean War and an estimated two million starved to death during 1990s famines.
While human rights groups in the United States and South Korea hailed the law, some see it as a possible stumbling block in six-nation talks seeking to resolve the nuclear situation. North Korea has said it will not make concessions until the “hostile” policies of the United States are dropped.
On Tuesday, the North’s official media outlets lashed out against the human rights act.
“The U.S. has left the dialogue and negotiation for the solution to the nuclear issue meaningless by freely adopting the ‘North Korean human rights act’ and legally making the ‘destruction’ and ‘overthrow’ of the system of the DPRK its policy,” read a Korean Central News Agency story.
“It is like the midsummer dream of a dog for the U.S. to seek to pull down and destroy the socialist system of the DPRK by brandishing such human rights stick as the ‘North Korean Human Rights Act.’ The Bush group would be well advised to stop the anti-DPRK moves, mindful of this,” the story read.
Some analysts in South Korea said the North might follow up on its rhetorical opposition.
“To North Korea, the North Korean Human Rights Act may be viewed as the worst kind of measure, meant to cause a collapse of its system,” Baek Hak-soon, a North Korea expert at the Sejong Institute think tank, told the South’s semi-official Yonhap news agency.
“The North-South relationship will also deteriorate, starting with suspensions of ministerial-level talks between the two countries,” he said.
Others said that, sooner or later, the North would have to accept change if it wanted to end its international isolation.
“Because North Korea understands that it cannot choose self-isolation and has no other choice, it could apply some positive changes to its system, as long as the changes do not threaten that very system,” said Choi Eui-chul, of the state-run Korea Institute for National Unification.