Schoolchildren clean the steps in front of the statues of late North Korean leaders Kim Il-sung and Kim Jong-il at Mansu Hill in Pyongyang in this July 2017 file photo. (Photo: AFP)
Catholics and Protestants in South Korea have voiced support for a movement that seeks to amend legislation that is seen as a benchmark for peace and reconciliation with North Korea but bars any criticism of the communist regime.
The North Korean diaspora, including refugee groups in South Korea and North Korean rights activists in the United States, has been pressing for amendment of the Development of Inter-Korean Relations Act 2005, also known as the Act on the Prohibition of Spreading Warfare Against North Korea.
The movement wants South Korea to amend the law to allow criticism of human rights violations by the North Korean regime of Kim Jong-un.
During an online public hearing on Jan. 11, Catholic and Protestant leaders voiced support for the move.
The event was jointly organized by the Korean Catholic Bishops’ National Reconciliation Committee and the Reconciliation and Unification Committee of the Korean Christian Church Council (NCCK), an ecumenical body.
Participants also insisted that the law must be a tool for peace on the Korean Peninsula that must be continued uninterrupted.
See Joo-hyuk, the NCCK reconciliation and unification commissioner, said that freedom of expression is important but even more essential are efforts to ensure safety and peace for everyone.
"We need a bipartisan attitude that prioritizes the lives and safety of the people," See said.
Father Kang Joo-seok, a representative of Korea’s Catholic bishops, called on people of all religions to give up ignorance about each other and work together for peace on the peninsula.
“Any hardline theory against the North Korean regime can be compared to the sin of ignorance,” Father Kang said.
"We need to reflect on this issue more seriously, and we need peace education and diplomatic efforts of the government to better understand the situation on the Korean Peninsula."
Sister Oh Hye-jeong, secretary-general of the bishops’ reconciliation committee, expressed similar sentiments.
“I find it regretful that the law is being used not in a life dimension but in a political dimension. I am grateful for being able to contemplate with the Protestants and gather their hearts in a better direction. I hope that today more people will know about human rights in North Korea and join us in solidarity,” Sister Oh said.
Formerly a single nation but split since World War II, democratic South Korea and communist North Korea maintain diplomatic relations. The two states were engaged in the Korean War from 1950-53 that triggered division and suspicion.
However, their relationship has improved in recent years. South Korean President Moon Jae-in and North Korean leader Kim Jong-un met for the first time in 2018 and Kim took some significant steps toward denuclearization.