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Freedom for Some Koreans


For the full story, go to, The Asian Wall Street Journal Opinion Page

If there is a country with a worse human-rights record than North Korea , the world has yet to know it. You’d think South Korea would cheer anyone who draws attention to the terrible depredations endured by what it likes to call its brothers and sisters in the North. Instead, President Roh Mooyun’s government has denounced an op-ed article that ran in these pages Friday by Jay Lefkowitz, President Bush’s special envoy for human rights in North Korea .

The headline over Mr. Lefkowitz’s article was “Freedom for All Koreans.”

He expressed the radical notion that humanitarian assistance to Pyongyang deserves to actually reach the North Korean people. Aid should be transparent, he said, to keep it from being diverted to the military or sold on the black market, where the cash can be used for unintended purposes.

(Think WMD or counterfeiting or drugs.) “By channeling large amounts of unmonitored aid to North Korea ,” he wrote, “some governments may unwittingly help prop up the regime.”

Mr. Lefkowitz was too diplomatic to name names, but the message came through loud and clear in Seoul .

The U.S. President has said repeatedly that “all Koreans” deserve to live in freedom. A good indication of his thinking on North Korea is the prominence he has given to the issue of human rights in the North.

The latest example came Friday, when Mr. Bush met inthe Oval Office with North Korean defectors and family members of Japanese who have been abducted by the North. “I have just had one of the most moving meetings since I’ve been the President,” he said. On his lapel was a ribbon-shaped blue pin, the trademark of Japanese families whose loved ones are missing in North Korea .

The plight of the kidnapped Japanese hasn’t received a lot of attention outside Japan , where it is a huge political issue and one reason the government of Prime Minister Junichiro Koizumi has been so supportive of the Bush Administration’s insistence that Pyongyang abandon its nuclear ambitions. North Korea has admitted to abducting 13 Japanese. In recent years it has permitted five to return home, claiming that the rest are dead.

One of the great moral travesties of our time is the public silence of successive South Korean governments about the human-rights abuses of the North. President Roh and the people who work for him should be leading the campaign to educate the world about what is happening to their fellow Koreans — not denouncing those who do.