Seoul: South Korean lawmakers opened formal discussions Monday on long-stalled bills regarding human rights in North Korea, galvanised by the adoption of a landmark UN resolution condemning Pyongyang`s rights abuses.
The bills submitted to the 23-member foreign affairs and unification committee have been pending since as long ago as 2005.
Past efforts to have them tabled have been undermined by lawmakers arguing that their passage would unnecessarily antagonise Pyongyang and raise inter-Korean tensions.
The two bills under discussion Monday were submitted separately by the ruling party and the opposition, and both stress the need to officially document and publicly highlight rights abuses.
But they differ over proposals to fund civic activists who infuriate Pyongyang by -- among other activities -- regularly floating anti-North leaflets across the border attached to giant gas balloons.
The ruling party bill supports such funding, but the liberal opposition argues it is needlessly inflammatory.
Such arguments have prevented rights legislation being adopted in the past, but the South Korean parliament is under pressure to find a consensus following recent moves at the United Nations.
A resolution urging the UN Security Council to refer the North`s leadership to the International Criminal Court for possible charges of "crimes against humanity" was adopted by UN General Assembly committee last week.
The success of the resolution fuelled calls for Seoul to finally come up with its own piece of legislation addressing the rights situation north of the border.
"The national assembly has been absolutely pathetic over this issue for the past 10 years," the South`s biggest circulation daily, Chosun Ilbo, said in an editorial on Monday.
"Now it is at a critical crossroads where it will either be remembered as a bystander to the North`s atrocities or a key player promoting change," the newspaper said.
Senior party officials say they are aiming to reach a consensus and get an agreed bill through the parliament by the end of the year.
The UN resolution, introduced by Japan and the European Union and co-sponsored by some 60 nations, drew heavily on the work of a UN inquiry which concluded in February that the North was committing rights abuses "without parallel in the contemporary world".
On Sunday Pyongyang`s top military body threatened "catastrophic consequences" for supporters of the resolution, with the United States, South Korea and Japan the primary targets.