By Kim Sue-young
The U.S. Congress approved ― with revisions ― Tuesday a four-year extension of an act designed to improve North Koreans' human rights both inside and outside their country.
The North Korean Human Rights Reauthorization Act came into effect in 2004 and was to expire later this month.
President George W. Bush is expected to give final approval soon as he is known to support the legislation, which also helps North Korean defectors settle in the United States.
Previously, the U.S. Senate unanimously passed the measure.
The act is designed to support human rights, democracy and freedom of information in the Stalinist state as well as give assistance to North Koreans who manage to leave the country.
North Koreans who escape the secretive state receive refugee status and 63 have so far been accepted into the United States.
On Sept. 15, a female North Korean in her late 30s became the first defector to gain permanent residence there without an interview.
The 62 remaining defectors have already applied for permanent residency, and following the extension are also expected to become green card holders.
A revision to the act also elevates the post of U.S. special envoy on North Korean human rights to full ambassador.
However, it limits the post holder's role to ``participating'' in North Korea-related issues and policies, not ``coordinating,'' which was in the original remit.
Jay Lefkowitz, who has held the position since 2005, struck a hard stance toward the North, raising questions about working conditions at the inter-Korean industrial complex in the North Korean city of Gaeseong. He questioned whether the wages paid there were being used to fatten Pyongyang's coffers.
Due to this, North Korea rejected his request to visit the industrial complex Aug. 7.
Another revision halved the funding for programs to promote human rights to $2 million from the initial $4 million.
More than 10,000 North Korean defectors reside in South Korea and still many more risk their lives to flee due to hunger and oppression.