A Friendly Advice to U.N. Commission of Inquiry on human rights in North Korea

17 02 2014

ImageOn the 7th February, I met with Hon. Justice Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court judge and current chair of UN Commission of Inquiry in Human Rights in North Korea.

Answering Justice Kirby’s question regarding the best way to reach out to the DPRK’s leadership, Christopher Richardson and I recommended preambling the COI’s report with allusions to the deep historical and political roots of North Korean behaviour: i.e. the legacy of colonialism, wartime brutality, a Cold War mentality, and mistrust of the international community. These problems are characteristic of all Northeast Asia, but Korea, at its pivotal point, has harboured the most extreme human rights violations as a result. This problem cannot be resolved unilaterally, nor swiftly, without transforming the political climate of the whole region: that is to say, ending the Korean War, diplomatically recognising the DPRK, lifting economic sanctions against it, and improving all forms of exchange with the North. In a perpetual and assiduously cultivated ‘state of emergency,’ the North believes regime survival justifies any means, even at the expense of human rights.

Whether this can be changed, or not, depends on politicians in Pyongyang, Seoul, Washington, Moscow, Beijing and Tokyo. Without the goodwill of regional policy makers to address the problem of the Korean War especially, the issue of Human Rights in Korea is unlikely to be resolved. We noticed that the DPRK had withdrawn its invitation to US Special Envoy for Human Rights, Robert King, who had been seeking to negotiate the release of Rev. Kenneth Bae. Neither the DPRK government is willing to invite UN Committee of Inquiry lead by Justice Kirby. Clearly, such dialogue has a long way to go.

Invoking contextual issues does not absolve North Korea’s leadership of responsibility, yet acknowledging them may encourage a greater degree of openness towards dialogue. The DPRK must see that its future development depends upon evolving beyond the legacies and pathologies of history, of Japanese colonialism, the Korean War and Cold War.


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