A few weeks ago, I attended the 4th Chaillot Human Rights Forum 2014. My professor for my Politics and Society of North Korea class is a researcher at KINU, or Korea Institute for National Reunification, and he invited his students to attend the forum as guests.
The forum was hosted at the Joseon Westin Hotel in Seoul, South Korea. It was packed with reporters (at least for the first session), ambassadors, researchers, and my fellow students. I was awed to see so many important people who are not only important but also in the top of their fields. The forum itself was split into three sessions and of these, I enjoyed the first session and parts of the second the most of all because they introduced me to the thoughts of the most well-informed researchers and people who have actually interacted directly with North Korea. They also brought the research of medical doctors into play, exposing the reality of the psychological effects that the North Korean regime is having on the citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
The first session was incredible because it involved Marzuki Darusman, the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in DPRK, who came out with a groundbreaking report on human rights violations in North Korea despite not being allowed to visit for over four years. It was fascinating to hear from people I have only read about in news articles over the past year—and to hear their own opinions on what was reported in those news articles. Darusman came across as extremely knowledgeable and forward-thinking, recognizing that North Korea only approached him in New York City with the offer to allow his visit under the condition that two passages in a UN resolution that has not been passed yet be changed. The passages under scrutiny use language that North Korea officials desperately wish to avoid; they cast aspersion on the supreme leader and point out the human rights violations of North Korea as his fault and responsibility. Darusman spoke about this and his other interactions with North Korean officials, and all of what he said was very interesting, but he said one thing at the end of his comments that truly stuck with me.
“The work [of examining and reinstating human rights in the DPRK] has just begun….Change can only happen with pressure from outside and capacity from within.”
I thought that this was particularly poignant because many commenters and presenters at the forum pointed out the recent “paradigm shift” (as Jeong-hoon Lee, Human Rights Ambassador of the Republic of Korea, called it in the first session) of North Korea’s actions towards other countries and its shuffling within its own borders. It has gone on what the media has dubbed as a “charm offensive”, desperately trying to charm other countries into believing its assertions that it has done nothing wrong. It no longer has no reaction beyond firing weapons into the sea and shouting; it has indicated an intense fear of the language used in the UN resolution and actually taken actions to change it rather than completely deny it. It has become extremely sensitive under the pressure that Darusman talked about—the pressure that is necessary to induce change. And the DPRK seems to be indicating some capacity for change as it squirms under this pressure.
Attending this forum gave me hope that change is happening, slowly but surely. The key is to make sure that we do not slide back in the progress that we have made, and that we keep the pressure on North Korea until it yields and human rights violations are no longer something that we must fight them to protect. Reunification is coming someday. Hopefully that someday is soon.