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Japanese Government held the International Symposium on Human Rights Violations including Abductions by North Korea in Geneva

The ex-COI took part in the event.

Geneva, 10 September 2014






By Sonja Biserko

10 September 2014

Mr. Chairman, Minister Yamatani
Your Excellencies,
Ladies and Gentlemen,


I appreciate this opportunity provided by the Japanese Government to once again remind the international community of the urgency to deal with North Korea. I am aware of the ongoing activities prompted by the COI Report. But I believe these activities should be more effective if we want to adequately address the findings of the Report.

I come from Serbia and I come from the region scarred by war atrocities and grave human rights violations not long ago. I have witnessed disintegration of a country and barbarization of its population for ten years, till 2000. The entire region I come from has been trying to recover and civilize itself ever since. But all it has accomplished it has accomplished at a snail’s pace and along a thorny road. Although the war crimes had been processed before the ICTY, and although the international community assisted its stabilization and recovery. Also, EU decided to integrate the bregion in its entirety. Armed conflicts and destruction were put to and end. But psychological, political, economic and social recovery still has a long way to go.

My engagement in COI gave me an insight into the consequences of a decades-long state terror against an entire population. The refugees and defectors I’ve talked to were all brave people indeed: they risked their necks when meeting with us and telling us about their sufferings and the hardship of their countrymen. But they were also full of hope, looking up for the Commission’s report to trigger off changes for the better. I would say that what truly inspired the Commission’s untypical and straightforward report was those people’s desperate courage and desperate cry for help.

Their moving accounts have definitely blown the lid off the true nature of the society they had lived in. We got an insight into a longstanding process of dehumanization and moral insensibility practically killing an entire nation – the nation living a hand-to-mouth life. Mass human rights violations to which this nation has been exposed, including crimes against humanity, are beyond the limits of tolerance. Even once – and if - the political situation changed it would take decades for the country to recover itself. And it is hard to predict when or how these changes could take place. Various experts have come up with their scenarios, each subject to chance. All we could hope for is not to witness again Libyan, Iraqi or Syrian scenarios.

The report the Commission brought forward worldwide should give impetus to a new strategy for North Korea. It should incite the international community - the UN and international organizations - to take a synchronized and responsible action for unconditional renewal of the six-party talks on North Korea that would take into consideration its recommendations. As a longstanding human rights defender I am aware how crucial it is that human dimension imbues all the activities in and about North Korea. The report is quite explicit about it in its section 94. It is imperative that not only the UN but also all other international forums “implement a common “Rights up Front” strategy to ensure that all engagement with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea effectively takes into account, and addresses, human rights concerns, including those collected in the report”. Our findings indicate that the agenda of six-party talks should focus on the human dimension of this pressing problem along with security and economic issues.

Let me draw your attention to another major aspect of our recommendations: the international assistance to North Korea in preparing the terrain for the implementation of transitional justice, including the approach to no impunity for the crimes committed. This aspect is referred to in the section 89 of the Report. To ensure success to this process we must start searching for the solutions that would tone down any rage it might trigger off. This is why we need to have an institutional frame for genuine coping with the past established.

I am referring to this process in the context of imperative changes in that country. It goes without saying that these changes will be neither smooth nor speedy. We are still in the dark about a possible dissident movement in North Korea. The defectors who have pictured the criminal nature of its regime are angry and embittered with good reason. We also realized that the regime lived on the fear it has been spreading on daily basis. The fear that weights on both sides – the regime and citizens - only increases the potential for violence. The North Korean society should be seriously prepared for fundamental changes rather than for the change of regime only.

In this context, the nation needs to be gradually unburdened of its hand-to-mouth existence. On the other hand, the regime needs a helping hand to open to change, no matter how reluctant to help or resistant to any change it is. Though many might disapprove my stance, I must say I strongly believe that the present ruling elites should be approached and involved in the process of change. In saying this, I posit that the incumbent regime would do anything to survive and remain in power. We could avoid revenge, retaliation and violence only if we ensure the political elites’ participation. The Commission’s report has alerted them as well, there is no doubt about it. And this is why a new and comprehensive strategy for North Korea should be built on it and its recommendations.

Unfortunately, the international theater is in turmoil. The policy of interventionalism - I have referred to in the case of several countries – failed: obviously, the international community has badly coped with a number of challenges. And mostly because it knew little about the nature of the societies it stepped in. We need to draw proper lessons from these failures: the changes we are hoping for can take place only if societies themselves had been prepared to embrace them. And the report clearly charts this course.



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