Efforts to improve human rights in North Korea often neglect the context of the division and the conflict of the Korean peninsula, according to a prominent human rights expert who spoke at a public lecture to mark the 70th Anniversary of the division of the Korean peninsula in Trinity College Dublin.
Organised by Trinity’s Centre for Post-Conflict Justice, the event, entitled “Rights in the Korean Peninsula: Challenges to Peacebuilding”, heard from two human rights experts – Professor Bo-Hyuk Suh, Seoul National University, and Dr. Rajiv Narayan, International Commission Against the Death Penalty – who discussed whether the promotion of human rights and peacebuilding can be pursued hand in hand on the peninsula.
Professor Suh spoke on the interconnection of human rights and peace in the Korean peninsula from the perspective of human security. He argued that ongoing discussions to improve North Korean human rights often neglect the context of the division and the conflict of the Korean peninsula. “The two Koreas, which were established as a result of the division, are under a specific situation where they define their identity and legitimacy in relation to each other, and the question of human rights for their citizens is the extension of their situation.”
Dr. Narayan talked about the recent UN Commission of Inquiry Report on North Korean human rights focusing on the effectiveness and impact of the report on inter-Korean relations and human rights. In his talk Dr Rajiv Narayan argued that there is never a good or a bad time to raise human rights issues anywhere in the world. “Peacebuilding has to be centered on human rights and human security. At the same time, we must acknowledge that building trust between the two Koreas is of utmost importance for improving standards of human rights. This demands engagement in the true spirit and sincerity.”
Dr Dong Jin Kim, Adjunct Assistant Professor at the Irish School of Ecumenics, said: “August 15, 2015 is the 70th anniversary of the division of the Korean peninsula. The Korean peninsula is still technically at war. The Korean War was suspended with an armistice treaty in 1953, not a peace treaty. In the meantime, this protracted conflict has been used as a pretext to justify severe human rights violations in the Korean peninsula. There have been criticisms against the pursuit of peace in ways that neglect human rights considerations. But, raising concerns about human rights without an attempt to build peace have not only been ineffective but also increased tensions on the Korean peninsula. Can the promotion of human rights and peacebuilding be pursued hand in hand?”