I am on my way back to Oslo, Norway from the Nobel Women’s Initiatives’ three-day conference in Quebec on stopping sexual violence in war. There was intense dialogue on African and Mid-Eastern regions as expected; but very little exchange of dialogue on human rights atrocities in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, more commonly known as North Korea. For the last ten years, I have been covering the plight of the common defector and condemn the relatively high rate of sex trafficking occuring amongst North Korean women fleeing to China or to another country. (Estimates reach as high as 90% .)
I have met with some defector women and men resettled in parts of the United Kingdom who had sought safety and refuge away from South Korea, where many experienced hurtful stigmatization quite ironically. The tales of perserverence in their daily lives in and out of the North Korean gulags, as well as in Chinese prisons are truly appalling. And as gruesome it has been to listen to tales of North Korean women who had ‘volunteered’ to be trafficked to China or to a 3rd country to merely experience a full stomach, or to possibly present better lives for their children. China still takes draconian measures to repatriate defectors from North Korea, violating several UN conventions to protect refugees. China is a permanent member of the United Nations Security Council that unanimously passed UNSR 1325 and other important resolutions on Women, Peace and Security, and hosted the Beijing Platform on women’s rights back in 1995. It is baffling and appalling, therefore, to hear that China has refused to protect these women and children from forced repatriation on to potential torture or death. I strongly believe this action by China goes against the credo of SC resolutions on Women, Peace and Security. Where is China’s back-bone in protecting these women – or do North Korean women ‘not count’ as those who should be protected?
Looking at the mounting tension in Far East Asia, namely between North and South Korea, and how the entire Asia Pacific region is affected by Kim Jong Il’s regime, it is unfathomable not to bring UNSCR 1325 in Far East Asian peace talks, including the 6-Party Talks. Russia, China and USA who are permanent members of the UN Security Council are also key members to the 6-Party Talks. The time is ‘now’ for women of Far East Asia to proactively bring UNSCR 1325 and allied resolutions to the peace-negotiating tables, and to engage Asian women in the 6-Party discussions. As a survivor myself from GBV in Okinawa during the Vietnam War, it is critical for women of Asia Pacific to create solidarity as a force to be reckoned with in decision-making!
Last but not least, let us not forget Bertha Von Suttner, the first woman who won the Nobel Peace Prize back in 1905 by capturing the hearts and minds of people with her message and book, “Lay Down Your Arms!” in turbulent Europe. She was the ‘torch light’ who convinced Alfred Nobel to create the Peace Prize. If Ms. Von Suttner were around today, I am sure that she would be appalled by the treatment of women of North Korea, the surmounting tension in Asia Pacific, and would urge the international community to be actively seized in the matter to include women in high level peace talks.
I personally look forward to catalysing the creation of National Action Plans for UNSCR 1325 and allied resolutions in Far East Asia and other states affected by the 6-Party Talks, such as USA and Russia.