Written by Joanna Hosaniak, Head of Int'l Campaign & Cooperation, NKHR
The walls of room XXI at the UN Human Rights Council’s building in Geneva were filled with many posters of a family – mother, father and a small child in the arms of the father. But it was not a portrait of a happy family; instead the posters had circles similar to the ones that are practiced for shooting targets. At the entrance of the room, the cradle was placed, but it wasn’t a normal cradle with toys for the child. It was fully covered and looked as if it was a jail. Suddenly, Shin Dong Hyuk, the survivor of Camp 14 turned on the remote control and the baby-doll started to cry uncontrollably. The room gathered over 200 people but it was so quiet as if nobody was there.
“What does this mean?” you will ask, Shin raised the question. “Welcome to North Korea… On the outside you see the portraits of happy families, but these families, like mine, can become a target of the North Korean government at any time. Similarly, your children are born in a free world, but the children in North Korea are born into a jail. From the youngest age, their pure minds are fed with lies and oppression, they don’t know any better”. Shin went on to tell his story of being born to political prisoners in Camp 14, to an abnormal family in abnormal conditions that he had no special emotions attached to, as children usually do to their parents when born in the free world. The only normal and obvious things for Dong Hyuk were camp rules and this is why he reported his mother and brother for an attempted escape and witnessed their public execution. He did not feel remorse then and he still struggles with having a luxury of normal feelings. He appealed to the international community as a last resort and a last hope for people like him contained in those camps.
Speaking on behalf of High Commissioner Navi Pillay, the Deputy High Commissioner especially recognized those voices of victims stressing that “your perseverance, your courage in bearing witness, your resilience have sounded the alarm. You have bravely given voice to those who perished; as well as to those who are not able to tell this story of what they have endured and are enduring still. These persons include a huge number of people, some of them were children still, who have been abducted from other countries and taken to DPRK. Many have never been heard of again.” And Michael Kirby, Chair of the UN Commission of Inquiry for the DPRK responded to Shin’s outcry stressing that “to those who think that the UN is inactive, look at what has been achieved” recognizing by that the laborious efforts of his team who worked tirelessly on the 400-pages in-depth report documenting crimes that “shock the conscience of humanity” and of a scale that has rarely been seen at the UN. Many states have recognized the work of the COI for setting an example for high quality and standards of impartiality for the future commissions of inquiry.
The stage was also taken by the Japanese and Korean families of the victims of abduction. Mr. Izuka, the Japanese brother of a young mother who has been forcibly taken away from her small children that “my sister would never leave her two children at the daycare without picking them up” and Ms. Kim Mi Il made an emotional statement of longing for her father whose love she was not allowed to cherish as a child, the father who has been taken by North Korean forces which were targeting at least 100,000 civil residents of South Korea during the Korean War.
In this gloomy and sad atmosphere, the romantic music began quietly. At the grand piano, Kim Cheol Woong, the North Korean pianist played Richard Clayderman’s piece A Comme Amour, for performing which back in Pyongyang he has been punished. Before starting his performance, Kim said “Today, during the interactive dialogue with the Commission of Inquiry for DPRK, the North Korean delegation accused COI of producing a false report based on the accounts of stories of criminals. Please judge for yourself whether I am a criminal and whether by playing this music I have committed a criminal act”. With the delicate notes, many tears started to roll on the faces of people in the audience. Some said later that this was a one-of-a-kind event, a quality of which has never been seen at the UN Human Rights Council. This enormous undertaking was in fact possible due to the solidarity and efforts of many victims, victims associations, South Korean and international NGOs as well as individuals. Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights has always been at the forefront of these efforts; it was a first NGO to bring the North Korean victims to the UN, gave them a voice and “moved others to action” as recognized by Human Rights Watch.
These small voices, like independent and unrelated notes, with time connected into a beautiful music of despair and hope, like the Arirang piece played at the end of our parallel event which echoed loudly among the UN walls and pierced hearts of diplomats, UN officials and NGOs from around the world who came to show their solidarity against the terrible wrongs taking place at this moment in North Korea.
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