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First North Korean Human Rights Week in Jakarta
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2015-04-08 21:01:00
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First North Korean Human Rights Week in Jakarta

One of NKHR’s great strengths as a small NGO is to develop strategy, make decisions, and mobilize quickly.  The rewards of this quickness are apparent nowhere as much as it has been in our campaigns in Jakarta, Indonesia.

This past April, NKHR returned to Jakarta for the third time to co-organize the country’s first North Korean Human Rights Week. Our flagship event was an art exhibit on North Korean human rights at Cemara 6 Galeri, a renowned space for art and culture in the beautiful Menteng neighborhood of Jakarta. 

This exhibit was a departure from NKHR’s normal campaign activities and one that significantly expanded our reach with the public. More than half the people who attended the opening ceremony and visited the gallery throughout the week were artists, university students, regular gallery patrons, and those who did not have preexisting knowledge of North Korean human rights. Seeing these guests react to the artworks, which focused on political prison camps and children’s rights in North Korea, made us realize anew the importance of integrating visuals into our work. Without images, it’s easy to ignore human rights atrocities happening in a place far away. Though we don’t have photos coming out from political prison camps, we have victims who have put their memories to drawing, and these are the images that we displayed at the exhibit.

The exhibit was designed by South Korean artist Mr. Jinpyo Jun, who flew to Jakarta in advance for the exhibit preparation. The rest of the NKHR team consisted of board members Mr. Suk-woo Kim (former Vice-Minister of Unification) and Mr. Jae-chun Won (Professor of Law); defectors Ms. Hye-sook Kim and Ms. Eunju Kim; and Ms. Young-ja Kim, Ms. Lilian Lee, Ms. Sohee Kim, and Ms. Michele Sonen from the NKHR secretariat. We were also joined for several days by Mr. Myong-sung Kim, a reporter who covered North Korean Human Rights Week for Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily newspaper.  In total, there were ten people who traveled from South Korea for this campaign, including several who had been part of the first and second advocacy campaigns in Indonesia.

Returning to Jakarta for the third time greatly strengthened the relationships NKHR started two years ago during the first campaign, especially with our local partner KontraS, an Indonesian NGO advocating for the rights of disappearance victims and their families. NKHR also met again with the Komnas Perempuan (National Commission on Violence Against Women) and with Rafendi Djamin, the Indonesian representative to the ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights (AICHR).  Mr. Djamin acknowledged that ASEAN still did not have a position on North Korean human rights, but that North Korean human rights does fall under the mandate of AICHR. He expressed his hope that a dialogue begin soon at AICHR and encouraged us to continue our advocacy in Indonesia.

New relationships were also established with different groups, including the Indonesia Institute of Sciences (LIPI), which co-hosted the week’s events, and Komnas HAM (National Commission on Human Rights). Upon hearing our request for solidarity in North Korean human rights, Komnas HAM advised us to have this formal request come directly from the National Human Rights Commission of South Korea. We held a meeting with the Commission immediately upon our return to Seoul and requested that they do so.

In Indonesia we were also able to enlist the participation of longtime advocate Mr. Marzuki Darusman, the current UN Special Rapporteur on North Korean human rights.  He delivered congratulatory remarks at our opening ceremony on Monday and spoke about the need for Indonesia and the international community to act at the conference on Tuesday. 

Upon viewing our art exhibit, Mr. Darusman thanked us for coming to Indonesia and further suggested that NKHR establish a permanent exhibit or center in Jakarta for the promotion of North Korean human rights.  This idea, and the fact that it came from Mr. Darusman, was surprising for all of us, especially as there is no such center even in South Korea. Yet the more our team discussed it during and after our trip to Indonesia, we began to view a North Korean human rights center in Indonesia as an ambitious and powerful next step for our advocacy in Southeast Asia. Several others told us that we must take our campaigns to other regions of Indonesia as well. 

NKHR first went to Jakarta in August 2012 because of a need to pivot our focus to regions where support for North Korean human rights has been traditionally weak, especially Southeast Asia. As one of ASEAN’s leading members and home to the UN Rapporteur, Indonesia was the most appropriate place to begin campaigning in the region, but we started with no contacts and very few friends in the country. So to hear the overwhelmingly positive feedback of hundreds of Indonesian people, especially Mr. Darusman, two years after our first visit was incredibly meaningful. The seeds that we had planted in 2012 were beginning to bear fruit.

During this trip we also focused heavily on reaching out to Indonesian students. More than 120 students attended our lecture at the University of Universitas Prof. Dr. Moestopo (Beragama), and many more students from universities all across Jakarta attended the movie screenings and participated in the flashmob. The essay contest, which asked students, “What is Indonesia’s role in North Korean Human Rights,” elicited 32 thought-provoking papers in less than the 10 days during which it was promoted. Two fantastic essays, handpicked by the three-member judging committee (Dr. Elisabeth of LIPI, Mr. Chris Biantoro of KontraS, Ms. Maria Rita Hagusian of TEMPO), won the prizes, which were a roundtrip ticket to Seoul and a Samsung Galaxy S5.  When we returned to Seoul, the winner of the roundtrip ticket to Seoul wrote to say that she would like to use her ticket to come intern at NKHR. These two essays will be posted on our website shortly.

Two crucial supporters of North Korean Human Rights Week were Ms. Maria Rita Hagusian, a journalist with TEMPO, and the South Korean embassy in Indonesia. Ms. Hagusian’s passion for North Korean human rights is a gift for us working in the field, and the NKHR team felt lucky to have her on our side as we navigated Indonesian culture and community. Many of the ideas for our activities, including the art exhibit and the essay contest, originated from Ms. Hagusian, who also personally dropped off posters and invitations at universities around Jakarta to promote our events.

The energy that we received from our weeklong interactions with scholars, students, artists, activists, journalists, and our fellow co-organizers was unlike any that we experienced in our overseas campaigns. The reactions that we received, the sheer number of people with whom we engaged – both had improved immensely from our first and second trips to Jakarta. NKHR returned with a conviction stronger than ever to continue our advocacy in Southeast Asia. We are excited to consider and implement our next steps.

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