|NKHR holds second North Korean Human Rights Week in Indonesia|
Bearing the Fruit of Continued Advocacy in Indonesia: NKHR’s Second North Korean Human Rights Week
Michele Park Sonen, International Campaign Team Program Officer
NKHR returned to Indonesia last month for the second North Korean Human Rights Week. Building on our advocacy in Jakarta over the last three years, NKHR’s campaign sought to increase support for North Korean human rights from Indonesia and other Southeast Asian nations. Southeast Asian nations, particularly Indonesia, have a long history of contacts with North Korea and can be a strong voice for improved human rights in North Korea. Many Southeast Asian countries, however, neither vote in favor of United Nations resolutions addressing North Korean human rights nor use their diplomatic relations to influence North Korea to improve its human rights record. NKHR’s Indonesia campaign intended to address that gap in support from our neighbors in Asia.
This year’s campaign marked important developments in NKHR’s Southeast Asia advocacy. Most significantly, for the first time representatives from the DPRK embassy in Indonesia unexpectedly attended the campaign and spoke publically, denying the well-documented human rights violations in North Korea. North Korea’s ambassador to Indonesia was reportedly removed from his position following our activities.
During a public seminar at the Universitas Indonesia—Indonesia’s most prestigious public university—a counsellor from the embassy of the DPRK, Mr. Kim Song Hak, spoke publically during the panel session and responded to inquiries from students in the audience. Mr. Kim denied human rights violations in North Korea and attempted to characterize the international condemnation of North Korea’s human rights violations as a politically motivated attempt to interfere with North Korea’s sovereignty and arising from United States hostility. He repeatedly stated that national sovereignty is more important than human rights. Although Mr. Kim’s remarks were deeply misguided, the DPRK’s participation was remarkable. It showed that NKHR’s and the international community’s efforts to affect change in North Korea are indeed being heard by the North Korean leadership. The DPRK government has yet, however, to institute the significant and systematic improvements badly needed to provide basic, universal human rights to its citizens.
The seminar—ASEAN Approaches to Human Rights in North Korea—was co-hosted by the Djokosoetono Research Center (DRC), a research center in the university’s law department. The keynote speech by United Nations Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights in North Korea, Marzuki Darusman, called for Indonesia to use its close relationship with North Korea to help resolve the dire human rights situation. Well-known Indonesian human rights expert Professor Harkristuti Harkrisnowo, also gave a keynote speech, and an important member of NKHR’s delegation, board member Mr. Jae-Chun Won, Professor of Law at Handong International Law School, spoke about disability rights in the DPRK. About 100 members of the public attended the seminar.
NKHR’s delegation was also comprised of NKHR advisor, Mr. Suk-woo Kim, the former Vice-Minister of Unification in South Korea; NKHR board member and professional interpreter, Ms. Ashley Eom; two North Korean resettlers, Mr. Hyuk Kim, a PhD candidate, and Mr. Chunhyok Kang, an artist; and three NKHR program officers, Ms. Michele Park Sonen, Ms. Sheena Winter (Kyung Sook Shin), and Ms. Sohee Kim. We were also joined by Mr. Myong-sung Kim, a reporter who covered North Korean Human Rights Week for Chosun Ilbo, South Korea’s largest daily newspaper, and art exhibition designer and South Korean artist, Jin Pyo Jun. Several from the group had been part of NKHR’s previous advocacy campaigns in Indonesia. The well-respected Indonesian organization ELSAM (Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy) provided invaluable expertise on how best to navigate Indonesian custom and connect with civil society and government as NKHR’s trusted local NGO partner.
A variety of activities helped NKHR reach a wide audience including the Indonesia public, media, and domestic and international governments. Like last year, the face of North Korean Human Rights Week was an art exhibition evoking the experiences of North Koreans and human rights. Drawings and paintings by North Korean resettlers Chunhyok Kang and Sun Mu helped the Indonesian public see North Korea through the eyes of North Korean victims. Storyboards of acrylic silhouettes, created by exhibition designer and artist Jin Pyo Jun, traced the long and perilous journey of North Korean refugees. The images portrayed the many risks of escaping North Korea, from crossing the Tumen River, to being sexually trafficked or repatriated back to North Korea, to trekking through dense jungle in Southeast Asia or the scorching desert in Mongolia. The exhibition allowed NKHR to significantly broaden its reach among the public; people with no previous interest in or knowledge of North Korean human rights came to the popular artspace, including students, artists, and tourists. The venue—Dia.lo.gue Artspace—is located in the popular Kemang district, a center of art and culture in Jakarta.
Artist and North Korean resettler Chunhyok Kang with his drawings.
Impressing on governments the significance of supporting the North Korean human rights campaign, NKHR hosted a closed discussion for representatives from ASEAN member nations and ASEAN dialogue partners. Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman briefed the diplomats on the situation in North Korea and the role ASEAN nations can play in improving human rights. Hyuk Kim shared his experiences as a kkotjebi (homeless child) in North Korea and prisoner at a kyohwaso (long-term detention center with forced labor). Twenty-five representatives from 13 different countries attended the discussion. NKHR also again visited Indonesia’s national commission on human rights, where the NKHR delegation and ELSAM discussed with Vice Chairperson Roichatul Aswidah concrete ways in which NKHR and Indonesia can work together to gain traction in Southeast Asia.
NKHR expanded its advocacy to beyond Jakarta this year and met with the human rights division of the Bandung municipality. Recently named by its mayor as a “human rights city,” Bandung it is the home of the Bandung Conference, a large meeting of Asian and African states. The third conference—marking the 60th anniversary of the inaugural Bandung Conference—took place this past April. Kim Il Sung attended the inaugural Bandung Conference in 1955. North Korea’s assembly leader, Kim Yong Nam, represented the DPRK at the conference this year, despite initial speculation that Kim Jong Un would himself attend. This context made Bandung a natural place for NKHR’s expanded Indonesian advocacy.
In Bandung, NKHR also hosted a lecture for students at Universitas Padjadjaran, in partnership with a human rights center in the university’s law department. Nearly 80 students attended, listening intently to a lecture on international legal protection of North Korean refugees by NKHR’s Professor Jae-chun Won and the life story of Hyuk Kim, who shared his experiences as a North Korean refugee. The delegation was impressed by the deep engagement and thoughtful questions asked by the students.
The NKHR delegation with the Human Rights Division of the city of Bandung.
Other public events throughout the week included two screenings of the film Crossing and discussions with Chunhyok Kang and Kim Hyuk. Accompanying the exhibition, NKHR held a special event for Jakarta’s robust creative and activist youth community. Tapping into the culture of human rights activism in Jakarta, NKHR enlisted Indonesian activist and artist Ms. Yaya Sung to perform a photography project alongside a live drawing by Chunhyok Kang. Both artists focused on human rights. Following their performances, Ms. Sung and Mr. Kang discussed the human rights issues in both Indonesia and North Korea and how they both use of art to advocate for change.
Throughout the week NKHR was excited to see the years of advocacy in Indonesia begin to bear fruit. Our delegation was met with enthusiasm and support from nearly everyone we encountered, from our many local partners—especially ELSAM—to the media, the human rights commission, and the public. NKHR was especially fortunate to have the strong support of Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, a respected public figure in Indonesia.
Over the years NKHR has been especially encouraged by the growing interest in North Korean human rights among civil society and the international community in Indonesia. The public events attracted large crowds, with both university programs full to maximum capacity. The opening reception held at Dia.lo.gue Artspace was attended by diplomats from nine countries, including the South Korean ambassador, and a well-known religious leader in Indonesia’s large Muslim community, Din Syamsuddin. Indonesian media covered the week comprehensively. Over twenty articles appeared in various local newspapers, and a two-page article appeared in a major monthly current events magazine. North Korea, too, entered the dialogue this year. Its continued public denial of its human rights violations—both in Indonesia and during NKHR’s side event at the UN General Assembly in New York last October—underscores the continued relevance and importance of our international campaigns. NKHR is hopeful that the increased support will soon translate into policies throughout Southeast Asia that will further accountability and human rights in North Korea.
Left to right: Republic of Korea Ambassador to Indonesia Cho Taiyoung, Dia.lo.gue Artspace Owner Engel Tanzil, Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman, former Vice Minister of Unification (Republic of Korea) and NKHR advisor Suk-woo Kim.
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