Lord Rowe-Beddoe: An assessment of the security and human rights challenges on the Korean Peninsula following North Korea’s recent nuclear test

The following speech was delivered in the House of Lords on January 21st 2016:

Lord Rowe-Beddoe

My Lords, I thank my noble friend Lord Alton for securing this short debate. The DPRK—the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea—is in itself a name that would not qualify under any trade descriptions Act. It is not democratic; it does not represent the people; neither is “Korea” correct, for that implies the whole peninsula. However, that is but a comprehensive illustration of the nightmare that this world has to confront and face.

Unlike my noble friends Lady Cox and Lord Alton, I have never had the opportunity to visit, although I have certainly viewed the 38th parallel closely on my many business trips to the south over the past 20 or so years. I speak therefore from second-hand knowledge, by study, by observation, by discussions with people from the south and—all-importantly—from encounters with refugees living in or visiting the United Kingdom.

I wish to use these few minutes to highlight one thing: the importance of breaking the blockade of information, as was mentioned by my noble friend Lord Alton. Why have we not seen a popular uprising against the regime, or perhaps acts of mass civil disobedience? It is due partly to the physical brutality of the regime but, significantly, also to the indoctrination of the North Korean people, whose Government wish to ensure complete psychological control over the entire population. It is therefore forbidden to access foreign media. All North Koreans are exposed to state-controlled media in their homes, work and public spaces. As well, all television and radio—state information—is broadcast through fixed-line speakers in every household. Those speakers are inspected frequently to ensure that they function and cannot be turned off. One refugee stated to a United Nations commission of inquiry:

“You are brainwashed from the time you know how to talk … North Korea is … a fenced world … They want the people to be blind, deaf to the outside world”.

The United Kingdom Government had been unconvinced that radio broadcasts would reach sufficient numbers of North Koreans due to a lack of radios. However, after persistent lobbying discussions—if I may use that word—by members of the all-party group, at last, in 2015, our noble friend Lord Hall, director-general of the BBC, declared that the World Service would reach out to North Koreans through a daily news programme on short wave. The BBC is of course aware of the consequences for those caught consuming foreign media, but should it not broadcast into North Korea for fear that citizens, if caught, are tried and perhaps executed for listening? I believe the answer to be emphatically no. Although the risks are high, there are even greater consequences of inaction. Pyongyang will of course attempt to answer, censor and jam the broadcasts. No doubt it will lodge formal protests to our embassy and open, yet again, the bag of threats. However, in an age of global interconnectivity, it is my belief that such actions will be diminished in their harm.

For a BBC service to become a reality today, the corporation has to put together a team to decide and deliver the content. I hope that this will include UK-based North Korean refugees. Once that is done and costed, I understand that the plan will be submitted to the Foreign Secretary, who will then be required to approve the service. Perhaps the Minister will comment on a timetable. It is my sincere hope that the Foreign and Commonwealth Office sees such broadcasts as complementary to its own efforts to improve human rights within that country.

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