Roundup: APPG Conference on VAWG in North Korea

The All-Party Parliamentary Group on North Korea extends its thanks to those who were able to attend and participate in Monday’s conference, titled Addressing Violence Against Women and Girls in the DPRK. Papers delivered on the day will be collated and published in due course. Please visit the website of our sponsor, Human Atlas, for photos from the day’s proceedings.

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Human Atlas)

As the APPG reflects on the day’s proceedings, we think back to the presentations delivered by our experts on women’s and girls’ rights, gender-based violence, human trafficking, North Korean governance, development reconstruction, international justice mechanisms and foreign policy. But perhaps most importantly, we remember the words of those North Korean women who we were fortunate to hear from.

Veteran North Korea watchers will have visited many conferences on the DPRK’s nuclear weapons, Asia’s regional security concerns and even North Korean human rights. But rarely do those of us who attend these conferences hear from as many female voices — let alone North Korean female voices — as we did on Monday. Our hope is that the conference marks the start of a journey that begins to rectify our field’s oversight of female and indigenous voices.

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Geoffrey Clifton-Brown MP & Fiona Bruce MP (© Human Atlas)

Following welcome speeches by James Burt, Fiona Bruce MP, and Deuk-Hwan Kim (Deputy Head of Mission, Embassy of the ROK in the UK and NI), the morning sessions covered two important areas: 1). Gendered violations and discrimination; 2). The human trafficking of North Korean women and girls.

In our first session, the largely unknown and overlooked institutional and psychological structures of abuse were looked at in detail by Shirley Lee. This is an area that many of those who wish to learn of North Korean governance must address. We then heard of the direct and horrifying impact of violence against women from Choi Min Kyeong, a North Korean exile. We thank Ms. Choi for her bravery and for travelling from South Korea. The session concluded with an enlightening overview from Jane Gordon on how governments may address violence against women and girls through their foreign policies and international obligations. Jane has great experience in this field and served as gender advisor and sexual and gender based violence investigator with the UN Independent Commission of Inquiry on the Syrian Arab Republic — to which there are parallels to be drawn with North Korea.

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Human Atlas)

In our second session, James Burt provided an overview of the pulls and pushes of the human trafficking of North Korean women and girls in the realms of forced marriage and sexual slavery. We then learnt of the repercussions of human trafficking for North Korean women and the harsh lives of women and girls hiding in China through the testimony of Kang Mi Jin. Ms. Kang arrived in South Korea just six years ago and now works as a reporter for the Daily NK. Once again, we applaud her for her bravery. Finally, Aidan McQuade spoke of the international tools that may aid the tens of thousands of North Korean victims of human trafficking and modern day slavery who remain hidden and vulnerable in China.

After lunch, session three honed in on the international legal mechanisms that may be able to improve the rights of North Korea’s women and girls. David Hawk, who has long worked in our field and produced extremely important research on North Korea’s prison camp network, assessed Pyongyang’s responses to the international community’s actions in international fora, to which the UN Commission of Inquiry has been an integral and motivating force. Shin Heisoo then described the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women and other emerging human rights mechanisms that are, it seems, much needed to protect women and girls in North Korea. We hope that the important messages of Ms. Shin are looked at in the South Korean National Assembly and by those who implement that country’s North Korean Human Rights Act. Finally, Sir Geoffrey Nice QC talked us through the challenges connected to a referral of those suspected of crimes against humanity to the International Criminal Court, but also of tantalising legal mechanisms beyond the ICC.

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Human Atlas)

In the following session, which was titled ‘Nothing About Us, Without Us’, the thoughts of two North Korean women, Park Jihyun and Kim Kyung Hee, were heard. Both now live in the United Kingdom and their thoughts on where they have come from, where they see their futures, and the future of their country were extremely important to hear.

In the final session of the day, we heard of different paths that the international community can take to improve the rights of women and girls when fundamental and transformational change occurs in North Korea. We thank Christine Chinkin for her thoughts on securing women’s rights in development reconstruction; K.C. Kim for his ideas on the spread and dispersal of information throughout North Korea and its borderlands; Jo Baker for her insights on how truth and reconciliation commissions can account for gender; Kim Young Hwan for his pointers on potential areas of conflict and cooperation in the transitional era; In-Sook Chappell for her novel thoughts on how art may become a bridge of understanding between societies in conflict; and Jang Jin Sung for his views on a human rights management system and the importance of identity.

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Lord Alton (© Human Atlas)

The APPG wishes to extend our thanks to the conference sponsors:
The Embassy of the Republic of Korea in the UK & NI
Human Atlas
The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea
The European Alliance for Human Rights in North Korea

The APPG conference must be a means to an end, rather than an end in itself. Violence against women and girls in North Korea is the most serious violation of human rights, a crime against humanity, and entirely unacceptable. Governments, the United Nations and all of us involved in human rights and North Korea must take this issue with the seriousness that it deserves and work together for a better future for North Korea’s women and girls.