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'NK Human Rights Act Stems From U.S. Hawks'
'Food First' coordinator stresses North Korea's right to food, health and dignity over regime change
Jang Yun Seon (internews)     Print Article 
Published 2004-12-10 03:56 (KST)   
Christine Ahn, Food First Economic and Social Human Rights Program Coordinator, addresses Kyungnam University's Institute for Far Eastern Studies symposium, Dec. 1.
©2004 Kim Y.S.
"As the North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA) was the result of efforts by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea, it poses a total challenge to the struggle for human rights."

Amid tremendous interest in North Korean human rights issues within the international community, one U.S. peace activist has drawn interest by presenting a new viewpoint to solving human rights issues in North Korea.

Speaking at the National Human Rights Commission-sponsored "North Korean Human Rights Symposium," held on Dec. 1 at Kyungnam University's Institute for Far Eastern Studies, Food First Economic and Social Human Rights Program Coordinator Christine Ahn said, "The current discussion on North Korean human rights is completely focused on the narrow scope of political repression... We must focus on North Koreans right to food, health and dignity."

'Even high-ranking soldiers and generals wear loose clothes over thin bodies'

Ahn, who was a discussant in the first session of the symposium titled North Korean Human Rights in the International Community, said, "In order to debate about North Korean human rights, I want to first stress three points... We must go beyond political freedom to include economic and social rights; we must discuss human rights based on history and facts; and we must prepare not war or sanctions, but a peaceful and inclusive base to improve human rights."

Ahn, who witnessed the reality of North Korea's human rights situation in June when she visited North Korea, testified, "I saw the realities of North Korea in the two weeks I was active in North Korea as a member of a peace delegation... It was clear everyone was suffering from a lack of electricity, food and medicine, with even high ranking soldiers and generals in the DMZ wearing loose clothing over thin bodies."

"Between 8 and 10 percent of North Korea's population is dying of hunger, but the whole world is just sitting and watching," she said, adding, "Where was the international human rights movement when North Korea was begging the international community for humanitarian assistance and development aid?"

Ahn expressed deep concern about the NKHRA, recently signed by U.S. President George W. Bush.

"The Bush administration is using human rights as a weapon to justify economic sanctions or a military invasion... How could economic sanctions improve human rights in a situation in which there is no food, energy to heat homes or medicine to cure illnesses?"

Her comments frankly revealed her skepticism about recent calls by the conservative camps in Korea and the U.S. for resolving the North Korean human rights issue through regime change.

Ahn said, "The North Korean Human Rights Act (NKHRA) was the result of efforts by hawkish conservatives and Christian fundamentalists with the intention of bringing regime change in North Korea... These people are now fully challenging human rights." She also stressed, "We mustn't forget that the Congress and president who signed the NKHRA are the people who stood on security and human rights to illegally invade and occupy Iraq and Afghanistan."

Blind spots in calls for North Korean democratization

Borrowing the words of Vitit Muntarbhorn, the UN special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, Ahn said, "In order to improve human rights in North Korea, we must focus on the fundamental causes of the human rights problems." She then attacked the blond spots of those who call for democratization in North Korea, saying, "For people who call themselves human-rights supporters to cleverly treat North Korea's starvation along with other violations of human rights is historically and substantively mistaken."

At the debate, Ahn said, "If one is sincerely thinking about North Korean human rights, one must solve the issues not through war or economic sanctions, but in a peaceful and inclusive way... The threat of war or sanctions and isolation will call on a human rights crisis in North Korea and the United States."

She also said, "As more nations establish bilateral ties with Pyongyang and provide aid to North Korea, the human rights situation for North Koreans will gradually improve... We can improve the dignity and security of 22 million North Korean residents."

Meanwhile, UN Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights Acting Regional Representative for Asia-Pacific Lee Wan Hea discussed, "the UN technical cooperation program for improving human rights," and Judith Gough of the British Embassy discussed, "the British government's position and projects concerning North Korea's human rights situation." Hanguk University of Foreign Studies Professor Lee Jang Hee and Forum-Asia General Secretary Lee Seong Hun also participated in the debate.

Children loitering around the hotel shaking from starvation

Christine Ahn held a separate interview with OhmyNews after the discussion.

OhmyNews: What kind of group is "Food First?"

Christine Ahn: "It's an NGO with its roots in the U.S. that mostly deals with the issue of starvation. The group has 30 years of history. It also has deep interest in the problems of the world's farmers, including U.S. farmers. After the end of the Cold War following World War II, the food problem has gotten very serious. We are engaged in activities focusing on economic and social rights and the right to food."

©2004 Kim Y.S.
You visited North Korea in June. How was the reality of North Korean human rights as seen on the ground?"

"I went to North Korea as a peace activist. North Koreans were living in very difficult conditions. Eight-year-old children were loitering around the hotel, shaking because of hunger. Even soldiers were extremely thin. One thing that surprised me was the mental strength of the North Koreans. I strongly felt their pride and urge to preserve their system. Compared to other places like Africa with serious human rights situations, North Korea was somewhat better. However, it's a serious human rights situation even if it's just one person who starves to death."

How is the discourse on North Korean human rights formed in the United States? Could you explain about the process?

"At the center are conservative NGOs. I think the U.S. and Korean understanding of North Korean human rights is problematic. One must view political repression and starvation separately. Only 20 percent of North Korea's land is good for farming. That's how barren it is. Americans farm for profit, but not North Koreans. There is a fundamental difference in understanding."

Disappointment over President Roh for Iraq deployment

U.S. President George W. Bush signed the NKHRA. What was the reaction of U.S. society to the passage of the law?

"I think the NLHRA was less threatening than the North Korea Freedom Act. But there is a widespread understanding that Kim Jong-il is a terrorist. Conservative NGOs are provoking public opinion using US$8 million in contributions. There is an ideological inclination to say we must isolate and put pressure on North Korea. North Korea's food and health rights are of extreme concern. One cannot view the situation only politically. It's just that in U.S. society, there is deep concern about the North Korean nuclear issue."

The bill to extend the deployment of Korean troops to Iraq is in the National Assembly. What do you think about the deployment of Korean troops to Iraq?

"I was very disappointed in the Korean government. Even if we say there's an alliance between Korea and the United States, the Iraq War was a very unjust one. For Korea to participate in an illegal war led by the U.S. and Great Britain is not just. At a crossroad between 쁲overeignty and preserving the alliance, I think the decision to send troops will be a unique example of following the U.S. position because of the alliance."
This article was translated from Korean.
©2004 OhmyNews

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