Last Friday was a global day of protest against North Korean human rights abuses. 9 December 2012 was the 63rd anniversary of the adoption of the U.N. Convention on the Prevention and Punishment of the Crime of Genocide, to which North Korea acceded in 1989.
For many people in the West, the human rights abuses of the North Korean regime are familiar from the many reports we read, and the many books available on the subject. Possibly one of the toughest reports was issued by Christian Solidarity Worldwide in June 2007 (North Korea – Case to Answer – A Call to Act), which concluded “that there are indicators of genocide against religious groups, specifically Christians.” Strong language, and we are reminded of specific instances of torture and brutality by the almost annual testimony in the UK Houses of Parliament by North Korean escapees who have terrible stories to tell.
Yet some South Koreans in London are unaware of the abuses perpetrated by the regime in the North, as I discovered when I was chatting to people after the presentation of yet another report in Parliament two years ago.
Ms Yang, one of the participants in last Friday’s protest, agrees: “I told a few friends about North Korea and the situation but they could not believe it. People starve to death; there are prison camps, where torture and capital punishment are used to discipline people; escaping the country is life-risking, i.e. they are ready to die… All these things are unbelievable and unimaginable in the 21st century but they are true.”
A dozen or so protestors, including postgraduates from the London School of Economics, some North Korean defectors and a handful of other South Koreans and British people, gathered outside the North Korean embassy in West London at 2pm last Friday to proclaim their concerns over North Korean human rights abuses.
They read out their demands in front of the Embassy, which included: “Compensation and Re-imbursement to All North Korean Victims of Slavery, Starvation, Torture, All Concentration Camp Survivors and Their Families for Immeasurable Loss and Suffering.”
The location is not a place where you are going to get passing pedestrians. From the outside, the embassy could be a dental surgery. Probably the North Koreans prefer it that way. Besides, property prices are cheaper out there.
“Gathering and protesting on these issues are important because in this way we can show the North Korean government that something is not right,” said Ms Yang. “Although [the North Korean victims] are on the other side of the world, we cannot and should not ignore them.”
The protestors were addressed by a North Korean defector, who gave a short talk detailing some of North Korea’s human rights abuses. “Everyone will be directly or indirectly affected by these issues sooner or later,” said Ms Yang. Needless to say, the embassy door remained firmly closed. But passing motorists filmed the protest with their cellphones.
“A more important reason behind this is to increase awareness of people,” she continued. “I am quite sure that more people could be mobilised if they fully understand what is really going on in North Korea.”
To help spread the message, a new Facebook Group has been set up since the protest.
You are encouraged to visit: http://www.facebook.com/groups/205969692817609/
Text of the letter read in front of the DPRK Embassy: visit North Korea – Witness to Transformation page at the Peterson Institute for Interational Economics.
Images provided by Ms Yang.