Pushing the Role of Indonesia and ASEAN to Improve the Human Rights Situation in North Korea

ELSAM, Jakarta – On 15-20 September 2015, the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR), in collaboration with the Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM) organized the Second North Korea Human Rights Week in Indonesia. The six-day activity aimed to encourage people of Indonesia and Southeast Asia to respond the human rights situation in North Korea.

Over the years, many ASEAN member countries opposed or abstained during voting on human rights resolutions of the United Nations in relation to issues surrounding the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea. Indonesia – as one of the leading countries in Southeast Asia – has an important role for the international community. As a country whose global influence is increasing, Indonesia can make a significant contribution to the development of human rights in North Korea, either through bilateral relations or in the form of support for UN resolutions about human rights in North Korea.

Over the last three years, NKHR has conducted advocacy campaigns in Indonesia related to the issue of North Korean human rights to increase public awareness of the human rights situation that is happening in North Korea. In 2014, the UN Commission of Inquiry found that not only human rights violations continue to occur in North Korea, but also many other violations that can be categorized as crimes against humanity that can be prosecuted in international criminal mechanisms. One form of human rights violations is enforced disappearances of foreign nationals, including those from ASEAN countries, such as Malaysia, Thailand, and Singapore.

The opening of the North Korean Human Rights Week began with an art exhibition on Tuesday, 15 September 2015 in Dia.Lo.Gue Artspace, Kemang, Jakarta. The art exhibition entitled “From Darkness: The Journey of North Korean Refugees” told the long journey through which North Korean refugees travelled in the search for freedom. This exhibition featured the works of Chunhyok Kang, who talked about his work on a variety of activities throughout the week, and Sun Mu, a North Korean refugee whose work has been recognized internationally as a critic of the regime of North Korea.

These activities are then complemented with the opening reception held on the same day and also enlivened with speeches from Marzuki Darusman, Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights in North Korea; Woo Suk Kim, former Vice Minister of Unification of South Korea; and Roichatul Aswidah, ELSAM. In addition, representatives from a number of embassies in Indonesia also participated in the reception.

On the second day, NKHR and ELSAM, in collaboration with Djokosoetono Research Center of the Faculty of Law, Indonesia University, held an academic seminar entitled “ASEAN approach to human rights in North Korea,” with Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman and Prof. Harkristuti Harkrisnowo as the main speakers. This seminar became heated when the delegation from the North Korean Embassy to Indonesia attended this activity and denied the existence of human rights violations in North Korea, as apparently Special Rapporteur Marzuki Darusman never set foot into North Korea.

NKHR and ELSAM also held a closed discussion with the representatives of ASEAN missions in Jakarta on Thursday, 18 September 2015, led by Special Rapporteur Marzuki. Hyuk Kim also shared his experience in North Korea to the audience.

On 19 September 2015, NKHR and ELSAM expanded its network by making a trip to Bandung, giving a presentation on the human rights situation in North Korea, which was held at the Faculty of Law, Padjadjaran University, in collaboration with the Society for Human Rights (PAHAM). The visit to Bandung was complemented with a special meeting with representatives of the Government of Bandung. The urgency of this meeting was necessary in view of the statement of the Mayor of Bandung claiming Bandung as a human rights friendly city, so that the effort of solidarity at the local level can be raised in order to eradicate human rights violations in North Korea.

In addition to formal and academic activities, the North Korean Human Rights Week also featured a variety of activities to raise public awareness through screening of the movie “Crossing,” accompanied by a discussion with Chunhyok Kang; and the “Art for Human Rights in North Korea and Indonesia” featuring Chunhyok Kang and Yaya Sung, and Indonesia artist whose work reflects the condition of contemporary human rights in Indonesia, and The White Shoes and the Couples Company to close the 2015 North Korean Human Rights Week in 2015.

Writer: Benhard RF Sumigar