The 17th General Meeting of the International Parliamentarians’ Coalition for North Korean Refugees and Human Rights –Tuesday, November 24th, 2020. Address to the Conference, in Seoul, by David Alton – Lord Alton of Liverpool
Thank you for inviting me to give you a greeting today from the UK Parliament – where I co-chair the APPG on North Korea, which, after taking evidence from people who had escaped from prison camps and after a visit to the country,. I founded a decade ago
Along with advocates like David Hawk I have long argued for the pursuit of peace while simultaneously advancing human rights.
Recalling how such an approach, with its origins in the Helsinki Accords and vision of Ronald Reagan, Margaret Thatcher and Pope John Paul II, finally brought an end to the Cold War and Soviet Communism I dubbed this “Helsinki with a Korean face.”
It troubles me that the authorities in Seoul, and even in Washington, have forgotten this salutary lesson from history – and have become silent in the face of what the UN Commission of inquiry described as “a State without parallel” guilty of mass crimes against humanity and egregious, appalling human rights violations.
The failure of the Security Council to act on the recommendations of the Inquiry, and to refer the Report to the ICC, leaves a stain on the reputations of the Permanent Members as well as the countless other States who could have brought forward a proposal.
And the idea that these egregious human rights violations no longer occur, or have diminished, would be to suffer from a monstrous case of self-delusion.
As recently as last week we read reports of how North Korea’s regime is forcing its citizens to work extra hours for the State in what it’s calling an “80-day battle,” purportedly to increase production in farming, mining, and factories and to rebuild structures destroyed in a typhoon that hit the country’s eastern region in September.
But how does it use the State’s resources; how does it use the results of forced labour?
Not to feed the people or to create a sustainable and socially just economy but to create weapons of mass destruction and to feather bed the ruling elite.
Last week there were also disturbing reports about North Koreans with Covid 19 being left to die in quarantine camps and reports of North Korean slave labour being used in factories in China’s border town of Dandong – slave labour producing face masks and PPE for export to the West, generating money for dictators and misery for the girls and women forced to work up to 18 hours a day, with little or no time off.
These exploited workers are under constant surveillance and are unable to freely leave the factories.
About 70% of their wages are seized by the North Korean State and no doubt the CCP takes its cut too.
The UN has branded the export of workers to foreign countries by the North Korean regime as State sponsored labour, defined as a form of modern slavery by the International Labour Organization. But what action is taken; where are the targeted Magnitsky-style sanctions against those responsible?
This month the UK Government replied to a question I asked in Parliament about persecution on the grounds of religion or belief – supposedly guaranteed by article 18 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This week is Red Wednesday when we will remember all those who suffer for their faith or beliefs.
The UK says of North Korea that “activities outside state-sanctioned religious groups face severe punishment including arrest, beatings and imprisonment in political prison camps. North Korea sits at the top of Open Doors’ World Watch List of countries where Christians face the most extreme persecution and has done so for the past 17 years. We continue to urge North Korea to uphold its human rights obligations and engage substantively with the international community on this issue”
But if its urging is seen to be the Miaow of a pussy cat or the growl of a paper tiger we shouldn’t be surprised when nothing happens, and no improvements are made.
Virtually every single one of the 30 Articles of the UNDHR are routinely violated in North Korea.
It is why conferences like this are so important.
Please continue to speak up for those who can’t attend conferences; for those without platforms; for those without the freedom to join NGO,s; or to cast votes for their leaders or Governments; for those who are powerless, often incarcerated, tortured or violated; for those without voices, and who need yours, and your energy, your commitment, and your time to help usher in a new era in which North Korea’s people come to enjoy the things which we so easily just take for granted.