Ottawa Round Table Part 3 – Canada-DPRK Bilateral Relations by Hartmuth Kroll

Canada-North Korea Bilateral Relations

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

Background

  • Crossed flag pin by Promex GmbH

    Without belabouring the point, the Asia Pacific region matters to Canada, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, North Korea) has long been a destabilizing element in the region.

  • In February 2001, with the support and encouragement of its regional allies. Canada established diplomatic relations with the DPRK.
  • This initiative reflected the view that, over the long term, engagement offered the best prospects for integrating North Korea into the international community of nations.
  • Long-term goals for engagement included full denuclearization, improved governance and political reform, improved human rights and enhanced regional security. Nonetheless, there were few illusions as to what could be achieved immediately. Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 2 – Opening Remarks by Erich Weingartner

Finding the Right Balance to Aid North Korean People

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

Origin of this Round Table

In February 2011 a number of agencies received messages from DPRK authorities urgently requesting food aid. These requests unleashed a vibrant discussion within the humanitarian and policy communities as to whether the need is great enough to warrant emergency aid, and if so, whether monitoring can be sufficiently guaranteed to prevent diversion to the military or the elite at the expense of those most in need.

Assessment missions were sent by the FAO/WFP, the EU, the USA, as well as a consortium of US-based NGOs. All concluded that the food deficit is real, although there was considerable disagreement about the capacity of aid agencies to mount a robust monitoring regime. The EU and a number of countries decided to deliver modest quantities of aid. Canada contributed 2.5 million dollars to the WFP for eventual use in North Korea. The USA continued bilateral negotiations that resulted in a positive decision in December 2011. An announcement was to be made the week that Kim Jong Il died.

In early summer 2011 CanKor initiated discussions among Canadian NGOs as to whether the situation merited a Canadian initiative. Only a very small number of Canadian agencies still delivered modest amounts of targeted food aid to the DPRK. Continuing questions surrounding monitoring standards in the DPRK discouraged other NGOs from initiating any significant new food aid activities.

On the other hand, there were still a number of NGOs interested in convening a round table to engage in discussion about North Korean humanitarian dilemmas. Some were concerned that the food aid debate had become increasingly politicized. What was the basis of decisions surrounding food aid, for example? Were food aid decisions made for humanitarian purposes, or has food become an additional tool in the exercise of coercive diplomacy to further aims such as rolling back DPRK nuclear weapons development, promoting human rights, or encouraging democratic development and/or regime change? Read the rest of this entry »

Ottawa Round Table Part 1 – Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context

Canadian Humanitarians at Round Table in Ottawa

Ottawa Round Table on Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context, 5 March 2012

During the two-week glimmer of hope between the US-DPRK “Leap Day Deal” and the subsequent announcement of North Korea’s satellite launch, a small but persistent group of Canadian humanitarians met in Canada’s capital on Monday, 5 March 2012, to discuss “Humanitarian Aid in the Current North Korean Context”.

The representatives of organizations still actively engaged in assistance to the people of North Korea harbored no illusions that the current transition in the DPRK leadership would melt away the difficulties involved in the provision of humanitarian aid. There was, however, a consensus that whatever the international climate may be at any particular time, engagement is a key to projecting Canadian values into the situation, whether by the government or by civil society. When Canadian government policy is engagement, this tends to support the work of Canadian NGOs, who in turn embody the best of Canada’s reputation for peace and human security. When government policy is non-engagement, the activities of NGOs nonetheless continue to further Canadian values, thus laying the groundwork for future engagement policies.

During the past several years, strategic, military and human rights issues in relation to North Korea have received a considerable amount of attention by Canada and the international community. By and large, humanitarian issues have taken the back seat. The humanitarian group assembled in Ottawa hoped that the plight of the North Korean people would not fall through the cracks. The long-term goal of peace and human security on the entire Korean Peninsula should remain the central focus of Canadian policies. Although the recent leadership change has not yet provided sufficient indicators of change, participants felt that this is an opportune time for Canadian re-engagement to benefit the North Korean people. Read the rest of this entry »

38 North: Human Rights Progress In North Korea: Is It Possible? by Roberta Cohen

[From time to time CanKor alerts readers to papers published by our partner-site 38North. The following article is authored by CanKor Brain Trust member Roberta CohenRoberta Cohen is a Non-Resident Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution specializing in human rights and humanitarian issues; a Senior Associate at the Institute for the Study of International Migration at Georgetown University; and Co-Chair of the the Board of Directors of the U.S. Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK). The opinions expressed by the author are solely her own. Find more articles by Roberta Cohen. Please follow our link to the current article on the 38North site. –CanKor]

Despite hopes, even predictions that Kim Jong Il’s death might usher in progress on human rights in North Korea, no change is yet discernible. North Korean defectors have long speculated that Kim Jong Un would not enjoy the same lockstep support commanded by his father and grandfather and might have to respond in some measure to popular needs and aspirations.[1] The North Korean economy, moreover, might not survive without reform. Even though the government periodically clamps down on private market activity, the people, including some in the government, are increasingly showing themselves to be of a “market mentality.”[2] Since they will not easily relinquish this reliance, it could pave the way toward greater economic freedom and ultimately political reform. New information technology is further eroding the isolation imposed by the regime.

Is this wishful thinking? Even assuming Kim Jong Un were inclined to promote change (a very big unknown), could he do it? He is surrounded by his father’s advisers and hard line repression continues while he consolidates his authority. As one expert put it, Kim Jong Un will not be able “to depart from his father’s legacy until he has fully established himself as the new ruler.” But “the longer he spends strengthening his position based on the same system of brutal repression, the less of a chance he will have to break away.”[3] Arrests and purges have accompanied his ascension to power,[4] reinforced by the support of those in the military, party and elite who stand to benefit from the regime’s continuation.

Tacit support has been given to Kim Jong Un by the international community. Wary of North Korea’s nuclear arsenal and aggressive stance toward the South, and fearful of possible refugee flows and instability, China, the United States and other countries have made ‘stability’ their principal objective. However, in the process of doing so, they have largely sidelined the equally compelling need for justice and human rights.

Of course, unexpected changes can take place in countries deemed unlikely for human rights reform.[5] They may arise less from external pressure than from the ripening of conditions inside the country toward openness and change. Or they may arise from governmental steps to institute reforms to ensure the regime’s survival and secure international aid. In the latter case, North Korea’s surprise announcement of a satellite launch in April appears for the moment to be scuttling prospects for international assistance from the US and other countries and ushering in a period in which prospects for human rights reform look dim. Nonetheless, it is important to identify the signs to look for when trying to gauge whether Pyongyang’s new leaders are ready to head in new directions. Read the rest of this entry »

North Korean Gulag Conference to be held in Washington DC

The US-based Committee for Human Rights in North Korea (HRNK) has announced that a one-day conference will be held in Washington, DC, on Tuesday, 10 April 2012, entitled “Hidden Gulag: Exposing North Korea’s Political Prisoner Camp System & Calling for Its Complete, Verifiable, and Irreversible Dismantlement”. The conference is organized together with the Jacob Blaustein Institute for the Advancement of Human Rights, and will be hosted by the Peterson Institute for International Economics at the C. Fred Bergsten Conference Center (1750 Massachusetts Avenue, NW, Washington, DC 20036).

Two CanKor Brain Trust members have prominent parts in the proceedings. As Chair of HRNK, Roberta Cohen (Non-resident Senior Fellow at The Brookings Institution) will make opening remarks. David Hawk, author of “Hidden Gulag” (First & Second Edition), will be the first presenter in the first panel of the conference.  Read the rest of this entry »

Books: “Witness To Transformation” by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland


WITNESS TO TRANSFORMATION: Refugee Insights into North Korea, by Stephen Haggard and Marcus Noland. Washington DC: Peter G. Peterson Institute for International Economics, 2011. 182 pp. US$23.95 paperback. ISBN 978-0-88132-438-9. This book review was written by CanKor Human Factor Editor Jack Kim.


In a former life as a management consultant, there was one lesson my superiors drilled into me: good decisions were all about data, data, and data. The more data you collected that was of superior quality, the more likely you were going to make a recommendation that would benefit the client.

Of course, that seems like common sense to most of us. But sometimes this simple lesson is lost upon those who make the “above-my-paygrade” decisions in life. Notwithstanding the limits of evidence-based decision-making, there are plenty of instances we can point out in the geopolitical sphere where catastrophic decisions were made with little regard to the data available. For example, Iraq comes to mind. The Rwandan massacre is another example of the world ignoring the evidence available.

But in many cases it is not only the qualitative analysis of data that is the issue – it is a lack of data in itself that prevents us from making decisions we should have otherwise made. When it comes to human rights, the world’s experience with the Cambodian genocide comes to mind. One of the reasons, especially early on, that the world stood idly by as at least two million Cambodians were murdered by Pol Pot and his cronies, was the Khmer Rouge’s ability to manage the information that came out of the country. In short, the atrocities themselves were hidden behind the curtain of control, sparking doubts of credulity in the outside world.

Of course, if there’s any a regime that has been as successful as the Khmer Rouge in controlling information flows, it is Pyongyang. Read the rest of this entry »

Teaching Canadiana to North Korean Defectors

In the week of 20 February the Canadian Embassy in Seoul is launching a new program that will teach Canadian English and the Canadian way of life to North Korean defectors. At the core of the curriculum are Canadian values and concepts such as multiculturalism and parliamentary democracy. 

There are currently some 5,000 Canadian English teachers in South Korea. From among these, a select group of volunteers have been chosen to expose groups of defectors (most of whom already studying at universities in Seoul) to Western culture and global perspectives, at the same time reinforcing Canada’s longstanding commitment to human rights, and to peaceful reunification on the Korean peninsula.

Canadian Embassy in Seoul (photo by CanKor)

The project is organized in partnership with the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, the winner of Canada’s inaugural Diefenbaker Human Rights Award in March 2011. The NKHR has identified Canadian teachers to assist with curriculum development and teach the initial course.

ROK government support has been received via a diplomatic note and in a meeting between Canadian Ambassador David Chatterson and Chun Yung-woo, Senior Secretary to the ROK President for Foreign Affairs and National Security.

The courses will be taught in the Embassy’s public area classroom. One wonders whether, along with learning about Canadian values, the students will gain a healthy appetite for establishing a new life for themselves in Canada–and with what enthusiasm Canadian authorities will welcome them as potential citizens.

For further details about this initiative, including objectives, activities and participants, please see: Inside Canada Defectors Program.

Canada Walks Out On Kim Jong Il Moment of Silence @ UN

So it seems Canada joined many other countries in boycotting this minute of silence requested by the DPRK representative.

As shown in the article, this move had the full support of Canada’s major parties – and in my opinion, was completely appropriate. Some may question whether this was diplomatically correct and whether we were needlessly insulting Pyongyang – and in turn harming any engagement efforts that may take place in the future.

In my opinion, this particular boycott, as well as our own government’s official response to Kim Jong Il’s demise, may, perhaps theoretically do some damage. Yet one has to wonder what exactly we are damaging by taking such a principled stance. Are we at the brink of dismantling North Korea’s nuclear and ballistic missile programs? Are we negotiating some grand deal to allow humanitarian aid into North Korea and close the prison camps? Are we in some major trade talks with North Korea that the rest of the world is not aware of? Is Pyongyang going to turn down food aid through the WFP because most of its major contributors walked out on this moment of silence?

The answer to all those questions is no. At this point of time, the world has very little to lose. In fact one has to wonder how many countries in the world we have to negotiate extensively with so that we can give humanitarian aid to the citizens of that said country. But that’s for another post.

Having a bit of a realist bent in me, I can say that I appreciate when being overtly principled can do damage to achieving a greater goal that may help support the very principles one wishes to be vocal about. For instance, the introduction of a transition program to wean North Korea off what has been a cycle of humanitarian aid in the past ten years could be one example where keeping quiet would benefit the people of North Korea in the long term. Yet this is not such a time. There are no greater goals that are at stake here. And simply put, to pay respects to a man who brutalized his own people violates every principle that Canada stands for – to the point that I would grumble, “political benefits be damned.”

So going back to this moment of silence. A suggestion for the future. What the countries who boycotted this should have done is request another moment of silence: for all those who have been beaten, who have been persecuted, who have been tortured, who have been killed at the behest of Kim Jong Il and his regime.

It only seems fair that if we are to pay tribute to a dictator, we should pay tribute to his victims as well.

Canadian PM Statement on the death of Kim Jong Il

Canadian PM Stephen Harper

Prime Minister Stephen Harper today issued the following statement on the death of Kim Jong-il:

“Kim Jong-il will be remembered as the leader of a totalitarian regime who violated the basic rights of the North Korean people for nearly two decades.
“We hope his passing brings positive change allowing the people of North Korea to emerge from six decades of isolation, oppression and misery. The regime’s reckless decisions have resulted in North Korea being an impoverished nation and a country isolated from the international community because of its dangerous nuclear proliferation and ballistic missile programs.
“At this critical juncture, we urge North Korea to close this sad chapter in its history and to work once more towards promoting both the well-being of its people and stability on the Korean peninsula.”

Statement on PM Harper’s website.

Meeting refugees from North Korea by Mary Robinson

[After a 48-hour visit to the DPRK and ROK in late April, four members of the Elders urged immediate delivery of humanitarian assistance to DPRK and an early resumption of dialogue on all outstanding issues. Mary Robinson, the first woman President of Ireland (1990-1997) and former United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997-2002), has spent most of her life as a human rights advocate. Currently based in Dublin, Mary Robinson founded Realizing Rights: The Ethical Globalization Initiative and, more recently, the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice. She traveled to DPRK and ROK together with fellow Elders Gro Brundtland, Jimmy Carter and Martti Ahtisaari. –CanKor.]

Mary Robinson

In Seoul today I have just had a very moving meeting with a group of courageous young people – mainly young women – who are originally from North Korea. As they told me how they came to be living in South Korea, I also got a further glimpse into the true hardship of life in the DPRK.

Of course I have just been in North Korea – but it was impossible to have truly frank conversations with ordinary people while we were there – and we knew that what we saw would only touch the surface of the suffering that we had been briefed about.

The young people I met at the Yeomyung School in Seoul had almost all been separated for long periods from their parents, most of whom left North Korea out of desperation. A lack of food was mentioned by almost all as the reason for leaving. Read the rest of this entry »

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