Reconciling the Human Factor, by Erich Weingartner

[This article, first published on our partner-website 38North on Tuesday, 28 May 2013, is based on presentations given at Glendon College, York University in Toronto in April, and at UCLA, Los Angeles in May. It represents CanKor’s attempt to provide a framework for rational discussion among conflicting policy alternatives aimed at relieving the suffering of North Korean people. CanKor Editor Erich Weingartner has been involved with Korea since 1978, spending half his career working on human rights and the other half dealing with humanitarian assistance. –CanKor]

Understanding the North Korean Human Rights/Humanitarian Divide

Author Erich Weingartner at the UCLA conference on Ending the Korean War (Photo by Kil Sang Yoon)

Author Erich Weingartner at UCLA conference on Ending the Korean War (Photo by Kil Sang Yoon)

With political leaders and the media perpetually focused on the behavior of a young hereditary leader and his nuclear-armed military, does anybody really care what happens to ordinary people in North Korea? There are two major constituencies internationally that do care: the humanitarian community and the human rights community.

When widespread starvation in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) became evident in the mid to late 1990s, humanitarian agencies launched a massive and largely successful rescue effort to stem the famine. Human rights organizations have meanwhile played a pivotal role in exposing North Korea’s dismal record of abuses, culminating in the recent appointment by the United Nations Human Rights Council of a Commission of Inquiry (CoI).

Since both claim that their objective is to ease the plight of suffering North Koreans, you might think these communities would be natural allies. But sadly, those working on North Korean human rights do not seem to get along very well with those providing humanitarian assistance to the DPRK. Not only do their goals and methods often contradict each other, their practitioners sometimes engage in verbal battles and mutual recrimination. This conflict is likely to intensify now that the three-member CoI has begun its one-year assignment. Read the rest of this entry »

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Ending the Korean War: conference report by Peggy McInerny

[CanKor editor Erich Weingartner spoke at a recent UCLA Center for Korean Studies conference, which brought together a wide range of speakers to reconsider how to end a war that never technically ended. Peggy McInerny, the author of the article which follows, is Director of Communications at the UCLA International Institute. A full conference summary may be read here: The Heartbreak of a Divided Nation by Peggy McInerny. –CanKor]

Podium and first row, left to right: Paul Liem, Korea Policy Institute; Dorothy Ogle, former Methodist missionary to South Korea; Pilju Kim Joo, Agglobe Services International; Indong Oh, M.D.; Jeong Young-Hee, farmer and peace activist from Gangjeong, Jeju Island; Christine Ahn (back turned), Global Fund for Women and Oakland Institute, and daughter. Top row, left to right: Moon Jae Pak, M.D., U.S.-North Korea Medical Science Exchange Committee; historian Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago; Erich Weingartener, CanKor; Rev. Syngman Rhee; James Chun, One Korea Movement; Hosu Kim, City University of New York. (Photo by Peggy McInerny)

Podium and first row, left to right: Paul Liem, Korea Policy Institute; Dorothy Ogle, former Methodist missionary to South Korea; Pilju Kim Joo, Agglobe Services International; Indong Oh, M.D.; Jeong Young-Hee, farmer and peace activist from Gangjeong, Jeju Island; Christine Ahn (back turned), Global Fund for Women and Oakland Institute, and daughter. Top row, left to right: Moon Jae Pak, M.D., U.S.-North Korea Medical Science Exchange Committee; historian Bruce Cumings, University of Chicago; Erich Weingartner, CanKor; Rev. Syngman Rhee; James Chun, One Korea Movement; Hosu Kim, City University of New York. (Photo by Peggy McInerny)

The UCLA Center for Korean Studies hosted a conference entitled “Ending the Korean War” on May 9, 2013. The meeting brought together a wide range of speakers — historians, sociologists, former missionaries, peace activists, Korean War survivors, and people currently engaged in humanitarian projects in North Korea — to reconsider how to end a war that never technically ended. Instead of a peace agreement, the United States and North Korea signed an armistice agreement in 1953 on behalf of their allies on each side.

Sixty years later, the Korean Peninsula remains heavily militarized, the United States has still not recognized North Korea, and acute tensions between the two states earlier in 2013 threatened to lead to military conflict.

Historian Bruce Cumings of the University of Chicago, where he is Gustavus F. and Ann M. Swift Distinguished Service Professor and chair of the history department, served as keynote speaker. In his view, U.S. policy toward North Korea over the past 60 years, which has consisted mostly of nuclear threats, has been a complete failure. Not only does North Korea now have nuclear weapons, as well as long- and medium-range missiles, the two nations are no nearer to a peace agreement than they were in 1953. Read the rest of this entry »

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