US, South Korean, and International Civil Society Groups Call for Immediate De-Escalation of Military Tensions on the Korean Peninsula

We, the undersigned civil society groups from the United States, South Korea, and around the world, are deeply concerned about the dramatic rise in military tensions on the Korean Peninsula. To avoid a potentially catastrophic war that would impact millions of people, we urge the governments of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK, aka North Korea), the Republic of Korea (ROK, aka South Korea), and the United States to immediately suspend all missile tests and war drills that escalate tensions on the Korean Peninsula and instead return to the negotiating table and pursue a step-by-step diplomatic approach to build trust, address nuclear risk, and normalize relations.

As history has shown, diplomacy is the only way to resolve this conflict. Past agreements have resulted in the freezing of North Korea’s nuclear program, the suspension of war drills, and other actions that have de-escalated tensions. They have also led to reunions of separated families, the repatriation of remains of fallen soldiers, and the creation of joint economic zones and liaison offices. What has caused these agreements to fail is a fundamental mistrust driven by the unresolved Korean War. Now is the time for renewed diplomacy between all sides that aims to both reduce tensions and lay the groundwork for a formal end to the Korean War.

The unresolved Korean War is the root cause of the security crisis on the Korean Peninsula. We call on the United States, North Korea, and South Korea to engage in talks toward formally ending the 73-year-old Korean War by signing a peace agreement, which is the most crucial step toward the ultimate goal of building a lasting and stable peace regime on the Korean Peninsula. The lack of peaceful resolution to the Korean War has resulted in increasing militarization and the risk of renewed conflict at any time. The human costs of this unresolved war have included the division of families, the death and mutilation of people due to landmines, forced military conscription, the destruction of farmland and the environment for military bases, and the redirection of resources away from basic human needs towards weapons of death.

We urge President Joseph Biden, Chairman Kim Jong Un, and President Yoon Suk-Yeol to stop the destructive arms race, take steps now to prevent a potentially catastrophic war, and set the table for peace talks. The year 2023 will mark 70 years of the Korean Peninsula and its people living under the armistice state. It’s time to replace the fragile armistice agreement with a lasting peace agreement. We demand peace in Korea now!

우리 미국, 한국, 그리고 전 세계의 시민사회단체들은 한반도의 군사적 긴장이 극도로 높아지는 것을 깊이 우려하고 있습니다. 수백만 명의 사람들에게 재앙적인 영향을 미칠 수 있는 전쟁을 피하기 위해 남과 북 그리고 미국 정부는 한반도의 군사적 긴장을 고조시키는 미사일 발사와 전쟁 연습을 즉시 중단해야 합니다. 군사 행동이 아니라 협상의 장으로 돌아와 단계별 외교적 접근을 통해 신뢰 구축과 핵위험의 해결, 관계 정상화를 향해 나아갈 것을 촉구합니다.

역사가 보여 주듯이 외교는 갈등을 해결하는 유일한 방법입니다. 과거의 합의들은 북한의 핵 프로그램을 동결시켰고, 전쟁연습의 중단과 긴장 완화 등 여러 행동으로 이어졌습니다. 또한 이산가족 상봉과 전사자 유해 송환, 공동 경제협력 구역과 공동연락사무소 개설로 이어졌습니다. 이러한 합의들이 실패하게 된 원인으로는 아직 해결되지 않은 한국전쟁으로 인한 근본적인 불신이 있습니다. 지금이야말로 외교의 장을 다시 열어 긴장을 완화하고 한국전쟁을 공식적으로 끝내기 위한 기틀을 마련해야 합니다.

해결되지 않은 한국전쟁은 한반도 안보위기의 근본 원인입니다. 우리는 한반도의 항구적이며 안정적인 평화체제 구축이라는 궁극적 목표로 나아갈 수 있도록 남과 북, 미국이 평화협정을 체결하여 70년에 이르는 정전상태의 한국 전쟁을 공식적으로 끝내는 대화에 나설 것을 촉구합니다. 한국전쟁의 평화적 해결을 이루지 못한 상태는 군사화를 심화시키고 어느 때라도 무력충돌이 재개될 위험을 초래합니다. 평화적 해결의 부재는 이산가족, 지뢰 피해로 인한 사망과 부상, 징병제, 군사 기지로 인한 농지와 환경의 파괴, 사람들의 기본 욕구 충족을 위한 자원을 죽음의 무기 개발과 구입으로 전환 등의 문제들을 낳고 있습니다.

우리는 바이든 대통령과 김정은 위원장, 윤석열 대통령이 파괴적인 군비 경쟁을 중단하고 재앙을 몰고 올 수 있는 전쟁을 막기 위한 조치를 취하며, 평화를 위한 협상에 나설 것을 촉구합니다. 2023년은 한반도에서 전쟁이 끝나지 않은 정전 상태의 삶이 이어져온 지 70년이 되는 해입니다. 취약한 정전협정을 평화협정으로 대체하여 항구적인 평화의 길로 나서야 할 때입니다. 우리는 지금 당장 한반도의 평화를 요구합니다!

Signed

Tomás Ojea Quintana

Action One Korea

All Saints’ Episcopal Korean Church

America Korea United Society

Atlanta SaSaSe

Campaign for Peace, Disarmament and Common Security

CODEPINK

Fellowship of Reconciliation (FOR-USA)

Friends Committee on National Legislation (FCNL)

gyeole-uigil minjoggwangjang

Global Zero

Hawai’i Peace and Justice

International Fellowship of Reconciliation – IFOR

International No to war – no to NATO network

Just Foreign Policy

KANCC-Washington Regional Association

KAPAC

Korea Peace Now!

Korea Peace Now! Grassroots Network – PNW Chapter

Korean American National Coordinating Council, Inc

Korean New Zealander for a better future

Koreans for woorischools

MADRE

Massachusetts Peace Action (MAPA)

Mennonite Central Committee (MCC)

National Council of Churches in Korea

New England Korea Peace Campaign

OC Korean Open Forum

Okinawa Women Act Against Military Violence

Parallax Perspectives

Peace Action New York State

Peace Depot Inc. Japan

Peace Philosophy Centre

Quincy Institute

Rail of Hope

Rochdale and Littleborough Peace Group

Stop the War Coalition Philippines

United for Peace and Justice

Urinuri Peace Corp.

Veterans For Peace, Chapter 35

Veterans For Peace, Chapter 113-Hawai’i

Veterans For Peace – NYC Chapter 34

Veterans For Peace Phil Berrigan Memorial Chapter

Win Without War

Women Against War

Women Cross DMZ

Women Transforming Our Nuclear Legacy, NuclearWakeUpCall.Earth

World BEYOND War

World Resource Center

Young Christian Academy 기독청년아카데미

6.15공동선언실천 엘에이위원회

경기평화교육센터

대한민국 민족문학 연구회

도쿄민주실천연대

미주 함석헌 사상연구회

미주동포전국협회 (NAKA)

미주지역 5.18 광주민중항쟁 동지회

미주한미여성 평회넷웤

미주희망연대

민주시민네트워크

법치민주화를 위한 무궁화클럽

생명평화정의 전북기독행동

생명평화포럼 / Life and Peace Forum

시드니 평화의 소녀상 연대

시애틀늘푸른연대

애틀란타행동

이스크라21

일본군위안부할머니와함께하는마창진시민모임

자유언론실천재단  이사장

전교조전남지부

정상추 네트워크

진보 3.0

평택평화센터

한국에클레시아생명학연구원(ISEL)

한미 에큐메니칼 평화정의넷웤

한민족유럽연대 Solidarity of Korean people in Europe

한사상연구소

함석헌 사상연구회

흥사단 뉴욕지부

A Letter to the State Department to Lift the Travel Ban

The Honorable Antony J. Blinken

Secretary of State

U.S. Department of State

2201 C Street, NW

Washington, DC 20520

September 6, 2022

Dear Secretary Blinken:

We, the undersigned individuals, write to express our disappointment in the State Department’s August 23, 2022 decision to renew the 2017 travel ban to the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) instituted by the Trump administration and urge you to make modifications to the ban while working to sunset it.

As those who have traveled to North Korea for humanitarian activities, family reunions, the repatriation of U.S. service member remains, and peace and reconciliation initiatives, we understand the importance and urgency of continuing people-to-people engagement in North Korea, especially as tensions mount on the Korean Peninsula. We believe the ban—which is the only such ban on the freedom of movement by U.S. citizens—is not only unnecessary but harmful.

For over thirty years, thousands of Americans have traveled safely and without incident to North Korea to reunite with loved ones, engage in educational and cultural activities, and deliver life-saving humanitarian aid. From 2000 to 2017, an estimated 6,000 Korean Americans traveled to North Korea, many seeking to reunite with family members from whom they became separated due to the Korean War. Since the early 1990s, U.S. humanitarian organizations safely sent hundreds of aid workers to North Korea, including outside of the capital city of Pyongyang. These people-to-people exchanges and humanitarian activities are crucial to advancing the U.S. national interest and building trust with North Korea but have been largely halted as a result of the 2017 travel ban.

We urge the Biden administration to lift or amend the North Korea travel ban for these reasons:

1. First, it would fulfill decades of U.S. promises to allow Korean Americans to reunite with their family members in North Korea. An estimated 10 million Koreans became separated from their families as a result of the Korean War. In 2001 U.S. officials estimated that approximately 100,000 Korean Americans still had loved ones in North Korea. Days before his election, President Biden pledged to reunite “Korean Americans separated from loved ones in North Korea for decades.” The United States has a moral obligation to facilitate these reunions as quickly as possible, as time is running out for many of these elderly Korean Americans. By sunsetting the 2017 travel ban, the Biden administration will help thousands of Korean Americans reunite with their loved ones and end the longest humanitarian crisis in the world.

2. Secondly, ending the travel ban will enable civil society efforts and people-to-people exchanges that will help break down barriers and build trust between the people of our two nations. For example, in 2015, representatives of Women Cross DMZ, a U.S.-based women’s peacebuilding organization, traveled to North Korea for a women’s peace symposium and peace walks. The historic meeting of American and North Korean women, which included retired U.S. Army Colonel and U.S. Diplomat Ann Wright and a five-star North Korean general, would not have otherwise been possible. These exchanges help transform 70 years of enmity between the peoples of two nations still technically at war and are vital to fulfilling U.S. commitments in the 2018 regime on the Korean Peninsula.”

3. Thirdly, ending the travel ban will help facilitate the repatriation of the remains of the U.S. servicemen in North Korea, particularly in negotiating permission for non-governmental research teams to access known Korean War U.S. air loss sites to learn the fate of still-missing crewmen. By ending the travel ban, a crucial non-governmental channel would reopen and contribute to building trust between the two nations, potentially advancing future negotiations between the U.S. and North Korea.

4. Finally, ending the North Korea travel ban will allow U.S. humanitarian organizations to resume their work, enabling the delivery of life-saving aid to the most vulnerable populations in North Korea. For decades, reputable U.S. aid organizations with long-standing programs in North Korea were our strongest, most well-informed, and trusted channels of communication between the United States and North Korea. The travel ban, however, has greatly restricted and, at times, entirely shut down U.S.-based humanitarian and development projects in North Korea. While the State Department’s travel ban has exemptions for humanitarian and Red Cross workers, journalists, and those acting in the “national interest,” virtually every aid organization has reported that the process of applying for these Special Validation passports is cumbersome and unpredictable, greatly hindering their operations. The application process provides no clear timeline, and it can take up to 55 days for NGOs to receive a determination. This has undeniably obstructed vital work, causing delays in life-saving aid and treatment.

By lifting the U.S. travel ban to North Korea, the Biden administration would help heal the wounds of the 71-year-old Korean War and uphold the constitutionally protected right of travel.

 

Thank you for your consideration, and we look forward to your timely response.

Sincerely,

Christine Ahn, Executive Director, Women Cross DMZ

Joyce Ajlouny, General Secretary, American Friends Service Committee

Mickey Bergman, on behalf of Governor Bill Richardson Center for Global Engagement

Abigail Disney, filmmaker, philanthropist and social activist

Rick Downes, President, Coalition of Families of Korean & Cold War POW/MIAs

Suzy Kim, Amnesty International USA (South) Korea Country Specialist

Orin O’Brien, Double Bass, New York Philharmonic (retired)

Kee B. Park, Director, Korea Health Policy Project, Harvard Medical School

Jack Rendler, Amnesty International USA (North) Korea Country Specialist

Chahee Stanfield, Founder and Executive Director, National Coalition for Divided Families

Gloria Steinem, author and activist

Ann Wright, US Army Colonel and US Diplomat (retired), Veterans for Peace

 

CC: Kurt Campbell, National Security Council Coordinator for the Indo-Pacific

Wendy Sherman, Deputy Secretary of State

Kin Moy, Senior Bureau Official of the East Asia and Pacific Affairs Bureau

Sung Kim, US Special Representative for North Korea

Ian Brownlee, Acting Assistant Secretary of State for the Bureau of Consular Affairs

Korean Americans Across the Country Mobilize to End the Korean War

As tensions increase between the United States and North Korea, more than 170 people across the country — mostly Korean Americans — will participate in Korea Peace Advocacy Week, June 13-17, 2022.

This nationally coordinated action is particularly timely as North Korea has ramped up testing of ballistic missiles, and South Korea elected a hawkish president who is further inflaming tensions on the Korean Peninsula. Talks between the United States and North Korea have been stalled since 2019, with no progress on denuclearization. Many experts are concerned that the risk of renewed military conflict remains high due to the lack of a formal resolution to the Korean War and increasing military tensions between the US and China.

Korea Peace Advocacy Week will consist of virtual lobby visits with 139 Congressional offices in 28 states to advocate for H.R.3446, the Peace on the Korean Peninsula Act, which calls for serious, urgent diplomacy in pursuit of a binding peace agreement to formally end the Korean War, and H.R.1504/S.690, the Enhancing North Korean Humanitarian Assistance Act, which aims to ease the impact of sanctions on much-needed humanitarian aid to North Korea. Constituents will also encourage their Senators to support S.2688, the Korean War Divided Families Reunification Act, to facilitate the reunion of Korean Americans and their family members in North Korea.

This year marks the seventh year of coordinated advocacy days for the cause of peace in Korea, and the third year of it being online due to the pandemic. When it first started in 2015, just 12 people participated; the effort has now grown to include nearly 200 people. The Korean War was only halted by an armistice in 1953, and constituents participating in this action see it as the root cause of ongoing tensions between the United States and North Korea, fueling the extreme militarization of the Korean Peninsula.

“With negotiations stalled between the United States and North Korea, and increasing military tensions on the Korean Peninsula, it’s time for members of Congress to step up and let the Biden administration know that it’s time for a bold new approach — a peace-first approach — to engage Pyongyang,” said Christine Ahn, Executive Director of Women Cross DMZ.

“The COVID-19 outbreak in North Korea underscores the urgency for Congress to pass the Enhancing North Korea Humanitarian Assistance Act (ENKHA), which will address many key hurdles for humanitarian aid programs,” said Dan Jasper with the American Friends Service Committee. “Given the country’s borders have largely been closed for over two years, supplies are running low and aid workers may need to respond quickly when the borders do re-open. ENKHA will set aid workers up to act fast.”

“Too often, strict sanctions impact the flow of humanitarian aid to the North Korean people,” said Katerina Parsons, Legislative Associate for Mennonite Central Committee, “As humanitarians and peacebuilders, we want to ensure that U.S. policy is not an obstacle to meeting human need or to the engagement and dialogue that contributes to peace.”

Korea Peace Advocacy Week is organized by the Korea Peace Partnership, which consists of the Korea Peace Network (which includes American Friends Service Committee, Peace Action, Mennonite Central Committee, and others), Korea Peace Now! Grassroots Network (led by Women Cross DMZ), and Peace Treaty Now.

 

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