Remarks Delivered on Human Rights Day to the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea and the OHCHR

On December 10, 2021, Youkyoung Ko, a consultant for Korea Peace Now! and WILPF (Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom), delivered the following remarks to an event hosted by the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea and the UN OHCHR (Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights) to celebrate international Human Rights Day.

Under the overall UN theme of ‘Equality: Reducing inequalities, advancing human rights,’ the event explored ways to improve human rights and equality both in the Republic of Korea and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.

Hello everyone,

Thank you, the Delegation of the European Union to the Republic of Korea and the UN Office of High Commissioner for Human Rights for hosting this meaningful event on the Human Rights Day, and thank you for inviting me to introduce the women-led Korea Peace Now campaign.

Let me introduce first the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, aka WILPF as a consultant for WILPF and Korea Peace Now.

WILPF was established in 1915 during World War I by women who gathered to protest against the war and violence against women opposing the assumption that women can be protected under the conditions of modern warfare.

WILPF has developed struggles for women’s rights and peace around the world, advocating women’s meaningful participation in peace processes.

In 2019, along with Women Cross DMZ, Korean Women’s Movement for Peace and Nobel Women’s Initiative, WILPF launched a transnational campaign, Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War. It is a campaign to educate, organize and advocate for a peace agreement to end the unresolved war.

Korea Peace Now has organized many events and meetings, and produced two reports regarding peace and human rights I introduce today.

In October 2019, Korea Peace Now published “The Human Costs and Gendered Impact of Sanctions on North Korea” written by a panel of experts.

The report highlighted the negative consequences of sanctions on the lives of the North Korean people imposed by the UN Security Council, even though the Security Council has repeatedly stated that the sanctions are not intended to have adverse humanitarian consequences.

The report found that the nonproliferation sanctions regime against the DPRK has grown from a smart sanctions model targeting the military and elite to an almost total embargo on North Korea-related trade, investments and financial transactions since 2016. The exemption mechanisms of the sanctions regime are not sufficient to prevent adverse consequences.

With the report’s findings, Korea Peace Now sent a letter to the UNSC’s Member States, urging them to address the human tragedy by opening the space for dialogue on the adverse consequences, establishing a process to assess the human impact and take action to mitigate and eliminate undue harm, and calling on the relevant parties to formally end the Korean War with a peace agreement.

I would talk about the gendered impact of sanctions in the open discussion.

In February 2021 Korea Peace Now published a report, titled “Path to Peace: The Case for a Peace Agreement to End the Korean War.”

The report found that the unresolved War has had a negative human rights impact on all parties. Governments have diverted resources toward militarism and away from people’s welfare and have imposed restrictions on civil liberties in the name of security.

The report recommends that the United States, South Korea, and North Korea immediately conclude a fair and binding peace agreement that acts as a final settlement of the war.

Whereas pressure has failed for decades to resolve the security issues, all sides agreeing to forgo use of force would be a mutually beneficial ground rule that would sap the tensions, the uncontrolled militarization, and the human costs of war.

The report also recommends women’s meaningful participation in the peace process.  Women have a particular stake in resolving the Korean War due to the gendered impact of war and militarism, and research shows that women’s inclusion in peace processes contributes to more durable peace.

A peace agreement is neither a panacea nor a magic solution for human rights.

But the state of armistice and seven decades of hostile relations have not improved human rights. Peace should be the default between nations.

Let us think about these numbers. The ROK’s defense budget has been increased to around 54.6 trillion KRW  (54.6조 원) approximately 46 billion dollars for next year, while the budget of foreign affairs and unification is 6 trillion KRW(6조 원), 11% of the defense budget.

For context, the ROK’s defense budget is bigger than the estimated gross domestic product of the DPRK. Let’s think about these numbers accumulated for dozens of years.

We need to put much more energy into building trust and reconciliation at various levels, and invest much more resources for exchanges and cooperation than we have done into military buildup and long-standing enmity.

The UN General Assembly and the Human Rights Council have stressed that “peace is a vital requirement for the promotion and protection of all human rights for all,” and “peace is promoted through the full enjoyment of human rights.”

I would remind us of the climate crisis and the pandemic, which call for cooperation with one another as we are connected on our planet.

It’s time to end the seven decades of hostile relations and cultivate an environment for the full enjoyment of human rights.

I will stop here and look forward to discussion.