Protecting Fundamental Freedoms

Lord David Alton


LDA1North Korea Case Reports and Human Rights Violation: From Documentation to Advocacy – why human rights in North Korea are key. The international community, which for so long has appeared indifferent to the fate of women like Lee Keumsoon should remind itself of Dietrich Bonheoffer’s warning that “Silence in the face of evil is itself evil.” Bonhoeffer perished at the hands of the regime which was responsible for racial cleansing, slave labour, brutal torture and manifold abuses of human rights. It is difficult not to see parallels with a country where the United Nations and human rights organisations say that an estimated 200,000 people are trapped in network of gulags and camps. The testimonies of survivors leave the world with no opportunity to plaintively assert that it did not know. Read full article
LDA2The Gulags of North Korea
At a hearing which I recently chaired in the Moses Room of the House of Lords, we took evidence from two north Korean dissidents who escaped from the country’s gulags – where 200,000 people are incarcerated. These were some of the most moving first-hand accounts I have ever heard. Shin Dong-Hyok, who is 25, spent the first 23 years of his life in North Korea’s Political prison Camp 14, where he was born. As a child he described how he witnessed fellow child prisoners being killed through accidents and beatings. He told me that children and parents were required to watch and report on one another. He was forced to work from the age of 10 or 11. His parents were sent to the camp in 1965 as political prisoners. Read full article
LDA3Heart Rending Accounts of Korean Abductees – Testimonies Given at Westminster
The human consequences of the Korean War still reverberate – sixty years after the armistice was agreed. This week I encountered some of those consequences when I met with two of the families of Korean War abductees and the pain of separation was still quite evident – even after the passage of so much time. A separate group came to describe a further abduction which occurred in 1969 and a son decsribed how he has been separated from his father ever since.They were at Westminster to give their heart rending testimonies. Lee Mi-il’s father, Lee Seong-hwan was one of an estimated 100,000 people who were abducted by the North Koreans during the course of hostilities and never allowed to return to their families. Read full article
LDA4Death on the North Korean Border
The South Korean singer Psy -Park Jai-sang – became the first Korean to top the British pop charts with the amusing, quirky, dance track “Gangnam Style”, North Korea’s Vice Foreign Minister, Pak Kil-yon, was addressing the United Nations General Assembly. There was nothing much to be amused by in a speech in which he said the deteriorating situation on the Korean Peninsula had made it “the world’s most dangerous hotspot”, which could “set off a thermonuclear war.”
Psy has become an Internet phenomenon, clocking up a staggering 300 million views on YouTube with a dance routine in which he pretends to ride an imaginary horse. Mr. Pak Kil-yon’s comments may not have excited the same degree of interest and the North Korean war horse may be dismissed as imaginary jerky sabre rattling, and calling “wolf”, but the world would be foolish to look away. Instead of indifference we owe it to the people of the North to speak out more clearly on their behalf. Failure to do so could have catastrophic results. Read full article
LDA5Minister’s reply on food being used as a weapon of war in North Korea
My Lords, in the context where a malnourished child is eight times more likely to die than a child of normal weight, and where 3 million children are estimated to die of malnutrition every year, will the Minister undertake to look at the reports of our previous ambassador in North Korea, Peter Hughes, and our present ambassador, Karen Wolstenholme, who have reported on stunted growth, especially among children, in a country where 2 million died during the famine in the 1990s? Will she accept that, however much we may despise a particular ideology, it should be no part of our policy, or indeed that of the United States or any other nation, to try to drive a country into submission by using food as a weapon of war?
Read full article
LDA6Two Papers Given To The All Party Parliamentary Group On North Korea on May 16th 2012 by Mr.Mark Fitzpatrick of IISS and Mrs. Park Sun-Young 
Last year when IISS wrote a dossier on North Korean Security Challenges, we were pessimistic about the security situation on the Korean Peninsula.  We discussed a broad spectrum of security challenges posed by North Korea:  wide-ranging in geographic impact and multifaceted in nature. The immediate security challenges posed by North Korea are formidable.  These include nearly the full array of weapons of mass destruction: 1. a plutonium-based nuclear weapons program now supplemented by uranium enrichment; 2.the world’s third largest chemical weapons arsenal, possibly biological weapons and 3. a range of ballistic missiles that may be able to deliver these weapons to South Korea and Japan, if not today, then later, after more development and testing.  Read full article
LDA7The Predictable Unpredictability of North Korea – and a small cause for hope as North Korea Faces Life Under the Leadership of Kim Jong Un
The Predictable Unpredictability of North Korea – and a small cause for hope. …as North Korea Faces Life Under the Leadership of Kim Jong Un – and the role of Dr.James Kim who will tell the story of the creation of Pyongyang University of Science and Technology at Westminster on February 15th. On Saturday December 17th the North Korean leader, Kim Jong-il, reportedly died of a heart attack. His death was curiously juxtaposed with that of Vaclav Havel – champion of the Velvet Revolution which peacefully saw the evolution of a communist country into a democratic State. All over the world people have been asking, could North Korea also, one day, come in from the cold? Kim Jong-il’s youngest son, Kim Jong Un, who was partially educated in Switzerland, has been named the ‘Great Successor’.  Read full article
LDA8Tentative Steps Towards Religious Reconciliation in North Korea: Vatican Radio Interview
History was made this week as a delegation of religious leaders from South Korea crossed into the communist ruled North on an official visit. The Conference of Religion for Peace delegation includes representatives from the Catholic Catholic Church and other Christian churches, Buddhism, Confucianism, shamanism and other traditional Korean religions. Led by Catholic Archbishop Kim Hee-joong, the leaders stated the rare trip is aimed at “helping bring the two Koreas back onto a path of reconciliation and cooperation”. Lord David Alton is a member of the British House of Lords. A long time campaigner for human rights in North Korea, in particular the right to religious freedom, he is also travelling to the reclusive state this week to deliver an address at the new Pyongyang University of Science and Technology, founded by a South Korean Christian once condemned to death by the North. He notes the significance of the religious leaders visit to Pyongyang – once known as the Jerusalem of Asia – Read full article
LDA9North Korean Witnesses Give Evidence to Parliamentary Hearing about Human Rights Issues
Last week, on June 28th 2011, David Alton chaired an Evidence Hearing in Parliament, which took testimonies from two north Koreans and two other witnesses. Artist and defector Kim Hye Sook spoke of her 27 year incarceration in Yodok prison camp, where she was taken aged 18. She showed a series of her own paintings depicting the suffering she witnessed and experienced first-hand. Mrs Kim used the pictures to explain to the group what a normal working day in “Camp 18″ was like, from the manual labour undertaken by prisoners and scarcity of food provisions to the regular public executions and cannibalism she saw over her 27 years imprisonment. She spoke about the death of her son in the camp. She then produced a map she had drawn from memory of the layout of the camp which was photographed by some of those who attended. A recorded interview with Mrs Kim was broadcast on the Today Programme on the 30th June, linked to here: full article
LDA10March Till They Die – North Korea’s Prison Camps
The dramatic release from North Korea of two American journalists was a timely reminder that the challenge posed by North Korea has not gone away. Laura Ling and Euna Lee were imprisoned after they strayed across the border between North Korea and China. On assignment for Current TV, a company owned by the former American Vice President, Al Gore, they were intending to report on the trafficking of women across the border. The North Koreans sentenced them to 12 years hard labour. Gore’s former boss, Bill Clinton, intervened on their behalf; he flew to Pyongyang, and earlier this month they were released. Their arrest was not entirely unexpected. The Chinese authorities, and missionaries working in the region, had been warning for some time that the North Koreans were looking for high profile scalps to use as bargaining chips.  Read full article
LDA11Universe Column North Korea 2010
The North Korean State has been constructed on the ideology of Juche – total self reliance: “man is the master of everything and decides everything.” Some people describe this as a religion without God. In the heart of Pyongyang, on the banks of the city’s Taedong River, opposite Kim Il Sung Square, stands the Juche Tower.  Completed in 1982, to celebrate Kim Il Sung’s 70th birthday, at 170 metres the Tower stands marginally taller than the Washington Monument, on which is appears to be modelled. To my eye it appears more like the Tower of Babel – the construction of which is described in the Book of Genesis and revolves around man’s determination to compete with God. In the first century a Jewish interpretation of the Tower of Babel, described in Flavius Josephus, explains its construction as a hubristic act of defiance against God ordered by the arrogant tyrant, Nimrod. Whilst making my third visit to North Korea, I was taken to see the Juche Tower.  Read Full Article
LDA12North Korea – A Different Approach – Cambridge University Lecture, January 31st 2011.
Professor Lord Alton of Liverpool, Chairman of the Parliamentary All-Party Committee on North KoreaDon’t Forget The Past.From 1910 until 1945 Korea was forcibly annexed into the Japanese empire. In this period, the Imperial Japanese Army discriminated against, tortured, plundered, raped, summary executed and mass murdered innocent Koreans.  At times the Japanese mercilessly shot random people on the streets and regularly used torture.  Major cultural genocides and war crimes committed by the Japanese include sex slavery and kidnapping of Korean females for the Japanese army, human experiments on live Koreans, burning down of Korean villages and historic and cultural centres, the banning of the Korean language and religions, complete censorship of the media, unfair confiscation of land, food and cultural assets, forced name changes and  Imperial education, which led to a strong rise in anti-Japanese sentiment and Korean nationalism still persistent in our own times in both the north and south of the Korean peninsular. Read full article
LDA13Queen’s Speech debate – North Korea and Darfur
Lord Alton of Liverpool: My Lords, in the gracious Speech, reference was made to North Korea and Darfur. On Thursday last, the Foreign and Commonwealth Office organised a welcome discussion with the United Nations Special Rapporteur on North Korea, Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn. During our discussions, I referred to the 2 million people who starved to death in North Korea, the 200,000 people who languish in modern-day gulags and the estimated 400,000 people who have died in North Korean concentration camps over the past 30 years. It is particularly perverse that at least 30 per cent of that totalitarian state’s GDP is used for armaments and to develop nuclear weapons while its people starve and are trapped in third world poverty.   Read full article
LDA14Three Columns on North Korea
On returning from two weeks on the Korean Peninsular – in both North and South Korea – I remain convinced that there is a historic opportunity to end one of the world’s longest running conflicts. This is the unfinished business of the 1950 to 1953 Korean War, which claimed between 2.5 million and 3.5 million lives, including those of 1,000 British servicemen.With the 1953 ceasefire, the country was severed along the 38th parallel and, technically, the principal combatants are still at war. The stand-off with North Korea is the longest-lived conflict that America has with any other nation.As all Koreans are acutely aware their border bristles with mines, artillery and troops. Anyone who travels in North Korea sees a State whose massive arsenal and resources are overwhelmingly geared to the protection and the survival of the regime. In the aftermath of the Korean War, North Korea’s leaders implemented a policy of “Juche”-or self-reliance-which has led to decades of isolation. Juche has been combined with dynastic rule. Read the article
LDA15The United Nations – saving North Korea from hell
I recently met Professor Vitit Muntarbhorn, the United Nation Special Rapporteur on Human Rights in North Korea.
During our discussion I pointed to the 2 million people who have starved to death in North Korea, the 200,000 who languish in its modern-day gulags, and the estimated 400,000 people who have died in its concentration camps over the past 30 years. It is particularly perverse that at least 30% of North Korea’s national wealth is used for armaments and nuclear development while its people starve and languish in third world poverty. North Korea is a totalitarian State which demands total obedience and which, in the manner of a cult, exerts total control over every aspect of its citizens’ lives. The  United Nations recently promulgated a new doctrine  of the “responsibility to protect” Read the article
LDA16North Korea – A Land That Time Forgot
The collapse of the Soviet Union signalled the end of the Marxist experiment but it has been a long drawn out death. Totalitarianism doesn’t just die, even when walls come tumbling down.Although many of the personnel in the nomenclature who dominated the old Communist regimes have re-invented themselves as market loving social democrats, it is often with varying degrees of real commitment to democracy. Too often they continue to taint the progress of their countries by retaining oppressive control. It will probably only be in the next generation that we will see true meritocracy, totally fair and free elections, and genuine freedom of speech, thought and worship.  Read full article
LDA17Korea’s Suffering Christians
Pope John Paul II has described the church in Korea as “a community unique in the history of the church.” Founded in the late eighteenth century the Korean Church is unique because it alone is the only local Church to have been founded solely by lay people. It is a church founded without missionaries and it is a Church which continues to suffer.200 years ago young Korean intellectuals, such as Yi Pyok, read about Christianity from Chinese books circulating among a group of friends. In 1777 he brought them together to make further study. They met in a Buddhist monastery happily known as the Hermitage of Heavenly Truth.  Read full article
LDA18Engaging not appeasing North Korea
There was always a grave danger that as events played out in Iraq and the Middle East , the world would lose sight of events in North Korea . It is not a matter of speculation whether North Korea has weapons of mass destruction – they have been bellicose in their determination to try and intimidate their neighbours with the nuclear arsenal that they have been developing. But, as I have argued here before, some of the paranoia and isolationism of North Korea is based on the historic fear of an invasion and the time-honoured fear of oppressive regimes that keeping vast numbers of men under arms will indefinitely prevent the need for reform. Against all the odds, there are undoubtedly subtle and sophisticated officials in North Korea who know that both these premises are wrong. Read full article