It came to light yesterday that a statement was signed by Japanese intellectuals on August 15th last year expressing remorse on the centenary of Japan’s annexation of Korea. The statement asserts that Japanese involvement in improving North Korean human rights must form a part of its path to redemption.
Since the statement was released only in Japan, in never received attention in South Korea, a colleague of one South Korean participant, Professor Emeritus An Byung Jik of Seoul National University, explained to The Daily NK.
The move was organized and led by a professor from Nishogakusha University, Haruhisa Ogawa, once the president of Society to Help Returnees to North Korea, a Tokyo-based Japanese NGO working for North Korean human rights, and eight other professors and intellectuals. A further seven South Korean intellectuals acquainted with the Japanese participants via NGO-related or academic routes also took part.
The statement said, “In the wake of the centennial of Japan’s annexation of Korea, and as part of we Japanese reflecting upon the past, we must realize that taking a part in human rights development in North Korea can be one form of atonement.”
Continuing on later, it added, “Improving the human rights situation in North Korea, first of all by working to shut down political prison camps, is both a way of making amends following the centennial of the annexation of Korea and a responsibility of all people today.”
“Since North Korea chose the path of Juche thought in 1967, it has become a typical totalitarian state in three ways: through centralized control, a secret police force and forced-labor camps,” the statement went on. “It has become a country without any of the four freedoms outlined in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from fear and freedom from want).”
The signatories added that “Japan and North Korea must establish diplomatic relations, but if Japan were required to pay reparations at that time, the money would be used by the Military-first government, and there is no chance that it would be used to restore human rights.”
The joint statement recognized that an earlier apology from Japan for the annexation of Korea helped to ameliorate anti-colonial sentiment aimed at Japan, and claimed that now is time for the two countries to strengthen their relationship as international partners.
The statement also acknowledged, “The 36-year occupation was responsible for not just a great deal of suffering and loss for the occupied, but also the division of the two Koreas post-liberation, a tragedy which is still continuing today,” going on to explain the purpose of its authors further, “We must not forget those 36 years in history. We want to record all of the things that we need to consider from the perspective of the occupied, as well as the things we need to be remorseful for.”
It further emphasized that the Japan-Korea Annexation Treaty concluded on August 22, 1910 was “abnormal”, and that all treaties leading up to the annexation were invalidated by the Japan-Korea Treaty of 1905.
The declaration was signed by Dr Kazuki Ueda of Fukushima Medical University; Dr Haruhisa Ogawa of Nishogakusha University and seven other Japanese academics, as well as Kim Sang Heon, Chief Director of the Database Center for North Korean Human Rights; An Byung Jik, Professor Emeritus at Seoul University; Benjamin H. Yoon, Chairman of the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights and five other Korean academics.