Image: Unification Media Group
The WomenCrossDMZ [WCD] group, an
organization comprising female peace activists including Gloria Steinem arrived
in Pyongyang on Wednesday for a march across the DMZ scheduled for Sunday, International
Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. The group hopes to bring international
attention to the unresolved conflict gripping the Korean Peninsula.
Ahead of the visit, ruling Saenuri Party
Assemblyman Ha Tae Kyung; Heo Kang Il of the Committee for the Democratization
of North Korea [CDNK]; Lee Kwang Baek, president of Unification Media Group
[UMG]; and others gathered earlier in the week in Seoul to urge WCD to broach
the human rights issues and engage with the North Korean leadership on these
matters during the event.
During a press interview on May 18th at
Seoul’s National Assembly, Assemblyman Ha stated that he sent an open letter to Leymah Gbowee and Gloria Steinem, two of the organization’s
participants, calling on them to approach the North Korean authorities on the issue of political prison camps and human rights in accordance with
the recommendations stipulated in the UN Commission of Inquiry [COI] on human
rights in North Korea.
“I also included in the letter that North
Korean Party members must address the issue of the barbaric and cruel public
executions taking place in North Korea, especially in the recent case of Hyon
Yong Chol, the defense chief of the Ministry of People’s Armed Forces. In
addition, if WCD comes to South Korea [as planned], I urged them to meet with
representatives from North Korean human rights groups and defector
organizations to discuss North Korean human rights issues,” he explained.
The head of the Unification Media Group,
Lee Kwang Baek, also spoke at the event, saying, “It would be a tremendous
help for peace on the Korean Peninsula if [Steinem] appeals to resolve the nuclear and missile problems, which are obstacles to peace on the Korean Peninsula.”
He added, “Also, the essence of peace and human rights is life, and North
Korea’s public executions go against this very crux [of peace and human
rights]. If Steinem requests an end to these executions, it would be an
enormous help to improving North Korea’s human rights issues.”
CDNK’s Heo Kang Il followed by asserting that “well-intentioned
actions do not always bring about positive results,” noting that the walk will
not “be of any assistance in inter-Korean talks” nor will it mitigate tensions
on the peninsula.
“We are concerned that the event could
actually contradict its initial goal and exacerbate the conflict between the
South and North–along with diverting attention away from the North Korean
people suffering from grave human rights violations,” he said.
Fearful that willful human rights
violations perpetrated by the North Korean authorities will be eclipsed by the WCD
walk, North Korean defector groups gathered outside on the same day with picket signs stating, “Women
Cross DMZ, don’t disregard the North Korean human rights violations in the name