anotherlongshot (anotherlongshot) wrote,
anotherlongshot
anotherlongshot

Justice Kirby on 'Unspeakable' Crimes against Humanity in North Korea

I attended Justice Michael Kirby's talk on the UN Human Rights Council report on the human rights situation in North Korea. It was held in King's College London and I was made aware of this event by Paz, whom I was supposed to meet on Wednesday evening but on whom I bailed because I couldn't handle going out in the evening after two hours of tennis in the morning and two-and-a-half hours of tennis in the afternoon.

The night before, I literally did not sleep a wink, thanks to this pot of filter coffee that I stupidly ordered in the afternoon. It made me jittery and anxious throughout the entire afternoon and while I expected to have difficulties sleeping later on that night, I did not think that I would be utterly unable to fall asleep until 7 in the morning. I woke up 2.5 hours later to meet an international human rights lawyer that I contacted on LinkedIn, who turned out to be super nice and very American - in the positive way. I really appreciated that the first thing that she said to me was that I had my whole career ahead of me; and that just because London wasn't happening now, doesn't mean that it will never happen. It was too bad that I was so exhausted and zonked out because I forgot a couple of things that I wanted to ask her.

Anyway, I digress. The point of talking about my horrendous night is to say this: the mark of a truly brilliant speaker is his ability to fully engage a person struggling to survive on two hours' worth of sleep in a one-way lecture. I knew who Justice Kirby was, including that he is openly gay, but that was about it. I was pleasantly surprised when he proved to be tremendously charismatic from the second that he opened his mouth - and from that moment on, I absolutely hung on to his every word. It wasn't even about the fact that he was talking about an absorbing issue that I was obviously interested in; I found myself on the verge of falling asleep when his colleague on the report took over the microphone, and she was saying a lot of interesting things too. It was too bad for her that she had to follow Justice Kirby because he was honestly one of the most engaging and eloquent speakers that I've had the privilege of listening to in my whole life.

To add to that, he managed to do what one full unit of International Human Rights at the LSE couldn't: convince me that these UN-sanctioned reports actually serve a purpose. Despite apparently coming in #1 for International Human Rights (no fucking idea how, by the way; still don't know how I didn't fail one of the questions), I came away from it feeling utterly disillusioned with the entire international human rights regime and, by extension, international law. The mechanisms are put in place with good intentions, of course, but the results and their effectiveness are usually so politically-driven that I found offensive how something as important as human rights are made subordinate to the selfish geopolitical alliances of countries, and how international law too often proves to be toothless and weak in the face of blatant violations by powerful countries, such as the United States. To me, law is only law if (among other things) it is enforceable, and equally enforceable across the board; and international law often fails these two criteria. It all felt like a bit of a farce: the US getting away with torture, with the UN Torture Committee writing a preposterous report recognising the violation, but having no balls to condemn it out right; the UN Security Council paralysing itself and failing to act in serious humanitarian catastrophes because Russia and China continue to support dictatorial regimes; the UN and its various charter/treaty bodies produce a bunch of reports that nobody reads and which does nothing to change the actual lives of the people about whom those reports are written.

I was sceptical about this particular report on North Korea. It seemed like yet another exercise in futility, in which well-meaning members of the 'international community', whatever that really means, tries to bring a very serious issue to the fore of the internationa arena, just to be blithely ignored or subtly diminished by politicians who are more interested in North Korea's nuclear programme; or worse, to find out that nothing has changed on the ground, or that they can't do jack about the problem because the UN Security Council is inherently flawed, which arguably makes the entire UN Charter regime and other mechanisms that are dependent on UNSC resolutions flawed as well.

However, Justice Kirby made an important point. The high profile nature of this report gives it the attention that it deserves. It acts as a vessel through which North Korea defectors can talk about their horrendous experiences at the hands of the regime. Accordingly, it makes continued inaction and indifference inexcusable; we can longer say 'if only we had known', because now, we do know. (And it's horrible. I intend to read parts of the 370-page report but some of the atrocities include forced abortions of half-Han Chinese babies, simply because the regime considers Han Chinese ethnically impure...ha ha ha ha ha what a bunch of psychos. I would feel offended but it's just all so scary to me.)

Apparently, the report ultimately recommends that the UN Security Council confers the ICC with jurisdiction to prosecute those responsible for the crimes against humanity in North Korea. I think it's a bit optimistic, considering China continues to align itself with North Korea, but it would be interesting to see how this plays out over the next few months.

On a slightly different note, I find it shocking how this atrocious situation in North Korea has been allowed to persist for such a long time. It actually proves the continued failings of the international human rights regime and how politics often win the day. It was really because of all that I found out at the LSE about the ineffectiveness of international human rights law that I wanted to do domestic human rights legal work - I wouldn't be able to stand the non-result, the doing the same shit over and over for years and seeing that nothing has changed, of waiting years for an outcome, if you get one. But Justice Kirby's talk reminded me that these are serious issues; that people's lives are being destroyed for no reason; and that it's better to try and do something within what we've got, flawed as it may be, than to do nothing at all.

*

I'm gonna be living in The Hague for four months while I provide my talents to the ICTY for free. Yay? Yay! I'm not looking forward to the logistics of moving to another country from a country that isn't my home country, but I am looking forward to living in a new country, and, more importantly, seeing how these international tribunals actually work. I applied to the Appeals division of the Office of the Prosecutor...yes, I do feel a bit icky about this as I've always been pro-defence, and my stand, if it is truly principled, shouldn't change alongside the gravity of the crime in question. The point, though, was to do appellate work because I prefer to deal with law rather than facts, and I'm hoping this means that I won't have to look at depressing pictures as much. I'm not sure how long I'd last if I had to look at pictures of people being murdered or tortured all the time; looking at the 3 pictures on the ICTY's 'About' page made me want to cry.

Sometimes, I wish I could make things easier for myself and just like something stuid, like money. What's depressing about money, right? (That is, except for when you don't have it.) Alas, I am who I am, and so I'm just gonna have to deal with it.

*

A quick note about Wednesday's afternoon tennis session: I really wanted to beat my partner. I was leading 3-0 in the first set. I eventually lost 6-4. I was annoyed at myself because it was an entirely winnable set and as usual, I don't know what happened. I guess one positive was that I did try to cut down on the number of errors; but the downside was that I was hitting these puff balls with nothing on them which would've been murdered by someone with better skills.

Also, this may seem obvious, but I'll say it anyway: I hate playing in windy, cold conditions. The wind is very frustrating to deal with and when I get frustrated with the elements, I play like shit. Sounds like an excuse...yeah, that's exactly what it is.

Tags: human rights, north korea, personal, playing tennis
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