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Date : December 11, 2013
ICNK Co-Hosts Legal Forum at Korea Bar Association
On Tuesday, Lawyers for Human Rights and Unification of Korea (LHUK) and the International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK) co-hosted an event titled "Improvement of North Korean Human Rights through the International Court."  Held at the Korea Bar Association in Seoul, the night's featured speaker was Sir Geoffrey Nice QC--a British human-rights lawyer most famous for his position as deputy prosecutor at the trial of Slobodan Milosevic.  Since then, Sir Nice has done extensive pro bono work for victims groups, and was also the keynote speaker at an international conference about North Korea on Monday.

In introducing Sir Geoffrey Nice QC, Kim Tae Hoon, president of LHUK, pointed out that the event's date falls exactly on the 65th anniversary of the United Nations' adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.  Mr. Kim reminded the audience though that "At this very moment, people in North Korea are suffering from egregious human rights abuses." 

A frequently mentioned topic among the speakers was the recent ouster of Jang Song Taek, formerly one of North Korea's top leaders before he was unceremoniously purged from his rank by Kim Jong Un last week.  Following that move, it is widely expected that a large number of North Koreans loyal to Mr. Jang could also be prosecuted, with some human rights advocates estimating that as many as 30,000 people could be sent to prison camps.

In Sir Nice's 45-minute presentation, he focused primarily on the opportunities and shortcomings inherent in the International Criminal Court process.  Among his pieces of advice were to never "let outsiders meddle with your evidence under any circumstances."  He recounted an incident from the Milosevic trial, in which documents containing crucial pieces of evidence for his case were blacked out and obscured from public view by one of the states involved (which he is not allowed to identify by name).  Similarly, he emphasized caution about having high expectations for the international community to condemn another nation, stating that "if you're a state, and you are doing a balancing act between your interests and justice, your interest will trump justice.  Those of us who want justice to prevail in good causes, like North Korea, must recognize that as well."

If the international justice system fails to hold those responsible for abuses accountable though, Nice warned against "sitting back and feeling sorry."  There are many other avenues to pursue justice, he maintained, including so-called informal tribunals, which look at evidence, comprise a team of intelligent and fair minds, and prepare a judgment.  Such unofficial tribunals have already taken place to assess the crimes committed by Americans during the Vietnam War, and more recently, in the case of Japanese "comfort women," who viewed the informal tribunals as a means of having their suffering and abuse recorded, even if the Japanese government has not been willing to confess for what it did.

In his opening speech at the event. Lee Yong Woo, former Justice of the Korean Supreme Court, said that while pressure is mounting in the U.S. and other countries regarding North Korea's alleged crimes against humanity, South Korea is "falling short, and we are embarrassed."  The visit of a prestigious man of the law like Sir Nice though, he said, "will work as a compass to guide us."  

Following the speeches, the event's attendees, ranging from students to retired lawyers, felt empowered to keep fighting for justice.  In the words of Wi Choel Hwan, president of the Korea Bar Association, "a drop of water may not do anything to a rock, but if it drips over and over, it will eventually leave a hole."

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