By Daniel McGee, NLG Foundation Managing Director
In this historic time of building peace in Northeast Asia, the NLG Foundation traveled to South Korea and Japan this May in a delegation sponsored by the International Committee and the Lawyers for Demilitarization and Peace in Korea. Continuing the Guild’s long history of providing support and solidarity to social justice movements globally, our group of six NLG members spent nine days meeting with attorneys, professors, and activists working on peace, demilitarization, and human rights issues.
Just two weeks after the historic Panmunjom Declaration, our delegation landed in Seoul to support South Korean efforts at self-determination and peace. In meetings with the Institute for the People’s Constitution and Minbyun, an association of human rights lawyers, we learned about the long-standing conflict on the peninsula, heard about local efforts for peace and reconciliation, and discussed the nuances of demilitarization.
On May 16th, as North Korea cancelled anticipated peace talks due to US military actions, we visited anti-US activists at Osan Air Force Base and Camp Humphries, where we witnessed firsthand the Max Thunder exercises roaring overhead. While visiting a peace church in the Civilian Control Zone and traveling to the Demilitarized Zone, we met activist Ahn Hak-Sop, who was convicted in South Korea under the National Security Act in 1953 and imprisoned for 43 years. Under the Act, non-violent political activities including praise of North Korea are criminalized. This law has been used to justify human rights abuses and has been viewed as a barrier to reconciliation.
A meeting with a former commissioner of the Korea Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Dong-Choon Kim, and human rights professors Hyo-je Cho and Francis Lee highlighted atrocities committed by various government agencies–including civilian massacres by US forces–and the subsequent official suppression of information. This meeting underscored the importance of reconciling with the past in order to move toward a peaceful future.
Other stops on the delegation included a trip to a special museum exhibit on the Juju uprising and a visit to the Statue of Peace in front of the Japanese Embassy. The Statue memorializes “comfort women” who were forced into sexual slavery by the Japanese during occupation and has been under threat of removal. We were inspired by the activists working to protect the statue through a two-and-a-half year-long 24 hour vigil.
Our time in Seoul ended with a dramatic press conference in front of the US Embassy. Attempts to deliver our statement supporting peace and self-determination to the embassy were initially thwarted by police, who attempted to block our entry. However, we persevered and two representatives from the delegation successfully broke through to deliver the statement.
After leaving Seoul, the delegation traveled to Japan where we met with progressive lawyers in Osaka and Hiroshima, and attended the Japanese Lawyers Association for Freedom (JLAF) Conference in Yonago. In Hiroshima, we visited the Hiroshima Peace Memorial Museum, met with members of the Hiroshima Bar Association, and heard moving testimony from plaintiffs in ongoing cases stemming from the US atomic bombing of Hiroshima in 1945 and against the noise pollution from the US military base at Iwakuni. In Yonago, we received a warm welcome at the JLAF Conference, where we learned more about JLAF efforts to fight the proposed revision of the war-renouncing Article 9 of their Constitution and shared various organizing and fundraising strategies.
The trip was so inspiring for the delegates, and really highlighted the globally destructive impact of US imperialism. We are grateful to our comrades in South Korea and Japan for taking the time to share with us and look forward to reconnecting with members of the JLAF at the 2018 NLG Convention! ■