Editorial: Peace Zone in the DMZ and 5th UN Office in Asia
By Carolyn Handschin, Director, WFWPI UN Offices
Civil society initiative: preparing an environment for peace on the Korean peninsula
It is not only the negotiators who are getting impatient. Civil society, especially those engaged in successful cross-border initiatives, are tired of waiting for a signed paper so that they can get on with their peace building activities unhindered. Women-led NGOs engaged on the Korean peninsula met during the 38th and 39th Sessions of the UN Human Rights Council (HRC) in Geneva to share their best practices and develop an alternative to waiting. Two of WFWP’s HRC side events, both titled “Korean Women, South and North: Peace, Reconciliation, Rights and Development”, provided a broad platform for relevant governments, UN bodies and civil society actors to discuss possibilities for peace.
Should the ultimate decision affecting positive change for the oppressed and sanction-weary citizens of the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) depend solely on current governmental tensions and fluctuations? Women’s networks have been quietly building solid bridges of trust between north and south for decades by investing in reconciliation, peacebuilding and humanitarian projects. Is it not better to construct trust from the bottom up, until there is no other option but to come to a political agreement?
Mr. Tomas Ojea Quintana, the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights Situation in the DPRK, agreed in his message to one of these HRC side events, saying, “When I note that all these initiatives...advocate for the involvement of women of all ages for overcoming the challenges of division, and shifting the focus to peacebuilding and development cooperation, I feel that the destiny of the Korean people is in good hands.”
WFWPI as a longtime member, and sometimes co-chair, of the North South Reconciliation Commission and initiator of humanitarian projects for the DPRK over two decades, took the initiative to organize these HRC meetings and briefings. Joining together with the Women’s United Nations Research Network (WUNRN), we launched a proposal to strengthen confidence-building local solutions involving women, peace and development on the Korean peninsula. The premise being that the role of civil society is to anticipate the needs of governments and prepare the base so that they can make wise and sustainable decisions and later support implementation. Peace must be planned and realized with those who care about it most.
Peace Zone in the DMZ for women to prepare the peace process
In the spirit of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security”, a civil society proposal was launched toward governments of North and South Korea to create a Peace Zone in the DMZ. A letter was sent to the Office of the Foreign Minister in the Republic of Korea as well as to the Ambassador of the DPRK at the United Nations, requesting a meeting place or refuge where women could come together to build and implement projects for peace and development. This would be a sanctuary for local needs, knowledge and resources, which might eventually include international expertise. Their actions would help build political and public will for social change and sustainable peace on the Korean Peninsula.
During the side event, it was clear just how much positive news there was to share. Speakers described the marches and international networking of “Women Across the DMZ”. The dozens of meetings with women in the North, youth engagement and humanitarian projects (tree planting, emergency food,school supplies) of WFWPI were highlighted in a video. One representative of the government of the Republic of Korea (ROK) attending the event was not aware of these initiatives. He explained that while women’s role is being promoted in the human rights system in general, it seems to not get as much attention in Korea.
The Director of the “Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative” in Geneva, a research body at the Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies, was invited to supply analysis on the side event theme. She explained, “Making women count is not just counting them. Inclusion doesn’t just happen in negotiation. There are different phases and levels of inclusion, where women’s thoughts are essential. Mass action and change includes workshops and grass roots activities, and involving women’s groups and their implementation of peace efforts.”
5th UN Office in Asia
In a broader context, the final speaker, Heiner Handschin, Director of the UN Office in Geneva of the Universal Peace Federation, reported about an initiative launched by the organization’s founder, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, in 2000 to create Peace Zones in contested conflict-ridden lands. “These peace zones would be havens that exist for the sake of peace, prosperity, and reconciliation,” said Mr. Handschin. “They would be free of racial and sexual discrimination, human rights violations, and war...[and] ecological and environmental havens for the entire natural world.” A proposal was presented for such a project at the DMZ during a conference on disarmament organized in 2009 by UPF, WFWPI and UNIDIR (Disarmament Research) at the UN at Geneva. Speakers included the then Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament (CD) and the Deputy Director of UNIDIR.
The proposal was further expanded to include establishing a major UN Office complex within the DMZ. This future 5th UN Office was foreseen as a hub for peace research, preventive diplomacy, disarmament, interreligious cooperation, and, potentially, an office for advancing the role of women in those fields. Currently, there are four main UN Offices in the world: New York, Geneva, Nairobi and Vienna. Despite two thirds of the world’s population, over one third of the world GDP and the birthplace of five major religions being in Asia, there is no main UN office located there.
In 2014, in co-sponsorship with the governor’s office of Gyonggi province in South Korea near the DMZ, the Segye Times, UPF, WFWPI and other NGOs organized a second conference at the UN in Geneva. Blueprints had been drawn up for a transformation of the DMZ and presented to the international audience from Gyonggi Province. The ideas for a UN Peace Complex, Village and Peace Park included a proposal as to how it could all be financed using gravel from the Imjin river. A government representative from the Asian region hearing this proposal for the first time commented, “This would be a dream come true.” Another said, “You are not even from our region. Why are you advocating this for us?”
In conclusion, institutional changes involving governments are usually not simple or quick. Yet most of what is worth fighting for isn’t. But when civil society is informed, can unite and demonstrate a capacity to put aside narrow interests (a difficulty that states have), their power can and has nudged governments toward a higher good. The development goals are a case in point.
In particular, women can translate their concerns and knowledge as mothers, daughters and sisters to broader social reform. They are often able to move more efficiently, inclusively and compassionately than governments. Advocacy campaigns from NGOs for these projects will continue, seeking partnership with member states in implementing them.