Saturday, May 30, 2009

TRUTH AND RECONCILIATION


Yesterday I had my formal visit to the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. My work as a chair of the International Monitoring Project of the South African Truth and Reconciliation had been life changing. The effort to collectively heal the trauma of a nation trough truth telling and participation of all sides of conflict was genius. After being in a hearing where victims and perpetrators describe their motives, pain, regret and fears changed the way I performed as a lawyer - returning to integrate healing into my efforts on a much deeper level.

The TRC KOREA has a staff of over 250 people, but with a sunshine provision that phases it out next April (unless extended for two years which is unlikely under the current conservative post-Roh government). While their investigation reveals nearly 500 sites of mass graves, they have only so far been able to excavate at 10. With thousands of petitions from aggrieved families hoping for some truth and justice, they simply have not had the time to complete this important work. It’s like the sand in the hour glass from the Wizard of Oz - or perhaps like the one in Japan that I got with my tea telling me when it would be steeped. That one was movin’ fast.

However, what they have accomplished is so impressive and shocking. The fact that it became the first of its kind is Asia is very important, as the region has done little formally to deal with the often brutal past, be it Japanese Imperialism or the Korean War. Even more impressive is how it came to be. A courageous group of aggrieved families that I have been meeting camped out at the Diet and engaged in a major grassroots movement for several years to gather the bones (literally) and present them with their call for justice. This they did from Seoul to New York. Their efforts resulted in the creation of the TRC. (Check out the TRC work at www.jinsil.go.kr).

I met with Commissioner Dong-Choon Kim, Ph.D. (Standing Commissioner, Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Korea). He and I had met and had a great dinner gathering of Korean activists in Berkeley back on April 1st when he spoke on “Uncovering the Hidden History of the Korean War. (I had filmed the talk and if you want to watch his description of what they are finding watch the film I put together at http://vimeo.com/user1683292 .)

We also met with the International Liaison Kim Eun-Bok, and an investigator working on the Massacres that involved American Soldiers. I spoke about ways in which we could help from the international community and offered to develop some programs for students and lawyers to work on gathering documents from the US government. We also discussed the “Post period” of the TRC wherein they hope to have the government still support a private Foundation to continue some of the work, particular with a focus on reconciliation activities (monuments, museums, further outreach and a chance for more participants, as they actually had a small window that closed a couple of years ago to take petitions.) I remembered the impact of the public televised hearings in South Africa in breaking the denial and helping the nation heal some of the trauma. I urged them to find a way to record some oral histories from the aggrieved families and others to use in various ways. A possible project for us in the US could be to get some film students to take an internship for a month in Korea and also in the Korean American community to record the oral histories of the victims and US and ROK veterans and have it available for future TRC activity, scholars and filmmakers.

The US Investigator indicated that he was most interested in finding US pilots who had flown certain missions early in the war when mass bombing took place from US forces in the South, killing many civilians. I suggested that Veterans for Peace and some other Vet groups could run some simple ads in their outreach material calling upon veterans to become part of the healing efforts in Korea from the War by stepping forward and giving some statements that can help the Reconciliation process. Perhaps some carry a heavy load from what they saw or did in Korea and wish to contribute something to the situation before they die. The words of my Father-in-Law - he had been an officer in Korea during the war - sometime before he passed away, that “you would not believe some of the things that went on”, rang in my ears. He had never told my wife the details. Perhaps still living soldiers can speak about their experiences and it can have a healing effect on both sides of the sea.

The afternoon brought me first to film several interviews (as I have a desire if funding can emerge to do a short film on Korea and why we are where we are) and then to Dongguk University, a Buddhist founded campus, where I was scheduled to give a talk sponsored by some of the aggrieved families. It was an elaborate affair with greetings from the Dean of the Law School and others. When I arrived they had my paper for the IADL conference next week on the Right to Peace in Korea translated into Korean for the audience and above my head was a huge banner about the talk. I had casually suggested the topics I could speak upon and there they were in big white letters: South Africa TRC Experience and Legal Accountability for Civilian Massacres by the US during the Korean War. (Read my remarks at http://www.ubuntuworks.com/ubuntuworks/NLG_KPP.html)

After the talk and some heartfelt questions and comments about why they continue to seek justice, we adjourned to a dinner that they had planned for me...at a vegetarian restaurant. It was such a sweet gesture, as they had known of my eating needs. There we sat around a long table as each of them went around and gave a few comments of appreciation and about their visions for truth and reconciliation. We set up a formal contact to be in touch as I return to the US and set up an international legal team to help them secure some redress or more information from the US government.
Tomorrow is the mass funeral for President Roh Moo Hyun. A million people will be in the street. I will join it later in the day as I head to the Southern tip of Korea and down a mine shaft that held thousands of bodies from a massacre. Continuing to do the work that Roh stood for is my tribute.

JUST BLOW


Eric Sirotkin and International Law Students at Inha University

Each time I meet someone here the first question they have of this tall gringo is “What makes you do this work?” The answer is always evolving for me, but its clear that some things stand out. First, it’s an area of peacemaking that few historically in the U.S. participate in or even understand. But really I think I felt that this is a conflict crying out for resolution and healing. Torn families, a dying cold war, two countries with a common heritage - this should be a no-brainer. Yet, its a place where old wounds still blister and huge military-industrial and U.S. geo-global objectives rule. But both David and Goliath are dancing on the precipice of great change and a slight wind of peace can topple them over at anytime. So here I am standing with as many people I can find and keep blowing.

I met with very exciting peace group representatives that are doing great work. At the Nautalis/ARI office. They work on international issues relating to both peace and energy. The work on pulling together resources and experts into a pool that can be used by NGO-s, government and others. We discussed the situation in Korea and the history of the 386 generation democratization movement. Professor Yi Kiho, pictured on the right,has taught political change and social movement or civil society and NGOs in the university and is the Director. We talked alot about new technology and the power for organizing. Deputy Director Tim Savage, left, was on teh phone quite a bit with news outlets around the answering questions about the DPRK nuclear test. Later that night at Dinner, Program Officer, Kim,Jee-Yeon and an intern Dennis Kim spoke about their younger generation’s view of the conflict and the craving for a new way to make change beyond the traditional in your face street action typical of the now older generation. I shared with them my views on the power of the energetics of activism, and how we make a difference in the way we do things,as well as the result. Visit them at http://www.globalcollab.org/Nautilus/northeast-asia.

I then, after a mad dash of confusion changing metro lines) had a meeting with us Minbyun lawyers - the progressive lawyers alliance here in Korea. 'MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society' was established on May 28, 1988. MINBYUN aims at the development of a systematic and organizational structure in response to human rights violations with the goal of becoming a valuable participant in the entire democratization movement. In addition, MINBYUN provides legal advice and cooperation to non-governmental organizations working for social progress.

We had a short luncheon and discussed legal issues of statute of limitation s for war crimes, their role in foundation of the TRC act and the loss of their dear friend, President Roh. The former President, a human rights lawyer, was born out of the same movement for change of the 1980‘s that birthed their organization. OIne key point about the Truth Commission process was that they had fought for Public hearings as part of the Framework Act that set up the TRC, but the conservative forces blocked it. Also, they are prohibited under the Act for making public the names of perpetrators. From discussions it is clear that the failure to hold hearings really decreases the chance for any national trauma healing, as was so prominent in South Africa. They want to contact us about a suit to stop a base in Korea, as the Japanese had had some success with an ecological argument in court in San Francisco. We will be in contact in the future. We should definitely invite them to a Guild conference, as they totally relate to our message of human rights and social justice. See http://minbyun.jinbo.net/english/index.htm

I then got to engage in my biggest joy. Teaching a 2 1/2 course on...well on whatever I wanted - to an international law undergrad class at the law school. THe professor, Lee Seokwoo, whom I had briefly met several years before on my prior trip to Seoul, let me loose on the class. They were very attentive and asked many questions at the end. In addition, I learned later that they always get a break after an hour, but no one had told me. So instead they sat attentive and respectful and took into the lecture tentatively titled: How to be an international law lawyer without even trying.

As the cab took me home to my hotel we passed downtown and I could tell that there’s “somethin’ happenin’ here”- as Stephen Stills was known to croon. The suicide has brought people forward with their courage - and hopefully not just their anger. The funeral plans go forward, people still play respects, but demonstrations are beginning. The all too familiar scene of hundreds of riot police assembling down the side streets with their large shields has begun. Last night I saw dozens of police buses, some cordoning off “free speech zones” around plazas downtown. Something might explode. For even though the suicide note said “Don’t blame anyone,” people are talking about the current President pushing through the zealous prosecutions that led Roh Moo-Hyun to take his fateful leap. I will keep my hand on the pulse.

SHOWING RESPECT


I took off from the photos, film and reporting to simply hold the white Chrysanthemum tightly and feel the hearts around me. Somehow the loss is universal. We lose our innocence at each step. Across the border a nuclear explosion deep underground is heard around the world. How Sad they could not have a waited a few weeks in light of Roh Moo Hyun’s death. How sad it has to be happening in the first place when it could have been avoidable. Yet, hardening those who reach out to you does little good.
The stark contrasts between North and South reveal themselves deeply on this trip. Last time I was here I was looking for the commonality, but now little remains. I did thought think I saw Mr. Bong, my DPRK ping-pong nemesis, on the street a few times. The stark physical similarities and expressions still abound. Unmistakably from the same tree, but how different they have been trimmed by circumstance.
I have watched the tears all around me and cannot shake the ocean of tears shed by these people since time immemorial. If someone you respected, who seemed to take on the world (“I’m not going to how-tow to Washington.”- Roh) loses the strength to carry on, what does it mean for me, asks many. Add to it the earth shaking North and peace can at times appear beyond remote.
Yet behind me in line to pay respects stood two small girls with their father. Their giggles wafted above the sorrow and their flowers became not tokens of memorial, but magic wands of delight.
They followed me to the alter, they bowed with their father to the ground, prostrations to the great loss. But for me they held the hope of tomorrow in their smile. On a certain level in this crazy and unpredictable world, peace is that simple.

What we leave for the Seven Generations that follow is our legacy. Restoring the world’s balance is possible. Even when our circumstances may seem unfair - our deck stacked, the wall so high, there remains the sparkle of life, a child’s laugh, or a flower’s brilliance, to remind us that beauty abounds. Hope is as strong as that fear and despair a and just as a accessible to us all. It is what we choose. It may be “the road less traveled,” but without it, the twists and turns of this oft-fragile world can keep us on the path in darkness.

Will there be more suicides, more despair? Or will this death reaffirm that each must move off the habitual and refocus our attention. After WWII we created the UN and its charter of peace and saw a new era of hope merge. Yet, it was moved to the back seat behind geo-political conflicts and we quickly forgot to reach for the best.

We are connected in so many ways. We all live, die, grieve, hope and dream. It’s time to use these events to remember our commonality and build a world that reflects this rich heritage. Model it, live it and yes demand it of our leaders and each other. I will never forget that your humanity is intrinsically wrapped up with mine.

The state funeral is Friday here in Seoul. It might nix my trip south the the TRC excavation site. A seven day funeral begins. But what I am seeing here is more than the death, but a reaffirmation in the streets and and on television of Moo Hyuan’s principles. Who he was and where he came from. People are appreciating that he stood for peace, reconciliation and justice. That he was, why withdrawn to his home in the South and doing some Organic gardening, weathering an attack from his conservative successor’s regime that reminded me of the Hunting of the President (the film about Clinton’s Whitewater/sex days). He was accused of corruption and it had been his life work to challenge it. He was, as two young Koreans told me last night, our Obama. Not because of race, but really class as he did not have a degree, yet studied and passed the hard bar exam to become a lawyer - but never part of the “ivy-school” elite of politics. To them he was a hero. Death happens for a reason and it appears that this death is opening Korea up to deep reflection - a wake up call as powerful as the blast to the North.

posted by Eric Sirotkin from NLG Korean Peace Project Trip to South Korea May 2

REST IN PEACE


My meeting today was substantially scaled back due to the apparent suicide of President Roh (2002-2008). It will likely impact most of the week as there is great shock and mourning. As one friend here wrote: “Waken up in a Saturday morning by a shocking news of a former leader's death, people in this country still find difficult to realize he is truly gone. We are still in awe and speechless for the great loss we have. The whole country is turned into an enormous mourning place, where no one is able to find words to describe the deepest sorrow of loosing a leader who they elected with their own hands and also now about to bury. State of awe continues, Korea is submerged with the silence”

Roh was the most progressive president in Korea. He came up in familiar territory for me. A human rights lawyer whose early representations of demonstrators in 1981 had so impacted him that it changed his legal and political life forever. He had when asked about becoming a Human Rights Activists he described the case saying “When I saw their horrified eyes and missing toenails, my comfortable life as a lawyer came to an end and I became a man determined to make a difference in this world.” He went to jail for three weeks with other demonstrators in 1987 when the big democracy movement reached its peak. He passed the act creating the Truth and Reconciliation commission and sought to build more bridges with the North through exchange and trade. All are saying it was ironic when his family got caught up in this bribe scandal as it was something he fought regularly.

Regardless I met with Professor Bo-Hyuk Suh who has done great human rights and peace work in Korea. Also a few women from local peace groups and PSPD, including the Coordinator of Peace and Disarmament Huisun Kim. I told the group at the start of our meeting: “Let me first begin by expressing great sadness and our condolences to the families and friends and to the people of Korea for the loss of your former President Roh this past week. As a Human Rights lawyer myself who has represented activists for decades and worked for peace I feel great sadness that someone who stood up for people, was willing to lead a courageous march toward Truth and Reconciliation and continued the path toward peace, engagement died prematurely. No one is without their flaws and struggles, and personal demons, but the courage he showed as a human rights lawyer in the struggles of the 1980‘s will always inspire and lead more people to take up the cause of justice. It’s those moments we will remember forever.”

We actually accomplished a lot with discussions about ways in which we can unite our movements in Korea and the US to work for peace. They agreed to a joint Video conference and to share candlelight vigils with ours set for Armistice Day July 27th. Some further educational ideas on peacemaking and a joint project to video people’s stories for historical and film projects arose. We will start with people sharing what peace would mean to them on a joint blog. They agreed to write more letters of support for peace like the one they had written earlier to Secretary Clinton. (Great letter in which they called on the US to move from Peacekeeping to Peacemaking- huge difference). THis type of joint efforts are a big step. It is key to not only speak being an internationalist or support interconnectedness but to model it. It is what this trip represents. One thing we agreed upon was the need for healing on both sides of the pacific, as many families and Vets in the US still carry the trauma of what has gone on here.

I shared with them the words of President Obama “When nations and peoples allow themselves to be defined by differences, the gulf between them widens. When we fail to pursue peace, then it stays forever beyond our grasp.” President Barack Obama Prague April 5, 2009. The goal is to make sure that Obama is seeing his views reflected in his Korea policy. At Notre Dame in May “Moreover, no one person, or religion, or nation can meet these challenges alone. Our very survival has never required greater cooperation and understanding among all people from all places than at this moment in history..” It is time to bring such thinking from the stage in Indiana to the Korean Peninsula. It is Roh’s dream and his legacy.
Posted by Eric Sirotkin


JAPAN MEETING TO BUILD ARTICLE 9

Heading over the ocean on an endless flight of sunlight. Only ten hours or so they say. Endless movies on-demand on this delightful Singapore Airlines where they ooze joyous service. LA was a whirlwind of preparation and catching up on the sleep I had missed for days. So much strategy spinning in my head on how to be more effective in this international peace work. How to really restore the dream of peace that emerged from the ashes of two world wars, but was put on the back burner to geo-political conflict, greed and the military/industrial “complex.” Those who could have led, fell far below the essence of being human, while turning a blind eye to the cruel and destructive means taken to achieve foggy ends. The resulting silent complacency settled in on our shores and peace was lost in the battle at home and broad between us and them. .

I am heading to Japan where one of the most important struggles today is being waged - to save Article Nine of their peace constitution. No Japanese soldier has killed or been killed by others since 1945 and this clause prohibits such action by law. A sleeping military giant is poised to join the world of preemptive war and overseas militarism. I just shared through email with some Japanese lawyers and activists my short film on Article 9 and they are very excited about it. One wrote to me yesterday and in just a few words reminded why this work is so inspiring:

Dear Eric
Thank you very much for making the film. I have watched it and I appreciate your solidarity with our struggles to maintain Article Nine. The film is quite enlightening explaining comprehensively the most current situation of the provision. I think the film is very useful to educate not only foreign people but the Japanese people. I will make the committee of the foreign affairs of the JLAF to discuss how to utilize the film.
Your friend in solidarity
Akio Sugeno

The film is called simply Japan’s Article 9: The Path to Peace. Still tweaking the images and the sound but go and watch it...only 29 minutes (For those who are used to sitting through 118 minutes of Committing Poetry - www.commttingpoetry.com ). Watch it at http://vimeo.com/4641518 and you will understand why I am going to Japan
...and why we all should shine our light on the hope it represents and the vote by 2010 that seeks to repeal peace.

Pass it on to others. Write Obama to reverse Bush position of seeking Japan to drop Article 9.

Off the plane and meeting with Osamu Niikira and Jun Sasamoto of the Japan Lawyers International Solidarity Association (JALISA).
Spoke of their plan to get all nations to consider peace constitutions. Next big Article 9 meeting in Costa Rica in July.

INVITATION TO THE DANCE



Dear Friends, Family and Colleagues:

I am off to Asia this weekend on a major peacemaking trip. Meeting in Japan with lawyers and Article 9 Peace Constitutions advocates. Then I go for a week in South Korea to spread the word about our US national Campaign for a Peace Treaty and to learn about peacemaking and human rights in Korea. I am also filming scenes and interviews for a film I am working on called Land of the Morning Calm. Below is my schedule so you can see how exciting it will be. I will share things as often as possible on the blog in both words and video.

Then onto Vietnam. Hanoi. A healing journey as an American and peacemaker. A few days to fit in and then attending the International Association of Democratic Lawyers Congress where I'll be presenting a paper on The Right to Peace in Korea. The sessions I will mainly attend, other than the address by the President of Vietnam, relate to a right to peace.

So add this below site to your RSS FEED on your browser and you will get updates when I post things or just visit the blog to join me on this trip.

Go to http://www.ubuntuworks.com/ubuntuworks/Erics_Blog/Erics_Blog.html.

You can also watch them on the NOTES section of my facebook page. Let me know if you see it there so I can tell its working.

Join the trip!!!

Love and peace

Eric

SUNDAY MAY 24, 2009

10-12 – Tokyo Japan – Meet with lawyers and activists who are working to preserve Article 9 – the peace constitution in Japan.

MONDAY MAY 25, 2009

Meeting with peace and human rights activists

LOCATION: People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)
TIME: 3 PM

Organizers: Dr. Suh Bohyuk Center for Peace Studies
Kyungmee Kim Women Making Peace

Participants include many organizations including:
Women Making Peace1 - http://www.peacewomen.or.kr/
Peace Network 2- http://peacekorea.org/
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD)3 -
http://blog.peoplepower21.org/English
Sarangbang Group for Human Rights -
http://www.sarangbang.or.kr/kr/new/

TUESDAY MAY 26, 2009

Meeting with John Cha and Professor Lee Ki-ho and other peace activists followed by dinner.

WEDNESDAY MAY 27, 2009

Meeting with Minbyun,(Progessive Lawyers Association) lawyers Sang-Hee Lee, Chairman of the Past Reconciliation Committee and Hee-Soo Kim, who participated in TRCK projects, June Yang translating

Seochodong area.

Giving a Lecture on the RIGHT TO PEACE (3-5 pm) at Icha University Law School - Professor Seokwoo Lee and meeting and dinner with faculty.

THURSDAY MAY 28, 2009

11:00 am - Meeting with Truth and Reconciliation Commissioners

4-6 pm Meeting with Pan Korean Truth Commission on Civilian Massacre in Korea War Mr Sirotkin speaking on US-government's legal responsibility and accountability over several South Korean civilian massacres by US forces before and during Korean war and his experiences with South AfricanTRC.
Organizer: Lee Changsoo Executive Director,
6 pm DINNER members of steering committee and heads of some related victim family groups


FRIDAY MAY 29, 2009

All day trip - Travel by Train to South of Korea to visit to the excavation site at Gyeongsan Cobalt Mine and the meeting with relevant civic groups and members of bereaved family union.

With U.S. military officers sometimes present, and as North Korean invaders pushed down the peninsula, the southern army and police emptied South Korean prisons, lined up detainees and shot them in the head, dumping the bodies into hastily dug trenches. Others were thrown into abandoned mines or into the sea. Women and children were among those killed. Many victims never faced charges or trial.

The mass executions — intended to keep possible southern leftists from reinforcing the northerners — were carried out over mere weeks and were largely hidden from history for a half-century. They were "the most tragic and brutal chapter of the Korean War," said historian Kim Dong-choon, a member of a 2-year-old government commission investigating the killings.

Hundreds of sets of remains have been uncovered so far, but researchers say they are only a tiny fraction of the deaths. The commission estimates at least 100,000 people were executed, in a South Korean population of 20 million.

That estimate is based on projections from local surveys and is "very conservative," said Kim. The true toll may be twice that or more, he told The Associated Press.


SUNDAY MAY 31st - JUNE 13th

On to Vietnam – Two weeks in Vietnam including the International Association of Democratic Lawyers (IADL – www.iadllaw.org) Conference
I am presenting my paper on THE RIGHT TO PEACE IN KOREA as part of their Right to Peace segment. President of Vietnam coming to address our conference.

During the Conference watch my site but we will be having many people speak and share at the NLG International Committee BLOG
Go to www.nlgic.blogspot.com

Here we go.

Tuesday, May 19, 2009

video


Welcome Video to the NLG International Committees
new Delegation Blog Site

Birth of a Blog

Hey IC friends and members:

Here is the place to be. Can't make that delegation or peacemaking trip? Follow along on the NLG International Committees peacemaking blog. Live in two weeks from Hanoi we hope! Watch for video thoughts, greetings, photos, organizing ideas along the way etc. The idea is to share but also to help keep you plugged in and moved to action. So join the trip and share your comments and thoughts along the way.

In solidarity and peace

Eric Sirotkin
For the IC