#WPSAdvice: How Canada can advance peace on the Korean peninsula

By Liz Bernstein

Liz Bernstein is Co-Executive Director, Nobel Women’s Initiative and Co-Coordinator of Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War, a global campaign to educate, organize and advocate for a Korea peace agreement by 2020. Women Cross DMZ, Nobel Women’s Initiative, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and the Korean Women’s Movement for Peace officially launched the campaign in March 2019.

Almost 19 years ago, Canada first established formal diplomatic relations with North Korea. Canada chose to do so in support of South Korea’s then-president and Nobel Peace Prize winner Kim Dae-jung’s policy of engagement with North Korea around issues of food security, human rights, denuclearization and regional stability.

It was the right thing to do.  Canada participated in the Korean War, and many Canadians have family ties to both North and South Korea.  Equally important, Canada’s strength on the global stage is the ability to foster respectful dialogue.

Unfortunately, these days Canada has had no diplomatic relations with North Korea.  Since 2010, our engagement with North Korea has been mostly limited to condemning North Korea’s nuclear weapons’ testing and participating in a punishing sanctions regime that is having a devastating impact on ordinary North Koreans.

Indeed, new report commissioned by the Korea Peace Now! campaign shows that sanctions imposed on North Korea are having adverse consequences on humanitarian aid and economic development in the country, with a disproportionate impact on women. The report estimates that 3,968 people — the majority of them children under age 5 — may have died last year as a result of sanctions-related delays and funding shortfalls affecting U.N. agencies. The actual number of preventable deaths due to the full impact of the sanctions is likely much higher. 

Right now, an estimated 11 million people — more than 40% of the population — in North Korea lack sufficient nutritious food, clean drinking water or access to basic services like health and sanitation.  And while humanitarian organizations are doing their best to get basic aid into North Korea, the sanctions make it almost impossible. 

It’s clear that Canada’s policies on North Korea are contributing to deepening the suffering of the North Korean people—and are failing to advance peace on the Korean peninsula.

So what would work?  

The Korea Peace Now! Women Mobilizing to End the War, a growing global movement of civil society organizations working for an end to war and lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula, offers the following recommendations for how the Canadian government can more effectively contribute to peace on the Korean peninsula:

  • Re-establish diplomatic relations. It’s time for Canada to re-engage diplomatically by re-activating bilateral relations with Pyongyang. Mandate Canada’s ambassador to Seoul to seek cross-accreditation in Pyongyang. Canada should also be prepared to accept the credentials of a North Korea’s nominee for ambassador to Canada, and allow a North Korean Embassy to be established in Ottawa, should North Korea want one.
  • Repeal the Canadian autonomous sanctions, those above and beyond the UN Security Council sanctions. This can be in stages, starting with making it easier for humanitarian organizations to get exemptions to the current sanctions, and then move towards repealing the special economic measures act related to North Korea of 2011. 
  • Support a peace-building process. It’s 70 years since the Korean War ended, and there has never been an official end to the war. Canada could be working with its allies to promote a peace-building process that includes a formal ending of the war, through a treaty. 
  • Ensure the inclusion of women in the Korean peace process. Canada has a robust National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and should apply it to advance inclusive peace in Korea. We know that when women are included in peace processes, not only is agreement more likely, it is far more durable.

Last year, Canada showed signs that it was seeking to re-establish its credibility and expertise on North Korean issues. In January 2018, then Foreign Minister Chrystia Freeland co-hosted the Vancouver Foreign Ministers’ Meeting on Security and Stability on Korean Peninsula.  It was a good start.  But Canada now needs to do so much more to get serious about peace on the Korean peninsula.

Please note that the views in these blog posts are those of the authors and may not represent the views of all members of the WPSN-C.

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