Enforcing UNSCR1325 & Promoting a NATO Gender Advisor for Asia: A Conversation with Betsy Kawamura (Part 2)

Read Part 1 here.

Part 2 of this interview with Betsy Kawamura emphasizes the need for a NATO Gender Advisor for East Asia, the legal accountability of UNSCR1325/R2P (responsibility to protect), and Ms. Kawamura’s future projects for survivors and historical reconciliation in East Asia.


Enforcing NATO’s application of UNSCR1325 in Asia


BK: Amongst the core group of members of the Security Council, NATO also has a network section [of “partners across the globe”] including Asia (notwithstanding China). [Foreign affairs] officials [both from] Japan and Korea paid visit to NATO headquarters in Brussels [in October 2016].

The reason I’m bringing this up is that, Charlotte Isaksson, Gender Advisor at the European External Action Centre in Brussels, used to be a Gender Advisor for NATO. I have had various conversations with her, and during my recent trip to Brussels, I had mentioned the importance of NATO’s friendship [partners across the globe] alliances with countries such as Mongolia, Japan and South Korea in view of tensions on the Korean Peninsula.

What I would like to facilitate, via my dialogue with Brussels and talking with [gender advisors] is to encourage placement of gender advisors focused on North East Asia. I was reading about a previous meeting with South Korean officials who paid a visit to NATO, due to a high security issue with North Korea. I want to mention that South Korea and Japan both have National Action Plans (NAP) for the implementation of UNSCR 1325. The United States also has a NAP. In fact, Barack Obama issued an executive order two years ago. If you look at the NAP for South Korea, it’s very detailed. It specifically mentions how to support North Korean refugee women. The last one I saw for Japan, it did talk about the refugees but not in such a specific manner.

The NAP for the USA talks about actively intervening in areas to assist women in high risk situations in vulnerable countries. Since North Korea is technically still in a state of war with the USA, I think there is an international obligation for the US to assist North Korean refugee women hiding in China, and women from other war affected areas.  I strongly believe that President Trump’s recent entry ban on refugees from seven countries is in violation of their NAP on 1325.  It directly contradicts the spirit of 1325 and other WPS (Women, Peace and Security) resolutions.  The reason why I bring up the Security Council Resolution in particular for North East Asia is because, time and time again, you read in the news about the importance of new security sanctions towards North Korea, or denunciations about the violations [the regime performed], but you never really hear about [the UNSCR1325 perspective]. It would be ludicrous for me to be the only voice talking about this.

As we speak, we are seeing spiraling tensions regarding North Korea, along with recent US missile launches to Syria.  If UNSCR 1325 is supposed to have any ‘power’, I believe that now would be the time for its demonstration. This current period should see if UNSCR 1325 and associated WPS resolutions remain more or less ‘paper tigers’, or demonstrate having some ‘teeth’, especially in regards to accountability to protect victims, and to punish perpetrators of SGBV.

What is even more frustrating is that I’ve been trying to tell North Korean refugee women about 1325, but even they don’t seem to understand its importance.  I have tried to explain to them, in a very simple way, as to what these resolutions are and what these countries must offer to them, and what the consequences are if they don’t. But it takes more than a few astute women and advocates like myself to set a machinery in motion.  It takes the culminated effort of UN Women, the UN Security Council and the likes of NATO and OSCE, as well as other security bodies focused on North East Asia.  The large challenge lies in the infrastructure of the Security Council itself, for instance, where countries with differences in personal politics are supposed to ‘rule’ global security.  I see this as a sad tragedy that needs to be addressed. The world cannot hope to expect ‘peace’ to come out of a dysfunctional system.


Transferring the sense of accountability of military violations to the WPS agenda


I had taken a trip to Paris to visit Bourdon et associés, a French law firm and legal advisory office dealing with human rights issues in Burman/Myanmar. They have looked primarily at what China has signed up to regarding conventions such as those protecting refugees, and others on protecting women, such as CEDAW (Convention to Eliminate Discrimination against Women).  I am encouraging them as well as other NGOs to do legal research on UNSCR1325, on what type of accountability its signatory countries are responsible for.  In the current situation of seeing victims and refugees of conflict in the Middle East and in North Korea, I believe the time has come for 1325 and allied WPS resolutions to ‘show their teeth’.

The WPS movement should cover economic issues and security from military interventions, and provide mechanisms for accountability, protection and protocols for adjudication. 1325 as of now, does not have such power and enforceability, it seems.


M: Would you say there is a gap between the narrative of the will to protect and the actual implementation of the responsibility to protect?

Yes. And the reason is that very few institutions, I believe, have gone through the due diligence of going through the documents to figure out legally what the permanent members of the Security Council signed up to, and what they [are] supposed to be accountable for.

In fact, you have the North Korean refugees – especially the women – hiding in China. Well, China signed resolution 1325, and so did Russia. Technically they both have the responsibility to protect these women from sexual violence, because they are victims of war. But China forcibly repatriates them back to North Korea, with deadly consequences.

It’s like being a doctor with this fabulous healing mechanism with advanced tools and surgery, but if the doctor doesn’t demonstrate how it can be properly used, nobody would know how to use it, or improve its practical applications.  That’s exactly why I’m encouraging the global institutions of security to examine practical applications and adherence to WPS resolutions – and make them ‘walk their talk’ on how ‘great’ they are.

Because of the public lack of attention on the importance of WPS issues, funding and awareness-raising can be difficult, the latter being key assets to galvanize critical masses.

What would help is organizations like yours, the NATO Association, gender advisors for NATO and other global security centres to look more strategically at WPS resolutions.  The stake holders of security in North Asia include global powers such as the USA, Russia and China, so it would be pretty foolish to not have a gender advisory group for the North Asian region. The world is deeply interconnected, and if you study the Middle Eastern and North Asian crisis as we speak, you will realize that nations around the world are involved, not to mention the USA.  I believe that the Nordic countries, i.e. Norway, Sweden, Finland, Iceland and Denmark are well placed to show leadership in the WPS agenda for North East Asia, and to show guidance for NAP coordination.  At least this is what I am rooting for, having spent time here for the last 30 years.

[As an] East Asian survivor of gender-based violence myself, I believe I create a sense of credibility in being involved in the subject matter.  I wish I can multiply myself as a North Asian survivor/advocate of gender based violence; and definitely encourage more NK refugee women and those from other regions to study this issue and speak up about it.


A need for NATO gender advisors in Asia


And I think it is very important for people working at the NATO Association to really identify and study WPS issues of your member countries, and partner countries. Look at the speeches of the South Korean and Japanese officials, and let’s include the Mongolians. Mongolia is part of the friendship group of NATO. It would be [valuable] to create a working group for a working group for NATO Gender Advisory for the Asian region. I really would like to propose this.

Jens Stoltenberg met with the Japanese Minister of Defence, a woman, and met directly with the South Korean ministers not too long ago. Stoltenberg pointed out the importance of NATO to protect the North Asian region. I would definitely suggest you to look into the transcript of the communications with South Korean and Japanese high officials.

The UN Security Council had an ad hoc group of specialists on WPS and 1325 issues. The 5 permanent members are included, and Japan is on the Security Council until the end of this year as a non-permanent member.  Having such specialists helps, and I would strongly urge for them to look at North East Asia as a region regarding WPS, which has previously not been done.  The historical conflicts amongst Japan, China and Korea burdened by unresolved dialogue on comfort women from all states mentioned have a large role to play in this lack of coordination and political will so far.


M: You have 9 communications sent to UNSCW so far, 4 against North Korea and 5 against China. Could you tell me a bit more about those communications?

Basically those communications are meant [to discuss] the issue of North Korean refugee women hiding in China, and North Korean women in North Korea as part of a continuum of discussion at the UNCSW. Hopefully it will be held to attention at UN Women on a consistent basis. This space is given [for] a formal message and information on the issue. [(i.e. NKwomen)] The way to actively sustain people’s attention on this is to hold parallel events, and have someone continuously lobby to advocate on this issue at the UN offices, and other relevant institutions.


About North Korean women at UNCSW and political prospects


I’m glad that we are finally able to bring North Korean refugee women to the UNCSW.  Last year, in 2016, Samantha Power was still ambassador of the permanent mission of the US to the UN. She was very driven, and very passionate about human rights issues, as a former career journalist. She assisted with the North Korean refugee women issue along with the permanent missions of other countries such as Australia, the UK, and Japan, to create a forum at the US permanent mission then.

This year unfortunately – because the Trump administration just came in – such support was not given; and they wouldn’t allow support for North Korean refugees to come in the USA as a country listed on the travel ban, quite ironically.

What is going to be very helpful for events in the future is the continuation of the investigation started by the UN Commission of Inquiry (on North Korean Human Rights) in 2014. Wrapped up with a report, it is bound to continue spreading the information about their findings via the new UN field office in Seoul, which I am in touch with.


M: One of the struggles, I find from my previous research, is that there needs to be a higher sense of effort nationally, to address the resettlement of North Korean refugee women in South Korea, and their advocacy.

I agree. Again I have to emphasize that the South Korean government and its demographics are known as a very patriarchal society, and so is Japan. I have to emphasize the gender aspect of it. It [shouldn’t be] unnoticed that we have a very patriarchal society dealing with refugees. It’s not looked upon as seriously when issues of gender-based violence are raised at [screening/resettlement levels. You could almost hear] “oh yeah that kind of problem again”.

Look at Russia, the fact that Putin has decided that domestic violence is non-issue is crazy. [Furthermore], in China, there was a law passed against domestic violence but it is very difficult to execute it. I understand social media sites by some non-governmental women’s rights groups were shut down.

In South Korea, although you had a woman president, it is still a very patriarchal society. And because it is a patriarchal society, the issue of how to heal from sexual violence and how to integrate gender issues in foreign relations politics is very complicated.  Thus, one is faced with a substantial challenge on how to execute NAPs on 1325 in North East Asia, especially if states are not willing to admit to gender based crimes committed against women.

As mentioned previously, China, Japan and Korea still have unresolved caustic issues regarding women used to sexually serve the military. Japanese women, called ‘Pan Pan Women’ were used by the US military post WWII ; Pan Pan Women’s existence were known and supported by the Japanese government, as a kind of  sexual ‘appeasement’ for US military personnel who occupied Japan (and Okinawa). There was a hospital that screened these women via health checks, etc. I have not heard of any kind of official ‘apology’ yet, very sadly from the US government or the Japanese. I believe this will be an area I will be working on in the future, as time and situation permit.  The 1325 NAPs of both the USA and Japan should have mentioned this important issue.

These Japanese ‘Pan Pan Women’ have in various ways been silenced by the Japanese government; and surely the current POTUS will find it inconvenient for their voices to be raised, as it could undermine Japan and the USA’s alliance against common ‘enemies’ and threats such as North Korea and China. I would like to [provide a] platform for their voices as they are dying out, in similar fashion to the South Korean ‘comfort women’.  The big difference between the two groups is that the South Korean government has clearly supported South Korean comfort women, in draconian contrast to those of Japan, i.e. the Pan Pan Women.  This needs to be rectified.


About future projects and programs of healing


I will probably start working on a program to focus more on addressing other Asian survivors of SGBV, and am working on a program on how to help facilitate healing mechanisms. The challenge with this program was that it was generated in Norway by Health and Human Rights Info, an NGO supporting mental health in cases of gender-based violence, based in Oslo. So, you have to consider the cultural and social elements to […] make it more appropriate for North Korean refugee women and those from other North Asian regions. I am also mulling over an art program or cultural history visual-art program that will elucidate to the public, voices of North Korean refugee women, and other North Asian women surviving SGBV. I have been thinking of this for a while, but the execution of this would depend on who I can attract as collaborators and sponsors.

An on-going discussion I have started is to look at the legal aspects of enforcing UNSCR1325 for North Korean refugee women hiding in China. To do this kind of legal research you have to really think outside of the box, you have to push the envelope, be really creative and be a pioneer at international human rights law.  I have asked entities to look at R2P (responsibility to protect), and at the Geneva Conventions. It is critical to keep in mind that China is one of the world’s largest suppliers and users of human trafficking, including sex trafficking. As said, North East Asia, despite its economic progress, is very much male dominated, quite sadly. Economic advancement is no guarantee for women’s rights.


It’s just as important to announce these findings, announce the shortcomings of the resolution at the UN, and mechanisms at the ICC to emphasize that […] one has to call the UN out on the weaknesses of the resolutions so that we can improve on it together and find better solutions. As Nordic countries have shown considerable leadership and abilities to catalyze efforts on gender and WPS, I expect to continue to draw on their strengths so that they can show a way forward for North East Asia, and encourage other countries!


Photo: Lori Nitahara, Honolulu, Hawaii (2010), by Betsy Kawamura via Women4NonViolence. Courtesy of Betsy Kawamura

Disclaimer: Any views or opinions expressed in articles are solely those of the authors and do not necessarily represent the views of the NATO Association of Canada.

Megane Visette

About Megane Visette

Mégane Visette –editor of the Women in Security program– is a recent MA graduate in Political-Science and Asia-Pacific Studies. She has a BSc. in International studies from Université de Montréal (UdeM) in Quebec. She speaks English, French, and is learning Korean and Japanese. Mégane’s current research focuses on the soft power of North Korean refugee narratives, human security, and historical memory in transpacific relations. Having previously lived in Europe and South Korea, Mégane wishes to use her many research interests in policy-driven environments and academia, to give her input to changing discourses in IR. She presented a paper at the SAIS Johns Hopkins Asia Conference in April 2016, and was on the organizing committee for the Munk School of Global Affairs Graduate Conference, focusing on the concept of borders in flux. She’s currently on the editors’ team of the UTJPS Journal at the University of Toronto. Mégane can be reached at megane.visette@outlook.com