The main project that I was working on for the whole year was ‘Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in North Korean Political Prisons’, which culminated in a day-long hearing at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies (SAIS) on 8 December 2016. The hearing was open to the public and also live-streamed on the World Wide Web. Well over 100 people attended the hearing, including representatives of leading NGOs, lawyers, academics, U.S. and non-U.S. government officials, embassy personnel, journalists and students.
Three internationally renowned jurists presided over the hearing: Navanethem Pillay (Chair), Mark B. Harmon, and Thomas Buergenthal (the “Judicial Tribunal”). Collectively, these jurists have served on the International Criminal Court (ICC), International Criminal Tribunal for Rwanda (ICTR), International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia (ICTY), the Extraordinary Chambers in the Courts of Cambodia (ECCC), and the International Court of Justice (ICJ). Notably, it was during Ms. Pillay’s tenure as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights that the COI conducted its investigation and issued its landmark report. Evidence of human rights violations by the DPRK was presented by members of the IBA’s War Crimes Committee and other counsel who specialize in international criminal and human rights law: Federica D’Alessandra; Steven Kay, QC; Gregory W. Kehoe; and Kirsty Sutherland (the “Prosecution”).
Ruth Wedgwood, Professor of International Law and Diplomacy at Johns Hopkins, stated in her remarks opening the hearing that this Inquiry was “not an ordinary academic gathering, but a purposive act of bearing witness.” The hearing first featured live testimony from three North Korean defectors: Defector No. 1, Kang Cheol Hwan, a former prisoner who spent ten years in a prison camp before escaping from North Korea in 1992; Defector No. 2, a former regime official who asked that his name be withheld and to testify behind a screen during the hearing to maintain his anonymity; and Defector No. 3, Choi Hyun Jin, a former official in the State Security Department whose responsibilities included identification of alleged spies against the DPRK.
The second part of the hearing featured expert testimony from two experts on the DPRK’s political prison camps and its penal system more generally: Kenneth Gause, Director of the International Affairs Group, CAN Analysis & Solutions; and David Hawk, a consultant for the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea. Both have written extensively on North Korea and are widely regarded as among the world’s leading experts on the aforementioned topics.
This picture is taken after the event at a dinner reception for the organizers and participants. I’m standing with a partner at Hogan Lovells, who helped us immensely with the legal analysis part, and also one of the North Korean defectors.
I had the absolute honor to meet one of the most eminent justices in Australia and also globally – Justice Michael Kirby. We sat down to discuss crimes against humanity in North Korea as he is a field expert and led the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Crimes Against Humanity in Democratic People’s Republic of Korea.
I participated in a week long Enrichment and Development program (I-LEAD), which was organized by CIEE and The United States Department of State Bureau of Educational and Cultural Affairs. It was an unforgettable week long experience with 61 people from 27 different countries and throughout the week we got to know each other, made new friends and improved our leadership skills.
Throughout the year I spent in America, I was travelling a lot and visited almost half of the United States (23 states). Travelling across different states, although within a single country, was a mind-bending experience, because the diversity in it is insane. One can find everything from huge skyscrapers and cities to canyons, rivers, oceans, lakes and forests. I can easily say that I managed to experience it all, although there is still a few things left on my checklist, but that’s for another time.
While traveling across the West coast with an amazing group of Baltic guys (Vytautas from Lithuania, Johannes from Estonia and Mareks from Latvia) we saw some of the most scenic places and the most beautiful National Parks. We had an incredible time and it was a prefect way for me to end my fellowship and my stay in the US.