Cecilia Milwertz Senior researcher NIAS – Nordic Institute of Asian Studies
On 9 December 2008, the eve of the sixtieth anniversary of the Universal Declaration og Human Rights, a group of 303 citizens of the Peoples Republic of China including writers, intellectuals, lawyers, journalists, retired party officials, workers, farmers and businessmen issued Charter 08 / ???? calling for major changes of the Chinese political system. The Charter presents nineteen proposals on constitutional reform, judicial independence, freedom of expression and human rights protection. By January 2009 thousands had signed the document.
Signers detained – Liu Xiaobo arrested Several of the signers, including among others writer Wen Kejian, Hangzhou, Beijing lawyer Pu Zhiqiang and physicist Jiang Qisheng as well as journalist Gao Wu, writer Liu Di and rights lawyer Teng Biao have been detained and questioned by the police The literary critic Liu Xiaobo was arrested on 8 December. A map created by Chinese Human Rights Defenders, shows known Charter 08-related detentions.
Inspired by Charter 77 Charter 08 is inspired by Charter 77 issued by citizens in Czechoslovakia in January 1977 among others Václav Havel, who later became the President of Czechoslovakia. Charter 77 was printed in a West German newspaper and circulated in Czechoslovakia by an informal association of citizens who criticized the government for failing to implement human rights provisions of a number of documents it had signed. The document described the signatories as a
‘free, informal open community of people of different conviction, different faiths, and different professions united by their will to strive, individually and collectively for the respect of civic and human rights in our country and throughout the world.’
Objectives – what does Charter 08 ask for? Signers of Charter 08 are asking their government for the right to question government policies. They are asking for protection of human rights, independent judiciary and freedom of expression.
Signers of Charter state that they
‘dare to put civic spirit into practice by announcing Charter 08. We hope that our fellow citizens who feel a similar sense of crisis, responsibility, and mission, whether they are inside the government or not, and regardless of their social status, will set aside small differences to embrace the broad goals of this citizens’ movement. Together we can work for major changes in Chinese society and for the rapid establishment of a free, democratic, and constitutional country. We can bring to reality the goals and ideals that our people have incessantly been seeking for more than a hundred years, and can bring a brilliant new chapter to Chinese civilization.’
(all quotes in this blog are from the English version translated by Perry Link)
Avoiding violent conflict Charter 08 is a call to avoid the escalation of crisis and violence. As Ian Buruma notes in his Project Syndicate article
‘There is nothing incendiary about Charter 08, no call for violent rebellion, no thirst for revenge or retribution.’
On the contrary, the document warns that as
‘…conflicts and crises grow ever more intense, and as the ruling elite continues with impunity to crush and to strip away the rights of citizens to freedom, to property, and to the pursuit of happiness, we see the powerless in our society-the vulnerable groups, the people who have been suppressed and monitored, who have suffered cruelty and even torture, and who have had no adequate avenues for their protests, no courts to hear their pleas-becoming more militant and raising the possibility of a violent conflict of disastrous proportions. The decline of the current system has reached the point where change is no longer optional.’
Some international reactions More than 300 internationally known authors have signed a petition in support of Liu Xiaobo.
The EU has expressed concern over Charter 08 arrests and has urged Chinese authorities to provide ‘prompt information’ on the ‘conditions under which Mr Liu is being held and the reasons for his arrest.’
Václav Havel, in a statement in support of Charter 08 and Liu Xiaobo, reminds us that
‘China is not Czechoslovakia in 1977. In many ways, China today is freer and more open country than my own country of 30 years ago. And yet, the response of Chinese authorities to Charter 08 in many ways parallels the Czechoslovak government’s response to Charter 77. Rather than respond to an offer of engagement with dialogue and debate, the Czechoslovak government instead chose repression. It arrested the signatories, interrogated and harassed others and spread disinformation about our movement and its aims.’
See Wikipedia Charter 08 for a comprehensive overview of comments and reactions.
Will the outcome of Charter 08 be as dramatic as that of Charter 77? As Rebecca MacKinnon notes in her blog, it is too soon to tell.
Indonesia’s West Kalimantan province has suffered from communal conflict and at the turn of the millennium the Indonesian province became infamous for two massive cannibalistic riots. While the massive violence has not continued there have been smaller violent incidents with several people killed every year. None of the conflict disputes have been solved either. NIAS-led peace studies network on the ASEM Education Hub platform has been working in the areas offering teaching on conflict resolution and peace studies in several M.A. classes at the local Tanjungpura University. One of the classes has been targeted to the very same ethnic leaders who mobilized the mass riots and later tried to make peace with each other. On December 15th, this class stepped out of its educational platform and transferred itself into a peace process under the auspices of the vice president of Indonesia. This transition could offer a model for how purely academic work can serve the purpose of capacity building for peace and actual pre-negotiation for a peace process.
ASEM Peace Studies Network teaching in Kalimantan has been based on an assumption that while recognizing the expertise of local intellectuals in understanding the local conflict conditions, comparative research can still offer something to deepen this understanding. Every lecture starts with a general lecture based on comparative conflict studies, focused on a theme that is crucial for the understanding of the conflict in West Kalimantan. In a way the introduction of each lecture attempts to carry lessons from conflicts all over the world for the scrutiny in West Kalimantan. This has been my task. Next the local professor, Dr. Syarif I, Alqadrie has applied the global lessons to the Kalimantan context. In the third phase, the “students”, who, of course are the main actors in West Kalimantan conflict, elected leaders of ethnic associations of each major ethnic group from the five conflict-affected districts, discuss the Kalimantan experience trying to think what went wrong in the run-up to the conflict, and what should be done to prevent the conflict from escalating again. It is natural that in this process, a lot of practical negotiation takes place between the leaders of the main conflicting community leaders. However, a university class cannot pretend to be a negotiation venue: whatever the community leaders would accept in front of a European “Bule Gila” (crazy foreigner) will have little influence when objective interests run counter the commitments in an educational event. Yet, it would have been such a waste to keep the cooperation purely academic, and not to utilize the confidence built in the class, and the explicit consensus “pre-negotiated” around such crucial issues as how to prevent violent inter-ethnic crime from turning into communal conflict, how to help the police react quickly in the case of conflict triggering events by offering them community-base conflict early warning, and how to foster communication and confidence building between communities. During the year 2008 NIAS has worked on a solution that could help the situation.
Indonesia’s vice president is known for his expertise in conflict resolution. After “master-minding” three major peace processes in Indonesia, in Poso, Ambon and Aceh, he has also received a number of international offers for mediation of protracted conflicts. This is why it was natural for me to approach vice president’s able deputy for political affairs, Prof. Djohermansyah, who is also a conflict specialist, and a former student of the father of peace research, Norwegian Johan Galtung. Prof. Djohermansyah did not need much persuasion; he saw the potential of progress in West Kalimantan from the start. Preparations for the conversion of the ethnic leaders’ class into a permanent communication forum started in spring 2008. Finally, on December 15, Professor Djohermansyah joined the ASEM program, and took over the ethnic class, and inaugurated the West Kalimantan Ethnic Communication Forum. The inauguration ceremony was attended by public officials of the province on all levels of regional administration, as well as by the provincial police chief, all chiefs of the police districts. As expected, the inaugural meeting of West Kalimantan Ethnic Communication Forum reached agreements on many issues crucial for conflict prevention. The Pasir Panjang Declaration establishing the forum was signed by the ethnic leaders, the two initiators of the forum (Alqadrie and I) and the facilitator of the work of the forum, Prof. Djohermansyah. Furthermore, the forum decided on the principles of operation, conflict early warning cooperation with the provincial police, crisis management action (to be taken after a “triggering event” has taken place), work for the removal of root causes of conflict, and on the practical working forms and schedules of the forum. Many issues will be left for further meetings, but the fact that all the leaders of each of the conflict districts value the permanence of dialogue and problem solving between communities, is already a long step towards the right direction. Ethnic leaders are not all-mighty, conflict can of course happen even if these leaders opposed it. But with this cooperation it is unlikely, that these leaders mobilized the mobs and militias. It is also less likely, that ordinary people can mobilize ethnic sentiments for violent purposes if the respected ethnic leaders explicitly go against such mobilization. Even if there were youth groups who tried to frame an individual inter-ethnic criminal event in communal terms calling for a communal revenge, most members of the community would probably refrain and listen to their ethnic leaders instead of youth groups in the question of what ones communal affiliation and loyalty requires from them. While not able to resolve all conflict problems of the province, ethnic leaders are probably at best in defining what ethnicity can and cannot be used for. Thus a united stand by ethnic leaders against using ethnic loyalties for the mobilization of violence can be a meaningful contribution in the prevention of future conflict and in the resolving of old ones. The fact that a university class could spill overt this kind of united stand, proves that theory is practical and university collaboration can serve societies. There is nothing “merely academic” about purely academic work.
by Geir Helgesen, Senior Researcher, NIAS
Last year in Korea was, as was previous years, filled with ups and downs, hopes and doubts, surprises and shocks, mystical occurrences and wild speculations, political shrewdness and political stupidity, conflict and thaw, tragedies and hope, fear and forgiving. All in all probably not so different from previous years, so what can be said about the recent past and the possible future on the Korean peninsula?
Korea is still a divided country, despite periods with thaw and positive developments, the relations between the two halves of the peninsula can at best be characterized as being marked by skepticism, usually it is hostile and often the situation seems to be on the brink of war. Not from any perspective an acceptable situation considering that the peninsula is highly militarized, including the presence of US bases and troops. This because the war in 1950-53 never formally ended: a ceasefire and not a peace agreement is the basis upon which the two opposing systems are co-existing. Although the cold war ended around 1990, on the Korean peninsula the balance is still sought upheld between the cold and the cruel war.
How can it be that this crazy situation prevails despite numerous attempts to have it solved? There are internal reasons: for instance the fact that for the majority of people North and South of the demarcation line, this abnormal situation is perceived as normal, as they have never experienced anything else. They know how to relate to “the other” as an enemy, this has been internalized through upbringing, education and political schooling. They do not know otherwise. This “abnormal normality”, however, can hardly be politically justified, as it implies an enormous waste of human resources; is a constant economic drain that creates inhuman conditions in parts of the peninsula; and, because it poses a real threat for the prevailing peace in Korea as well as in the whole region. And yet, to some extent the hostility between the two systems is also a factor that legitimizes their existence: the political authority on each side claims to be guaranteeing the security of its people confronted with the evil other. It is well known that an external enemy may function as the glue that bind people together in an otherwise disillusioned or fragmented population. Externally there are several reasons why some players, even main ones, may hesitate to invest their total energy in seeking a sustainable solution. In Japan North Korea plays an important role as the ideal threat immediately outside its borders, and this has skillfully been utilized by conservative and nationalistic forces in that country. For people devoted to high-tech weaponry development in the USA it has also been convenient to point at the North Korean military might as a main reason for a continued improvement of different anti-ballistic systems. Not that North Korea was innocent in creating these relations, the point is that what North Korea said and did, and what external forces hostile to North Koreas positive development needed, corresponded almost too well.
Was there then anything that happened in 2008 that may be signaling the direction of future developments on the peninsula? Despite speculations about political instability in the North we learned that their leader is in firm control, even when he becomes invisible to the world resulting in all kind of media-speculations. Thus the new US strategy in the last years of the Bush era: to accept reality as it is and stop dreaming about regime-change, was justified. This was too little and too late, however, to create an environment conducive to a serious and productive dialogue between the two traditional enemies, the DPRK and the USA.
Looking for big changes one have to turn to South Korea, where the two previous presidents Kim Dae-jung and Rho Moo-hyun over a period of ten years had created a different atmosphere between the two halves of the divided country, establishing a new platform for dialogue and cooperation. The new approach labeled “Sunshine” policy and later “Engagement” policy, realizing that hostility between South and North would continue endlessly unless a radical change was actively promoted, convinced Kim Dae-jung that sticks would never scare North Korea into a mood of change. To him the logical alternative was to use carrots, and as South Korea was characterized by abundance and North by scarcity, the Sunshine policy meant a transfer of means from South to North. Despite a decade of improved relations this era was halted when South Korean voters late last year elected the conservative President Lee Myung-bak, who pledged a tougher stand towards the North. Arguing that the engagement policy was too expensive for South Korea, and that North Korea failed to reciprocate as expected, President Lee reintroduced the stick, with the immediate consequence that North Korea retreated to the previous cold-war mode of relations. This, however, may be a short interlude in the bumpy relations between the two Koreas. One reason supporting this expectation is that President Lee after all, as a former successful businessman, will focus on results rather than on ideology, and until now his North Korea policy has proved counterproductive. Another reason is that a new president is moving into the White House in Washington, a president who have emphasized dialogue instead of power policy in foreign relations, who have stated that one needs to talk to ones enemies, not only allies and friends, and who may be able to put eight years of failed US policy towards North Korea aside and connect back to the last period of the Clinton/Albright era where a breakthrough between the USA and North Korea was closer than ever before.
Is North Korea ready for this? Reading official statements from Pyongyang in response to what they see as hostile attacks from Japan, South Korea and the USA, one would doubt it. But these statements are responses to repeated criticism from the above mentioned countries, and North Korea does not restrict itself when it comes to verbal fights, has never done. Looking at what is going on in North Korea, however, how reality is changing in response to changed conditions and in anticipation of a changing policy, with corresponding new laws and regulations, one might be more confident that North Korea is ready. North Korea, its people and its political authorities, are moving. Some move reluctantly, everybody does it cautiously, but change has come to North Korea as status quo would mean stagnation and economic suicide. The outside world has an impact on developments in North Korea, and if North Korean authorities perceive the outside world as friendly and safe they will prefer and promote change. That was Kim Dae-jung’s deep insight and nothing has proved it wrong.