Saturday, April 24, 2021

War and Human Rights

The Column on Reconciliation on the Peninsula of the Korean Times examines the issue of war and human rights.
Todd D. Whitmore of Notre Dame University in the U.S. believes that a theologian's mission to serve the underprivileged is more important than writing a book. Whitmore, who values life as it is lived, and deals with theological issues using the ethnographic methodology, (relating to the scientific description of peoples and cultures with their customs, habits, and mutual differences).
He was active especially in northern Uganda and South Sudan from 2005 to 2013. And such activities in the disputed area led him, a "Catholic peace activist", to reflect more deeply on the relationship between justice and peace.

In his paper: "On the Actual Spot", Whitmore introduces an original report published by the 'Refugee Law Project at Makerere University in Uganda called "Peace First, Justice Later". The report contains interviews in several cities in northern Uganda in 2005 from various classes of people, different cultures, and religious backgrounds, impressive in their arguments for justice and peace at the scene of devastating violence.
The people interviewed showed surprising agreement on the order in which things should be done. In other words, the war must end first, and only then can it be determined what kind of justice mechanism should be implemented. Unless the situation changes, when people's safety cannot be guaranteed, people living amid conflict do not have the time or inclination to focus on rebuilding after the conflict.

Whitmore, who explains that in sub-Saharan Africa, with its poverty, the Catholic social teaching as seen in Europe cannot be applied as it is. He emphasizes the need to carefully consider the special environment and specific situations, particularly in discussing the 'strategic priorities' of justice and peace. In the long-term context, it is natural to pursue active peace when justice is achieved, but in some cases, in situations where conflicts have continued for decades, passive peace, which immediately stops violence and threats, can be prioritized.

Recently, the media made known the "2020 Human Rights Report by Country" released by the U.S. State Department which pointed out not only North Korea and China but also South Korea's human rights situation. The U.S. State Department does not directly criticize individual countries but makes it clear that it is interested in improving their human rights, which in fact raises controversial issues for both progressives and conservatives in our society, not just 'anti-North Korean leaflets' and scandals of politicians. Admitting that wars, where violence is justified, have always been disastrous abuses of human rights, we should urge the Korean authorities to make careful and serious efforts to improve the human rights of those living in the land where the war is still ongoing.

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