By Naomi Yakawich
The Global Peace Convention 2019 explored an urgent need for a broad and inclusive vision to bridge social and political divides to secure peace on the Korean peninsula and around the world on February 27, the second day of the convention hosted in Seoul.
Day 2 featured an International Forum on One Korea, a Forum on Transforming Education, and sessions on Values-based Peacebuilding and International Religious Freedom.
International Forum on One Korea
Though North and South Koreans share a history dating back five millennia, they have been divided against their will for over seventy years. This division has caused deep suffering on the peninsula as well as contributed to the serious instability and underdevelopment of the Northeast Asia region. Even while the international community is focused on the issue of denuclearization and high-level talks, there is much that Korean citizens and the international community can do to further a peaceful Korean reconciliation.
Experts, scholars and leaders at the International Forum on One Korea promoted a peaceful and Korean-led process of unification based on the peninsula’s shared identity and cultural heritage. With an emphasis on ideals articulated at the time of the founding of the Korean nation, Hongik Ingan, to bring benefit to all humanity, the process of Korean reunification could and should be another important opportunity to underscore the importance of the value of freedom, democracy, rule of law and human dignity for all.
Mr. Jin Shin, President of the Institute for Peace Affairs, emphasized that the March 1 Movement should not be a memory of struggle against Japan, which only fosters enmity, but rather should focus on the basic human right to enjoy freedom and be part of a free society. “We need to remind ourselves where we need to go these next one hundred years,” said Mr. Shin. “The unification we are pursuing needs to be based on basic freedoms with the spirit of the March 1 Movement.”
Professor Tong Kim described the three characteristics of the March 1st Movement as a commitment to peace and public order, interface unity based on shared values, and total participation and support from all. Korean-led grassroots programs to engage North Korean defectors, citizens of South Korea and the diaspora around the world are an important part of building a consensus on the vision of a united Korea.
Values-Based Peacebuilding and International Religious Freedom
The world’s faith and wisdom traditions agree on these universally recognized principles, shared values, and time-honored truths about the intrinsic value, dignity, and fundamental rights of all people, which is an essential foundation for ethical and just societies. The Global Peace Convention Values-based Peacebuilding sessions examined the implications and practical applications of universal principles in addressing human rights, equitable development and religious freedom for countries around the world with a specific look at international support for the freedom of the North Korean people.
Faith leaders from around the world including Rev. Canice Chinyeaka Enyiaka from Nigeria and Swami Shantatmananda from India, emphasized the intrinsic value and dignity of all people no matter their religious, ethnic, or cultural backgrounds. Ambassador Mussie Hailu Gebretsadik, Regional Director of United Religions Initiative for Africa and UN, called on people of faith as important leaders in directing a society of shared values saying that “all religions should be examples of protecting human life and rejecting violence.”
At a time when acts of terror driven by extremism is overtaking headlines, this global crisis can be addressed at the local level by community and faith leaders. Speakers, including former President of Zanzibar, H.E. Dr. Amani Abeid Karume, explored the root causes of violent extremism, such as poverty, unemployment and political exclusion saying that social organizations play an important role in fostering cohesion. Imam Talib Shareef, President and Imam of Masjid Muhammad, brought attention to resources and preventative narratives to confront violent extremist messaging. His “Challenge the Narrative” initiative used social media campaigns to address stereotypes amongst Muslim Americans. “A strong sense of self-identity, self-reliance, civic engagement, interfaith engagement, and patriotism were key points,” said Imam Shareef.
Rev. Cannon Rosemary Mgobo, Provincial Secretary of the Anglican Church of Kenya, pointed to the message found in the first lines of the Kenyan national anthem which states, “God of all creation, bless this our land and nation… may we dwell in unity.” She declared the importance of religious freedom in allowing people to engage with and serve each other based on common values across religions in order to enhance and transform lives in their communities.
Discussing the abysmal state of human rights in North Korea, speakers like Kenneth Bae, the longest held US prisoner in North Korea, described the desperate need for the international community to advocate for the rights of the North Korean people, a global crisis equal to the global security threat of nuclearization.
Forum on Transforming Education
Although Korean families put so much importance on education, even spending an average of 30% of their income on education, the strain on students in the country creates so much stress that it often leads to suicide. Whak Kuk Lee, Director of Korea Institute of Character Education, stands by the ideal that education should have be relevant to life outside of school and emphasize creativity, character, and learning skills, a theme expressed at the Forum on Transforming Education.
In a rapidly changing world, it is imperative for educational institutions to produce students who are prepared to meet the demands of constantly changing societies while having the moral leadership capacity to peacefully and innovatively provide solutions to the challenges of today. The Forum on Transforming Education brought together hundreds of educators to explore Character, Creativity and the Skills Essential for Future-Ready Education and Innovative Strategies for Education Implementation.