UNITED NATIONS – Gloria Steinem on Friday described demands that organizers of an upcoming DMZ crossing bring up North Korean human rights violations as “bananas.”
Steinem, perhaps the most visible of the march’s participants, was speaking as part of a press conference held one block from the UN.
The press conference was marked several times by applause from attendees. But things grew heated when the question of why the WomenCrossDMZ.org website does not mention human rights violations in North Korea.
“I teach a class devoted entirely to North Korea at Rutgers University, we spent the last two weeks talking about human rights in North Korea and the complicated ways in which it needs to be and should be addressed,” said Prof. Suzy Kim, who moderated the press conference.
Of “the critique that we’ve gotten for not mentioning human rights violations in North Korea,” Kim said, “if we’re trying to initiate a project for long-term peace-building measures it seems that it’s not quite right to go in with an attack.”
“We would want to raise these issues, but we don’t think beginning the talks we would want to start accusing anyone of things. In the process of talking with the North Korean women while we’re there, certainly we would be listening to what their concerns are.”
At this point Steinem, the famed women’s rights activist, interjected.
“That’s such a bananas question,” she said. “Did you say to (Ronald) Reagan when he said, ‘Tear down this wall,’ why aren’t you talking about Siberia and human rights?”
Reagan, in a Berlin speech in 1987, famously implored Soviet leader Mikhail Gorbachev to tear down the Berlin Wall.
“(Reagan) was talking about tearing down a wall. We are talking about taking down a wall. There are sins on every side. For instance, left over in Vietnam, Agent Orange is still buried.”
Organizers said the march has essentially been approved – “the letter is in the mail,” is how Cora Weiss of the Hague Appeal for Peace put it.
Most of the press conference was less contentious. Hyung-kyung Chung of the Union Theological Seminary invited attendees also to go a World War II commemoration for the comfort women – women from several countries who were forced into providing sexual services for the Imperial Japanese army – in New Jersey later in the month. She said that a letter about the march had been sent to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, previously South Korea’s foreign minister, without any response.
The South Korean mission to the UN, she said, had responded and been helpful.
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