Book presented to President of South Korea – UPDATE

My co-author Lord Alton kindly sent me a photo of the moment in 2014 when he met President Park of South Korea and presented her with a copy of our book, Building Bridges: Is there Hope for North Korea?

This previous blog post gives a little of the context and explains why I was so pleased to see the photograph.

President of South Korea

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‘A Shock to the Conscience of Humanity’ – remarkable news

Since taking a job with the Humanitarian Aid Relief Trust (HART), all of my professional activity has taken place away from this blog behind the scenes at, but I could not let this article pass by without blogging about it, however briefly.

Photo from AFP

Photo from AFP

Today an article by the aptly-named Colin Freeman appeared in the Telegraph, detailing a strong statement from a United Nations panel about the horrific crimes against humanity occurring in the ultra-police state of North Korea. Freeman quoted panel-member Michael Kirby, a retired Australian judge, as using a word I held no realistic hopes of hearing in the context of the North Korean regime and its leader. The word was ‘prosecution’. How this word will ever make the leap into action, I do not know; the International Criminal Court does not have its own police force, and other ICC-indicted criminal heads of state are still ‘at large’, such as Sudan’s Omar al-Bashir, with little hope of bringing them in; and China has already hinted that it will use its UN Security Council veto to block the court indicting the DPRK’s leader.

Despite all this, there is still a glimmer of hope – or perhaps a stirring of grim determination – because Mr Kirby added: “If you have the power to stop it happening, you have to bear a degree of responsibility.” Though he was referring to Kim Jong-un permitting and orchestrating atrocities (if not actually inflicting them), Mr Kirby’s words can go for the world, as much as for the leaders of the DPRK.

Original article: Telegraph
Reproduced on: The Province

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Book presented to President of South Korea

Yesterday I met with Lord David Alton of Liverpool and he told me that today he is meeting with Park Geun-hye, the President of South Korea and the office’s first female incumbent. He said he would give her a copy of our book, Building Bridges: Is there Hope for North Korea?

President of South Korea

President of South Korea

This is exciting for me for obvious reasons. It is also exciting because (as Wikipedia could tell you) Chapter 3 of South Korea’s Constitution says the top three duties of the president are as follows:

    • uphold the Constitution
    • preserve the safety and homeland of the Republic of Korea
    • work for the peaceful reunification of Korea

Bearing in mind that our book calls for re-engagement with North Korea with a view to peaceful reunion of the Koreas, I could not be happier that Ms.Park will receive a copy.

Ms.Park took office earlier this year with a pledge to “enact a ‘trust-building’ process” (BBC) and only yesterday the Wall Street Journal reported more encouraging comments. I hope our book encourages her in her bridge-building work.

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Masterclass in fundraising from The Refugee Council

A magazine slid through my letterbox earlier this week. Inside, annoyingly, was a wodge of adverts from various organisations. My reaction was to flick through and immediately recycle them. However, one caught my eye; it was a rough brown envelope with a two-line question written in a typewriter font.

My first thought was ‘it’s an appeal; let’s see how other people do003 them’ and so I picked it up. It showed the face of a young girl next to the question, “Is she an ‘asylum seeker’, ‘freeloader’, or ‘scrounger’?” The question seemed to give responders two negative options over a fairly cold positive – why not refugee or other more sympathetic term? In the corner of the envelope it said P.T.O., which was just enough of a hook to make me turn the envelope over.

On the reverse was the magic fourth option: “Or an orphaned 004little girl who needs your help?”

Underneath it said “A personal message from Colin Firth” and on one side was the actor’s picture.

When most appeals try to give you one reason to open the envelope, this gave me two. I was curious to find out ‘Why Colin Firth?’ and, more importantly, what the girl’s story was. As a father of a young child, my protective instinct is always set to ‘high alert’ so I’m an easy target for causes promoting the protection and well-being of children.

Inside was a black and white letter, probably designed to look as cheap as possible. At the top of the letter was Colin Firth’s picture, the same one as on the envelope, and the opener ‘Dear Friend’.

“Opening this envelope has already set you apart.”

A nice ego massage, thanks Colin. But why does it set me apart?

The words ‘asylum seeker’ will have deterred many people.

Wait – I thought ‘asylum seeker’ was meant to be the one positive of the three options. Colin Firth did not need to restate the assertion we’re dealing with an ‘orphaned little girl’; that powerful choice of words is present even if unsaid.

Perhaps it was the child you saw and not the label. Today, I would like to ask you to take another step and help protect a child like Melody.

I have taken one step in opening the letter. Another step is easy. And there is another Melody, who’s name I’ve learned but whose story I still don’t know, whom I can protect.

You’d be right in wondering why this request comes from me.

Yes, I was wondering, actually. Colin, can you read my mind?!

Colin Firth (or the copywriter) then sets out a moving and compelling story of Melody’s tragic young life in Nigeria; how she lost her parents, moved in with her terminally ill grandmother; how a ‘friend’ offered to give the grandmother respite care by taking Melody on holiday; and how Melody was immediately traffiked into the UK to be a domestic slave.

But for Melody, her servitude was about to take an even worse turn.

Men began to visit the flat to pay to be taken to Melody’s room. The abuse that went on behind that door has scarred her for life.

What is unsaid is more powerful, somehow, because it keeps the horror in the mind of the reader without letting it out on paper. It is unambiguous and inescapable.

The story continued: One day, Melody fought back, and was kicked out onto the street and – through her own hard work – got enrolled in a school and referred through Social Services to the Refugee Council. I don’t wish to weary you by making you read the entire four-page appeal so I will skip through the rest, picking out only a few details. The writer included details of how the UK Government cut funding by £6.5 million, leaving a giant 30% hole in their running costs.

They presented a financial case as well as a humanitarian one. Not only did this appeal hit the heart, it hit the head. The solution is obvious.

Then came the Ask. This critically important part of any appeal can be a tricky beast. For some people, a suggested donation of £18 is too much but £12 is perfect. For others it is £8. Some charities ask for £1. I was therefore amazed at and in awe of The Refugee Council’s courage to ask for £40. True, they also gave the option of £20 an [£Other] box for writing in your own donation, but they were aiming high, and I’m certain people will respond to the best of their financial abilities.

They even included a postscript from Colin Firth urging everyone to sign the petition to urge our Government to act on behalf of refugees like Melody. This was not presented as a get-out clause for people who don’t want to give financially; it was in addition to the donors’ gifts.

It is probably the best, bravest, most moving appeal I have read in… I don’t know… probably my entire career. Well done, Colin and Copywriter.



Here’s the super-short web version on the Refugee Council Website.

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A little thought about doing the important things

I will write a longer blog post later this week but I wanted to share with you a passage from a novel I just read because it struck me as a powerful call to action: to ditch the false importance of ‘safe’ and step out into the dangerous ground of significance and experience.

The novel was The Sense of an Ending by Julian Barnes. the-sense-of-an-ending
On page 93 of this short book, his character Tony says:

There was a moment in my late twenties when I admitted that my adventurousness had long since petered out. I would never do those things adolescence had dreamt about. Instead, I mowed my lawn, I took holidays, I had my life.

     But time… how time first grounds us and then confounds us. We thought we were being mature when we were only being safe. We imagined we were being responsible but were only being cowardly. What we called realism turned out to be a way of avoiding things rather than facing them. Time… give us enough time and our best-supported decisions will seem wobbly, our certainties whimsical.

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The Most Important Question of 2013

Seven days ago, US Secretary of State John Kerry gave a joint press conference with William Hague on the Syrian Crisis. Margaret Brennan, a correspondent for America’s CBS News, asked Mr Kerry two questions, and the second will most likely prove to be the most important question of 2013.

CBS Correspondent Margaret Brennan

CBS Correspondent Margaret Brennan

After a fairly hard-hitting question about America’s evidence for chemical weapons and the USA’s integrity after the Bush-Cheney debacle over Iraq’s alleged WMDs, she said:

“Is there anything at this point that his government could do or offer that would stop an attack?”

Kerry said:

“Sure. He could turn over every single bit of his chemical weapons to the international community in the next week. Turn it over, all of it, without delay, and allow a full and total accounting for that. But he isn’t about to do it, and it can’t be done, obviously.”  (Read the full transcript here.)

He appeared to speak hastily, responding off the cuff, and afterwards his aides told the assembled journalists that he had responded to what was a hypothetical question; it did not reflect a possible reality. Another US official went further, speaking to another US news network CNN, commenting that Kerry’s words constituted a “major goof,” and that the Secretary “clearly went off script.”

Though both the American and Russian governments have since claimed that they discussed this option at the G20 Summit a week earlier, it is likely that Ms. Brennan’s timely question caught the Secretary off-guard and opened a diplomatic window at a time when US President Obama and his Republican allies were closing as many doors as possible and pushing for strikes despite overwhelming public opinion against military action.

Since Kerry uttered his ‘gaffe heard ’round the world’, there has been a diplomatic frenzy of activity — particularly from Russia — which has resulted in Syria agreeing to surrender its chemical arsenal AND join the global Convention on Chemical Weapons as early as 14 October of this year. The Syrian regime even claims being stripped of its weapons is a ‘victory’ for the country. Having hitherto denied possessing chemical weapons, Assad’s government cannot seriously expect anyone to be impressed by this claim. It is worth remembering that only one week ago, Assad himself had implied that he or certain unidentified groups would hit back and “expect every action” against any America strikes. It looked like war – or at least some kind of destructive intervention – was inevitable.

Whether or not you believe the White House had planned this diplomatic solution, or Russia achieved the agreement out of the goodness of its heart, or the Syrian regime really are celebrating the loss of a gigantic arsenal of weaponry and a degree of their sovereignty, one thing remains: none of this would have happened without Margaret Brennan’s question.

It was the right question at the right time because it resulted in accidental diplomacy which has averted a war which might, just might, have turned the Middle East, North Africa and South-Eastern Europe into an irradiated cemetery.

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North Korea celebrates 65 years of ‘independence’

On 25 August 1948, elections for the first Supreme People’s Assembly were held in North Korea. These hope behind post-War elections in Korea had been to heal the division of the country into North and South through establishing one government for the whole of the peninsula. However, Kim Il Sung successfully persuaded the Soviet forces occupying the North to prevent the UN from overseeing the northern elections. The result was two sets of elections: one for the South, held on 10 May 1948; and one for the North. The result was two elected bodies in two ‘states’ with two constitutions with the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) coming in to being on 9 September 1948.

Two years later, after escalating border conflicts and wholly frustrated talks about reunion, North Korean army tanks rolled over the border and began a conflict that took the lives of 2.5 million people before the shaky ceasefire of 27 July 1953.

Almost 60 years later, in the early part of 2013, Kim Jong Un’s government flexed its nuclear muscles, tested its long-range rockets and declared that it was no longer bound by the 1953 Armistice and was therefore no longer “restrained by the North-South declaration on non-aggression.” A renewed Korean War was made more possible, if not more likely.

For a country which criticises America and South Korea for their provocative shows of military might, celebrating its 1948 elections with a gigantic rally of military hardware is in the very least entirely hypocritical.

Here is an illuminating picture gallery of the celebrations, provided by The Telegraph newspaper.

The eyes of the world may be on Syria and the unbearable suffering of its people, but we must not forget about North Korea and the work still needing to be done to rehabilitate this dangerous and secretive state.

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