US recognition of its role in Jeju April 3 Incident is key to preventing future atrocities, peace scholar says

Posted on : 2021-12-02 18:04 KST Modified on : 2021-12-02 18:04 KST
The director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute was awarded the Jeju 4·3 Peace Prize on Tuesday
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, speaks with reporters at the award ceremony for the Jeju 4‧3 Peace Prize Award, held on Tuesday at the Maison Glad Jeju Hotel. (Huh Ho-Joon/The Hankyoreh)
Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, speaks with reporters at the award ceremony for the Jeju 4‧3 Peace Prize Award, held on Tuesday at the Maison Glad Jeju Hotel. (Huh Ho-Joon/The Hankyoreh)

Dan Smith, director of the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute, was awarded the Jeju 4·3 Peace Prize on Tuesday. Speaking on his vision for Korean peace, he emphasized the need for “mutual trust” and communication both between the Koreas and with the US, adding that “allowing the two Koreas and their neighboring countries to come to an end-of-war declaration based on mutual agreement will help create a positive atmosphere for enduring peace.”

During a press conference following the awards ceremony, Smith noted that current conditions on and surrounding the Korean Peninsula are extremely precarious, adding that “though invaluable, the opportunity created in 2018 that initiated inter-Korean and US-North Korean diplomatic processes ultimately fell through, the fallout from which has not been easy to undo.”

“Reinitiating those processes has become complicated due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and the situation has taken an even worse turn with North Korea’s complete closure of its borders,” he said.

Smith also said that it’s difficult to expect in-depth negotiations that would lay out concrete plans for the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula, while adding that “careful preparations should be made in the event that North Korea comes back to the negotiating table.”

He continued, “This is why efforts should be made towards inter-Korean trust-building and communication.”

Smith is known to have arranged working-level talks between the two Koreas and the US in Stockholm in 2019 to help bring about the denuclearization of the Korean Peninsula. Smith, who first visited South Korea in 1994 at the invitation of the late former President Kim Dae-jung and has since visited the country multiple times, recalled that “[Kim] had yet to become President, and our conversation about the Sunshine Policy and inter-Korean issues led me to take a special interest in issues concerning the Korean Peninsula. When I joined SIPRI in 2015, it was the first time I was able to make a small contribution to the prospects for peace in this part of the world.”

Smith, who had never visited Jeju Island before, said upon receiving the honor, “Whatever the pressure of the times, whatever the situation in Korea and world politics, whatever the fears and insecurities — what happened [during the Jeju April 3 Incident] was not acceptable. Such acts can never be accepted or regarded as civilized. When we are aware they happen, there must be accountability. When the truth is hidden, it must be uncovered.”

On his prior knowledge of the island’s tragic past, Smith said he had been unaware of the Jeju April 3 Incident before arriving, saying, “All I knew was that something terrible had happened before the Korean War.”

“Receiving this prize has allowed me to learn many new facts and has given me the chance to read up on the incident and visit its memorial. I was very moved, and the experience was very meaningful,” he said.

On the US’ role in the incident, he said, “If no one offers a sincere apology, how can one be certain that something like [the Jeju April 3 Incident] will never happen again?”

Smith stated that he feels it is “very important that the US government acknowledges its responsibility for what happened.”

Smith also said that besides the Jeju 4.3 Peace Memorial Hall, he had also visited the Kigali Genocide Memorial in Rwanda and the Memorial to the Victims of the Deportation of 1944 in Chechen that commemorates the victims of Stalin’s forced relocation to Central Asia. He noted, “I feel that massacres are part of human history. Every time I visit such memorials, I’m inspired by stories at once moving and surprising of human reconciliation and forgiveness.”

Smith previously served as the director of the Peace Research Institute Oslo in Norway (1993-2001) and as chair of the UN Peacebuilding Fund Advisory Group (2010-2011). He is an authority in international peace research with expertise in various conflict resolution and peace-related issues, ranging from international security, nonproliferation and conflict research, armed conflicts and peacebuilding, and the relationship between political instability and climate change.

During his acceptance speech, Smith touched on this century’s security challenges such as cyber insecurity, climate change, and the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, arguing that “Security policy [. . .] must manage and reduce the risks that arise from interstate rivalries, from poor governance and leadership — both in national governments and international agencies.”

“It must also include responses to the pressures created by the environmental crisis of today,” he continued. “The impact of climate change will change our lives, our societies, our economic possibilities and our politics for at least five decades to come, even if greenhouse gas emissions are sharply reduced and global warming slows down.”

On how to solve problems concerning civilians being persecuted for political and religious reasons all around the world, Smith stressed that powerful countries should approach such matters peacefully.

“The number of armed conflicts worldwide decreased from 50 to 20 between 1990 and 2010 but multiplied to 56 in the last 10 years. If one were to compare the two periods, [one might say] peace proliferated during the former while conflict proliferated during the latter,” Smith said.

He continued, “Currently, US-Russia relations and US-China relations have worsened. Ultimately, when relations between powerful countries improve, the rest of the world enjoys more opportunities for peace. We need to urge powerful countries to act more peacefully, more calmly.”

The Jeju 4·3 Peace Foundation’s fourth Jeju April 3 Peace Prize Ceremony held Tuesday at Maison Glad Jeju Hotel in Jeju City also recognized the Jeju 4·3 Hallasan Mountain Society, a Japanese group, with a Special Prize.

By Huh Ho-Joon, Jeju correspondent

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