Responding to North Korea: in conversation with Michael Kirby and Gareth Evans | ROUNDTABLE | October 2016

In October, CPD was proud to once again partner with ANU to host a unique conversation between two of Australia’s most distinguished and influential experts on law, international relations and human rights: Professor the Honourable Gareth Evans, AC QC, and the Honourable Michael Kirby, AC CMG. Our two speakers were joined at ANU House in Melbourne by guests from diplomatic and policy community and media to discuss the topic ‘responding to North Korea’.

This is an issue close to both Michael and Gareth’s hearts as long-term and passionate advocates for protection of human rights both domestically and internationally. In addition to being one of Australia’s longest serving Foreign Ministers, Gareth Evans was President of the International Crisis Group and Co-Chair of the United Nations Commission on Intervention and State Sovereignty. Michael Kirby, a former Australian High Court Justice, led the United Nations Commission of Inquiry on Human Rights in North Korea. The Commission called for urgent action by the international community to address North Korea’s decades-long pursuit of policies that “shock the conscience of humanity”. Needless to say, Gareth and Michael have a unique vantage point and perspectives on the human rights, security and diplomatic problems presented by North Korea, and on the wider international architecture and agenda for advancing human rights and non-proliferation.

The conversation was moderated by CPD Research Committee Chair and international security expert Jeni Whalan. It focused on strategies for addressing these grave human rights abuses, and the complex diplomatic interplay between the human rights agenda and international efforts to curb the growing nuclear ambitions and capabilities of Kim Jong-un’s regime. Gareth and Michael offered valuable and at times different perspectives on how these two crucial diplomatic and humanitarian agendas could be prioritised and reconciled.



Michael Kirby: “The two [strategic concerns and human rights] are linked because to the extent that North Korea is a human rights abusing country, it is an unstable country, and there are potentially lots of people who are really suffering there…There is a growing awareness within DPRK of what the world is saying. The issue is, will that cause the instability that so far has not really evidenced itself? That must be something that is concerning the regime…


The Council on Foreign Relations made the point that Gareth has made – this is not an irrational regime; these are not irrational steps. I suspect that Kim Jong-un has on his wall that pathetic photo of Saddam Hussein coming out of his hole and a picture of Gaddafi in a pipe and is determined that he will not get to either of those places. The nuclear strategy is a strategy of his and his regime to prevent that happening, and that is a rational policy on the part of an oppressive country that is doing great wrongs to its own people. [Yet] doing nothing is not an option, as doing nothing is to turn your back on crimes against humanity.”



Gareth Evans: “There’s a tension between whatever strategies you are talking about that are designed to put the pressure on on the human rights front, and what we might need to do to move forward on the nuclear front. There is no denying that tension. You could finesse it by saying well, the nuclear issue is itself a human rights issue, which it undoubtedly is because nuclear weapons are the most indiscriminately inhumane weapons ever devised, and such momentum as there is for disarmament at the moment is being generated by that humanitarian human rights impulse…


My instinct is the nuclear thing really is the key to just about everything else. If we can resolve the nuclear issue, and at the same time give the North Koreans some real confidence that regime change is not going to be an objective of any of their neighbours or the United States and that they can actually live and run their society without that external fear…then I think there is a chance over time that the environment you will so create will be one that is far more conducive to sanity and acceptable behaviour on the human rights front.”

A full transcript and recording of the conversation will be coming soon. 

It was an honour to facilitate this discussion and we thank the Honourable Gareth Evans and the Honourable Michael Kirby for sharing their wisdom and expertise, and a joke or two between old friends. We thank ANU House in Melbourne for co-hosting this enlightening discussion and look forward to working with them on future events.


 The Honourable Michael Kirby, Jeni Whalan, the Honourable Gareth Evans, and CPD CEO Travers McLeod