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Demilitarised zone and legal perspectives of non interference in domestic affairs of nations

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United Nations building. (Photo by Monika Graff/Getty Images)


In international law, the principle of non-intervention includes, but is not limited to, the prohibition of the threat or use of force against the territorial integrity or political independence of any state (Article 2.4 of the United Nations Charter). The principle of non-intervention in the internal affairs of States also signifies that a State should not otherwise intervene in a dictatorial way in the internal affairs of other States. 
   
However, intervention (even military intervention) with the consent, properly given, of the Government of a State is not precluded. Article 2.7 of the Charter of the United Nations provides that –”Nothing contained in the present Charter shall authorize the United Nations to intervene in matters which are essentially within the domestic jurisdiction of any state or shall require  members to submit such matters to settlement under the present Charter; but this principle shall not prejudice the application of enforcement measures under Chapter VII.”
 
The 2019 International Bar Association Annual General Conference held at the COEX Convention and Exhibition Centre, Gangnam, Seoul between the 22nd of September to the 27th of September, 2019, afforded me an opportunity to see the practical application of the long-standing principle of international law of non intervention and the efforts of the international community in ensuring adherence and respect to the integrity of States in the face of increasing global threat of conflicts and war. 
  
The IBA conference usually draws many international and emerging lawyers to deliberate on the future of the law, human rights and the rule of law. As usual, Nigeria had a very strong showing at the conference, with some prominent Nigerian lawyers like Prof. Koyinsola Akjayi, SAN; Olumide Akpata; Mrs. Mfon Usoro; SPA Ajibade, SAN and Mrs. Funmi Oluyede being some of the prominent speakers at the event. 

A bit of the trip to South Korea should do some good. The Etihad Airline flight had a stop-over at its hub, Abu Dhabi for few hours and thence, for another 9 hours flight to the Incheo International Airport in Seoul. The Incheo International Airport sits on a seemingly reclaimed land, a masterpiece of splendor, technology and a welcoming feel; a far cry from the noisy, crowded and disorderly airports in Nigeria. Remembering Nigeria, it is as if the world has left the country behind while we continue to celebrate tribalism, mediocrity, nepotism and corruption in public places.  

South Korea is obviously a small but a rich nation with a population of about 11 million people (just about the population of Lagos State) and rose from the ruins of the Korean War where more than 6 million people died. Skyscrapers dot the skylines in Seoul. The city of Seoul should easily compete as amongst the top three cleanest and most expensive cities in the world. Their local currency is called “won” which is about 100W to $1USD. South Korea deliberately devalued its currency to attract foreign investors. 

South Korea practices the American styled capitalist democracy while North Korea adopted communism but with Kim dynasty being in power for more than 50 years. The United States and the former USSR shared Korea into two after the defeat of Japan in World War 2.  Therefore, the interests of the U.S.A and Russia are always at play in what happens at the Korean peninsula. 
 
In the morning of the 22nd of September, 2019, the IBA delegates that registered for the tour to the demilitarized zone (DMZ, as it is famously called) had already converged at the Coex Convention and Exhibition Centre, Seoul for the luxury bus ride to the DMZ. The name of our tour guide is Bella, a young lady who informed us that she had recently concluded her mandatory military service. She reeled, with passion and patriotism, the history of South Korea and the conflict with North Korea. After the Korean war that led to the death of almost 6 million Koreans, the United Nations, the United States, USSR and some other western countries intervened and brokered peace between the North and the South Koreans, which produced the Armistice Agreement that was signed on the 23rd of July, 1953. 
   
The DMZ is therefore, a creation of the Armistice agreement. The armistice provided that the two countries will give 2km each of their territories at the border to be a buffer zone that will be free and devoid of military operations and installations. 
   
Before approaching the DMZ, we had to pass through the Civilian Controlled Area. We saw a long blue rope along the border (few metres from our bus) which demarcates the two countries; we were told that more than two million mines were laid along the blue lines and set to explode immediately should anyone attempt to cross over the border; probably making it the world’s most dangerous border. We passed through the Unification Bridge on the Imzhi River and the Unification villages. The villages have about 300 settlers. The settlers are prohibited from paying taxes and conscription into the compulsory military service. In both South Korea and North Korea military service is mandatory. In the South men undergo military service for 15 months while the women do eight months; however, in North Korea, the men undergo military service up to years and the women about 7 years.  

As a monument for the Unification efforts, South Korea constructed the Imjingak Park on its side of the border; mementoes and gift items are sold at the park. The Park is within the Civilian Controlled Area. Not far from the Imjingak park is the Dora Observatory. At the Observatory, and with the use of telescopes, we had a clearer view of the North Korean border and village life of North Koreans. This place is the nearest point to North Korea from South Korea.  The North Korean border is Mountainous, which gives it the advantage of some natural defence but obviously quite and far less developed compared to the South Korean border. Photos were not allowed to be taken. 

The climax of the tour was when we got to one of the infiltration tunnels. We were shown a 7 minute film about the Korean War at the DMZ Theatre and Exhibition Hall, the signing of the Armistice, the unification attempts and how the North Koreans continued to invade South Korea inspite of the Armistice, the latest invasion having happened in 2010.  After the signing the Armistice agreement and in order to spring surprise attacks on South Korea, the North Korean military constructed four different infiltration tunnels. We were only allowed to enter one of the tunnels. Photographs were also prohibited. Our guide warned us that the depth of the tunnel is almost two kilometres, our guide also forewarned that we would have to bend down half way the tunnel to get to the end of the tunnel because of the narrowness of the tunnel and to avoid our heads hitting the rocks above. Tourists that had health issues or phobia for darkness were advised not to enter the tunnel. Some had to turn back at this stage. 

We entered the 1st infiltration tunnel. It was an emotional and an amazing experience. It exemplified the desperation of the human being. Eventually, some of us got to the end of the tunnel. The tunnel was blocked by South Korea exactly at the point where its boundary with North Korea terminates. Our guide sadly informed us that South Koreans believe that there are more tunnels yet to be discovered. The DMZ was constructed on all the four tunnels that were discovered. 

After the visit to the tunnel, our final stop was the Railway Station (within the DMZ) which was purposely built by the South Korean authorities in anticipation that with the unification of the two Korean countries, North Korea would construct its part of the rail line to connect the two countries. As at today, the North Koreans have not constructed their part of the rail line. 
  
With the continued acquisition of nuclear weapons by the North Korea to be used against its neigbour, the efforts at peace may be shattered. Our guide informed us that human right is almost non-existent in North Korea. The building up of nuclear weapons by North Korea is a threat to South Korea and thus a likely violation of the provisions of article 2 of the United Nations Charter.  China, an ally of North Korea is a key factor in resolving the Korean conflict. 
Edun is the National Publicity Secretary Nigerian Bar Association and writes from South Korea. 


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