Thursday, February 14, 2008

[The Chosun Ilbo, February 12 2008] The Wisdom of Chatham House Rules

The eighth International Conference on North Korean Human Rights and Refugees was held in London last month. Sponsored by the Korean NGO Citizens' Alliance for North Korean Human Rights, the Graduate School of International Studies at Korea University and Norway's Rafto Human Rights House Foundation, the meeting was held at the Royal Institute of International Affairs, better known as Chatham House.

At the venue I confronted an unexpected barrier to reporting, imposed by Chatham House Rules established in 1927. The rules have it that everyone can express themselves freely and share information at meetings held at Chatham House, but is banned from disclosing the discussions or attributing what is said there by name.

A British civil servant who delivered a paper at the conference forbade reporters from quoting him. Chatham House also ruled that the faces of participants should not be shown in close-up. We had to file our stories in a roundabout way, saying “a Norwegian expert” said this and "a British public official” said that.

Though it was an inconvenience, I felt I understood why anonymity is emphasized. Senior civil servants, who would normally keep their mouths tightly shut discussed the subjects freely. Presenters from European countries, the U.S. and South Korea ranged from North Korean refugees who scathingly criticized the Kim Jong-il regime, an academic who defended changes taking place in the North Korean government, to a senior diplomat who served as an ambassador in Pyongyang. Though none responded, letters of invitation were sent even to North Korean diplomats.

No comments: