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Protector of children and justice

Chief of two international organizations, Song helps children facing war crimes, disease and poverty

Children in the Ivory Coast play with wood blocks given by the Korean Committee of UNICEF in 2012. (The Korean Committee of UNICEF)
Children in the Ivory Coast play with wood blocks given by the Korean Committee of UNICEF in 2012. (The Korean Committee of UNICEF)
Song Sang-hyun
Song Sang-hyun

In 2012 Congolese militia leader Thomas Lubanga was sentenced to 14 years’ imprisonment on charges of recruiting child soldiers under the age of 15 years to fight in his rebel army. The historical judgment was handed down by the International Criminal Court in The Hague.

The international court is presided over by second-term president Song Sang-hyun, who is also at the helm of the Korean committee of the United Nations Children’s Fund, the aid organization for children exposed to poverty, disease and hunger.

Song, who was born in 1941 and spent his early childhood under the suppression of Japan’s colonial rule, understands as well as anyone the consequences of war, since he and his family also took refuge during the 1950-53 Korean War.

As chief of the two international organizations he not only tries to restore justice by prosecuting crimes, but also to protect vulnerable children.

Even though the responsibilities and importance of the jobs could weigh him down, he feels his work is more than worthwhile.

“I work honorably for UNICEF and the ICC whose works are similar since they both protect the rights of children who are in desperate need of help,” Song said in an email interview with The Korea Herald.

“When I deal with cases involving war criminals and meet the victims, I always think that war atrocities should not be repeated.”

In 2009 and 2010 he visited towns in the Democratic Republic of Congo and Uganda to help victimized children of conflict who live there together.

The children were categorized into two groups, Song said. One is comprised of those who had been kidnapped and forced to fight in armed battle countless times, and teenage girls who had given birth after being raped. The other group is those who had been able to avoid such tragedies but suffered from starvation.

“When the kids sang the song ‘We Shall Overcome’ for me and my colleagues, I was crying with them as we hugged each other,” Song said.

UNICEF was founded in 1946 after the end of World War II. The international organization won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1965 and is attributed to saving around 12 million children by the late 1980s with campaigns for promoting vaccinations for children and giving them medical checkups in war-stricken and less-developed countries.

The Korean committee of UNICEF was established in 1994, heralding Korea’s transformation from beneficiary to benefactor. It contributed $54 million, the seventh-largest amount, in 2011 to UNICEF headquarters, according to the committee.

Song sets directions and policies for the Korean committee in conducting aid projects, including providing nutritious meals and financing projects such as digging wells. He also works on public relations for the organization in order to raise more awareness of needy children and more funds for them.

With the funds collected from individuals and firms, UNICEF builds schools and provides children, especially girls, with elementary education and school supplies.

The Korean committee is currently helping children in 20 nations including North Korea, Sudan, Cambodia and Mongolia with the help of 300,000 individual supporters.

UNICEF sent mosquito nets this year to 157 counties in North Korea and $2 million to the nation to help children’s survival and development.

However, most other aid efforts for North Korean children have ground to a halt as the relations between the two Koreas have become strained in recent years.

“Malnourished kids in North Korea will suffer during their entire lives, so food programs should not be stopped,” he said, quoting Bijaya Rajbhandari, the president of the Pyongyang Bureau of the UNICEF, in November last year.

As the saying goes, “the more the better,” and Song asks for more participation in efforts to give suffering children around the world safe and stable lives.

“One could donate congratulatory money from their wedding or buy gifts at UNICEF shops. At a corporate level, a firm can partner up with UNICEF in campaigns or support charity events.”

At the ICC, he and other judges and prosecutors help war-affected children through a Trust Fund for Victims,

The fund has the dual mandate of implementing court-ordered reparations as well as providing assistance to victims and their families irrespective of judicial decisions.

Currently, over 80,000 beneficiaries receive assistance from the Trust Fund and its local and international partners, according to the chairman of the ICC.

Other projects run by the ICC provide reproductive health care services, vocational training, trauma counseling, reconciliation workshops, reconstructive surgery and more.

The court also helps protect the rights of victims to participate in judicial proceedings and to apply for reparations for the harm they have suffered, according to Song.

“The exploitation of children in armed forces during war must be prevented and the ICC is doing its part to achieve that,” he said, showing a firm determination to protect and help children in need.

(Song promised to prevent war violence by strengthening the international criminal justice system.

While raising more funds for kids around the world, which he said is a primary and unchanging goal of UNICEF, he pledged to put more effort into making the donation and distribution more transparent.

By Kim Young-won (

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