My personal journey to my appearance before you today was shaped by the murder of my father, Robert Cushing Sr. On June 1, 1988, two shotgun blasts ripped my father’s chest open before my mother’s eyes. They were alone together as he died on the floor inside of their own home where they had raised their seven children. From that instant members of my family entered that world of pain that words can’t quite capture. It’s a world of autopsies and funeral ceremonies, of fears and questions and investigations and police and prosecutors and sometimes arrests and trials and juries and verdicts and sentences and appeals. But it is mostly about emptiness—empty spaces where someone once sat, empty sounds in the wind, empty hearts.
I thought that my family had known our share of pain. And yet 5 months ago, in a crime very similar to my father’s killing, my brother-in-law was murdered. Once again my family is in grief, and as I stand here today I am still grieving both the murder of my father and of my brother-in-law.
The act of murder may be over in an instant, but that does not mean the hurting ends. For myself, for all survivors, we grieve and try to heal forever.
I am glad that in Korea Article 30 of your constitution provides that victims of crime may receive aid from the state. But I also have been told by people here in Korea who have had family members murdered that there remains a great stigma attached to being victims of crime in this country. Many feel abandoned and ostracized. Korean victims who oppose the death penalty tell me they are fearful of speaking out in public against capital punishment
Those of us who are concerned about human rights need to be concerned about victims, about preventing further harm, about victims’ rights. We need to not just abolish the death penalty; we need to help victims.
In addition to being an advocate for victims and human rights, I am a former three-term member of the House of Representatives in my home state, and I have a special appreciation for the challenges and demands that must be addressed by those who serve as parliamentarians in a democracy. During my time as a lawmaker I was an advocate for laws for benefits for victims of crime at the same time that I was a proponent of ending the death penalty. I believe for an individual, for a society, to have a consistent human rights ethic, it is a necessity to be both pro-victim and anti-death penalty.
It must said that dealing in the public arena, in the political arena, with the subject matter of death, of homicide and executions, is crucial human rights work, but it is not easy. For a lawmaker to take on the abolition of the death penalty as a cause means that inevitably he or she will touch upon real pain and devastation, and I know that to rise to the call of history to shape human rights policy in this area is a trust that, on some occasions, can weigh heavy upon a lawmaker.
I will share something with you about being a survivor of a murder victim who opposes the death penalty. In my culture, some people think that if you don’t want the death penalty for a person who killed your family member you must be either a crazy person or a saint. While there are times when I am playing with my three daughters that they tell me I act a little crazy, I can assure you that there is never a time anyone has accused me of being a saint. I, and others like me who have had a family member murdered, are ordinary flawed human beings who have experienced a horrific loss and who, after going through layers and layers of pain, have come to conclude that another killing will not bring back our loved one, it will only add to the pain in the world. And as victims, we don’t want more pain.
The most widely translated document in the world is the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. This is a document that was inspired by victims, demanded by victims. It grew out of the experience of the suffering, the denial of the life to millions of civilians under brutal regimes of the Second World War. I know here in Korea the denial of human rights under the period of Japanese occupation is not a distant memory. You feel it today. The adoption of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights on December 10, 1948 was a way to honor the loss of millions of lives, a way to give meaning to the loss, to help heal if you will, by asserting that such violations as were not humanly moral, were not permissible under any nation or regime. That Declaration establishes that human rights are not granted by governments, they can not be denied or abrogated by governments, they are an entitlement of one's humanity.
The most fundamental of all human rights, is the right to life itself.
As a guest in your country, I do not presume prescribe to you or tell the people of Korea what to do. I do want to praise the people of Korea, and the government for 5,000 days without an execution. This is an international moment., and the eyes of the world are on Korea. Murder Victims Families for Human Rights belongs to the World Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty. Yesterday, on behalf of the 121 NGOs from across the world, I delivered a letter to Chairman Woo supporting Korea’s effort to end the death penalty. With your countryman, Ban Ki Moon, heading up the United Nations, which is committed to ending the death penalty, with a vibrant human rights community and leaders and lawmakers who embrace human rights, and with legislation pending before the National Assembly to abolish capital punishment, the world waits and watches, hopeful that Korea will take legal steps to permanently end executions. ...