Urgent Appeal on Yongsan Tragedy–January 25, 2009

11월 25th, 2010 | Posted by admin in (ii) Urgent Appeals | 1. Documents from Minbyun | 2. Documents from other NGOs

 Urgent Appeal on “Yongsan tragedy” based by Police CrackdownJan. 25, 2009

 Submitted by :
GONGGAM (Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group),
KCTU (Korean Confederation of Trade Unions),
MINBYUN (Lawyers for a Democratic Society),
Minkahyup (Human Rights Group),
PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy),


Contact Point :
Donghwa LEE
International Coordinator, MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society
5F, Sinjeong B/D, 1555-3, Seocho-dong, Seocho-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea, P.O. 137-070
Tel: 82 2 522 7284, 82 10 9947 9920 Fax: 82 2 522 7285
E-mail : m321@chol.com
HP : http://minbyun.jinbo.net 


1. Background   

- Korean Government violated People’s Right to Housing and Right to Life by resorting to violence in the course of dispersing the demolition protesters from a building.   

 - The extent to which the Government violated People’s Social Rights is both serious and alarming, causing the tragic deaths in this time.    

 - The Recommendation of the forced eviction by the committee of Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has pointed out serious infringements of human rights in Korea, but the actual social conditions haven’t yet improved,  and the indiscriminate redevelopment process still goes on.   

2. Summary    

-In the winter of 2008, there happened a tragic accident on the rooftop of an office building in Yongsan-gu, Seoul, also planned to be demolished according to the urban redevelopment project, leaving 5 protesters and a policeman dead, and a number of people injured. The disaster broke out in the course of evacuating the building. The protesters were mostly those who were deprived of means of living and forced to be thrown out of their living places, whom the government sent out  Police commandos to put down. It was even within 24 hours after the initial staging of the protest.   

- The Government is thought to be interested only in evacuating the redevelopment area, but not in furnishing with them proper compensation with which they can manage their new lives to continue, including opening new shops, in other places   

- There were only 50 protesters on the rooftop, but in order to disperse them, the Government mustered 1600 of policemen, riot teams and even the Police commandos, arranged 4 water cannon vehicles around the building, and had 23 commandos land on the roof, with the help of a container.   

 - It was just 3 and a half hours after their initial occupation of the building that Yongsan Ward Office and the Police decided on compulsory and violent winding-up of them.   

3. Victims (A life table)   

* The tragic accident left 5 protesters and a policeman dead, as well as a lot injured.   

1) Lee Seong-su (Male)   

-  Born  in 1959, a chief of the committee of demolition protesters in Yong-in, Gyeonggi   

2) Yoon Yong-hyun (Male)   

- Born in 1961, a chief of the committee of demolition protesters in  Sunhwa, Jung-gu, Seoul   

3)Lee Sang-rim(Male)   

- Born in 1938, a councilor of the committee of demolition protesters in Seoul’s Yongsan 4th Zone   

4) Yang Hui-sung(Male)   

- Born in 1952, a protester of the committee of demolition protesters in Seoul’s Yongsan 4th Zone   

5) Han Dae-sung(Male)   

- Born in 1956, a organizing manager of the committee of demolition protesters in Suwon, Gyeonggi   

6) Kim Nam-hu(Male)   

-Born  in 1979, a police sergeant of  police commandos   

4. Violation of the Right to Housing    


○ Wintertime Evacuation Banned Both by National and International Laws    

- The protesters began on the sit-in demonstration on January 19, a very cold winter day. And also the actual starting day for redeveloping District 4 of Yongsan was planned on the second day of February, 2009.   

- The police went into the evacuating operation at 5 o’clock in the morning, the coldest and darkest time of the day. They even mustered and used the water cannons and the commandos indiscriminately, meaning they had little or no interest in the safety of those people whom they tried to suppress.   

○ The government and the enterprises made no countermeasure for housing and livelihood for the demolition protesters.     

- After the redevelopment project had launched, the government and the enterprises never negotiated with the Committee of demolition protesters in Seoul’s Yongsan 4th Zone   

- The redevelopment system in Korea compensates only for the temporary earnings even though the redevelopment itself ultimately deprives the means of their living. The government does not follow the standard to compensate for adequate housing and living maintenance.   

- There were an issues of manage disposal plan before the agreement on earnings compensation between the redevelopment corporation and the tenants, so the redevelopment corporation demolished the buildings.   

- The Seoul authority and its district governments have failed in many cases to pay residence moving fee which is stipulated under the Land Compensation Act to the tenants in the demolishing area. (The Hankyoreh 21, Jan. 21, 2009.   



○ Public power connived construction worker(security personnel)’s illegal physical force and even supported the violation.   

- The government which has the duty to ban force eviction and to protect human rights rather mobilized the police commandos to suppress the fair rights of the tenants causing a number of casualties.   

- The protesters did sit-in protest to announce their demands in an empty building in Yongsan, which implied no threats to the public. The police, however, decided to mobilize the police commandos just within a day since the squatters had stared the protest.   

- The police, who were in charge of supervising over the security personnel, looked on their tort such as setting fire to used tires which called fire engines several times. Threats, violence, disturbing businesses, and sexual harassments of the security personnel had been announced on the media numerously before this protest happened.   

- Even though the police had a chance to reach a negotiation by not mobilizing the commandos, mobilization of the police commandos shows that the police cooperated with the security personnel   

- The government has the duty to protect propertis and bodies of its citizens during the procedure of law enforcement actions; the duty, however, were neglected in this case, and rather the government violated the rights to live in cracking down the squatters without safety measures.   

- A member of the Democratic Party, Choi Inn-Ki criticized in the Public Administration and Security Committee by saying “It was a haste interruption of the police between civil relations of the reconstruction company and the tenants.” (The Hankyoreh 21, Jan. 22, 2009. http://www.hani.co.kr/arti/society/society_general/334733.html )   

○ Continuity and broadness of the redevelopment project that expels indigenous tenants.   

- Over a 100% of housing supply in Korea with less than 50% of possessing their own home shows deteriorated conditions in the rights to housing in South Korea. With the circumstance that we have enough houses already built, redevelopment and reconstruction project have to focus on public.   

- Redevelopment project has to originally consider the level of incomes and populations of the original tenants; the houses newly built are so high prices that they cannot even buy thereby practically expelling them out of their resident areas.   


○  Not accidental forced removal but continuous violation   

- There has been constant violence by security personnel done with the government’s connivance.   

 * Major victims of forced eviction (Source: Korea Center for City and Environment Research)

Time   Location   Victim   Detail  
May 1986   Sanggye-dong, Seoul   Seong-yeol Nam(31, tenant)   Unable to adequately treated  after beaten by a group of pro-government tenants. Found dead outside the house.  
June 1986   Sanggye-dong, Seoul   Chi-ho Lee(59)   Crushed to death under a fallen wall in the process of forced eviction.  
Dec. 1986   Shindang-dong, Seoul   Hong-suk Choi(33)   Committed suicide while protesting forced eviction.  
May 1987   Sanggye-dong, Seoul   Dong-geun Oh(5)   Crushed to death under a wall of a dismantled house while playing in the side street  
May 1987   Cheolsan-dong, Gwangmyoung-si, Gyeonggi-do   Su-hwan Lee(52)   Committed suicide after struggling with destitution caused by forced eviction  
June 1987   Seokchon-dong, Seoul   Jong-moon Lee   Died. shocked when his, his sisters’ houses were removed and stopped eating and drinking thereafter.  
Jan. 1989   Shinjeong2-dong, Seoul   Gyeong-ho Hwang (2 months and 15 days)   Shocked to death in the process of forced eviction.  
May 1989   Ilsan-si,  Gyeonggi-do    Byeong-chae Gang   Committed suicide while protesting new town plan.  
Apr. 1991   Suseo housing development district, Seoul   Seong-gyu Yoo(49)   Shocked to death after receiving a notice on forced eviction plan.  
Nov. 1992   Janglim1-dong, Busan   Seon-ho Kim(32)   Beaten to death by a group of private riot cops.  
July 1997   Jeonnong3-dong, Seoul   Soon-deok Park(35)   Beaten to death after jumping from a steel tower(nicknamed Goliath) where he was protesting. It was set fire by private riot cops.  
Nov. 2003   Ojeon-dong, Uiwang-si, Gyeonggi-do   Deok-ja Choi(45)   Committed suicide while struggling against forced eviction.  
Apr. 2005   Sucheong-dong, Osan-si, Gyeonggi-do   Jin-wook Lee(23, a private riot cop)   Died in the process of forced eviction.  
Jan. 20th 2009   Sector#4, Gukje Building   six persons  (including residents)    Died in the process of police suppression  

○ Redevelopment Projects initiated by the government    

- Urban regeneration areas such as new town areas or redevelopment zone have been on drastic expansion since the re-election of Seoul Mayor Myoung-bak Lee.   

- With the implementation of simultaneous new town and redevelopment projects in some inner city areas, residents were forced to move to the outskirts.   

- According to the material by Seoul Metropolitan City, 467 locations(2.39 million ㎡) are designated for urban environment improvement project, which is related with this tragedy. 618 locations(23.18 million ㎡) are designated for redevelopment and restructuring throughout the Seoul Metropolitan City, taking up as much as 10% of total residential area of Seoul Metropolitan City. 26 locations(24.05 million ㎡) were designated for new town area during the 4 years of Myoung-bak Lee Seoul mayorship from 2002 to 2006, exceeding the areas designated for redevelopment(19.39 million ㎡) during a 36-year period from 1973 to 2008.   

5. Perpetrators responsible for killing and injuring the residents    

- Executive Officer of Yongsan-gu Jeong-gyu Park, Chief of Yongsan Police Station Dong-san Baek, Commissioner General of Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Seok-gi Kim are directly responsible for deaths of the residents. (See Newsis article, Jan. 22th 2009) http://media.daum.net/society/others/view.html?cateid=1067&newsid=20090122214304740&p=newsis   

6. Our requests to the Special Rappoteur   

- The government should take responsibility for the victim and conduct fact-finding investigation on this case. The Special Rappoteur’s visit is highly needed because the government performed autopsy on bodies without the consent of bereaved families and did not accept the call to conduct fact-finding investigation into the scene of the accident. The government focuses on detention for investigation on the residents without charging the police which is responsible for this violent suppression.   

- As forced eviction is arranged in February, we request the Special Rappoteur to recommend the Korean government to follow the principle against forced eviction.   


Annex 1 :  Detailed History of “Yongsan tragedy”   

- In the year 2008, Seoul’s Yongsan 4th Zone was designated as one of the objects for the urban redevelopment  project, whose people were to move to other places.   

- The tenants of the shops asked for rental or temporary shopping places, and the residents for rental or temporary residential places, but the government decided on the immediate demolition of the district with no proper answers to them.   

- The tenants organized the Committee of  demolition protesters in Seoul’s Yongsan 4th Zone under the Federation Against House Demolition(Jun Chul Yun)   

- In the morning of January 19, 2009, the protesters plunged into strike on the rooftop of a five-story commercial building at Hangangno 2-ga in Seoul’s Yongsan district   

- The Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the Police decided on compulsory measures to break up the protesters just within 24 hours after the initial staging of the protest.   

- Around 4 p.m. of January 19, the police ordered the protesters to break up immediately. The security personnel hired for demolition began to burn waste tires on the third floor, but no restraint from the police. It was reported that the security personnel had entered the building to the order from the police.    

- Around five of the next morning, the police had the Police commandos besiege the building and began to deliver a cannon water to the rooftop protesters. Two more watering cart arrived and began to attack them from the three other directions. According to their testimony that they felt pains in the eyes and couldn’t keep them open, it is suspected that the water contained tear material. The police arranged some mattresses, but not near the building.   

- By six, a crane, a floodlight car, and a ladder truck had arrived, and the protesters started hurling Molotov cocktails toward them.   

- Around six thirty, the police made their way into the ground floor of the building, while some others were linking the crane with the container in order to load the anti-terrorist force or the commandos.   

- At six fifty, the crane full of commandos approached the building.   

- Around seven, the commandos landed on the rooftop and more than 20 protesters were forced to withdraw into the watchtower area. They locked its gate to the far side of the parking lot, and later hurled Molotov cocktails to those anti-terrorist team who were trying to unlock it.   

- The commandos managed to open the gate and entered the watchtower area.   

- They, using the container, made impacts on the top of the watchtower two or three times,  and lowered it down to the roadside windows. (consulting the videotapes)   

- They pushed the watchtower with the container, making rocking side to side. (consulting the videotapes)   

- A commando began to deliver cannon water into the watchtower while another was hammering it repeatedly with a metal handspike. (by the protesters’ testimony)   

- The commandos rushed into the watchtower area, making the protesters withdraw into the watchtower. The protesters tied the door with cords. (by the protesters’ testimony)    

- The earlier arrested are commonly testifying that the police commandos plucked out the central post which is supposed to two platforms of the watchtower, causing the center of the second platform to collapse a little and letting the flammable liquid cans there driven inwardly and dangerously.   

- The police did violence to a protester who volunteered to step down.    

- The commandos finally succeeded into the watchtower and the rooftop people were forced onto the third platform, protesting. In the meantime, some protesters were arrested by the police. The people on the third platform violently protested, hurling down golf balls, empty bottles, gasoline bombs and so on to the commandos, causing them to temporarily withdraw down to the watchtower area.   

- Some protesters stepped down to the first and second platform to check the states of things. They testified later that they saw the center of the platform collapsed inwardly and the fuel cans scattered around. The platform had been completely soaked but they couldn’t tell it was water or the  inflammables in the dark.   

- The police continued shooting the cannon water by the loopholes of the watchtower. Finally the container commandos, armed with fire extinguishers and water hoses, landed onto the third platform and attacked the protesters. They shot their weapons at random, making it all the shambles. It was impossible even for the protesters to ignite gasoline bombs because they were all soaked with water as well as dry powder. (by the protesters’ testimony)   

Annex 2 : Video Clip   





Annex 3 : Press Article   

 1.  The Hankyoreh   


6 killed in clash between police and protesters in Yongsan   

Demonstration raided by riot police and SWAT teams 25 hours after it had begun 

A fire broke out during a police raid on a demonstration held by people protesting a government redevelopment plan on Tuesday, killing six, including one policeman. There is criticism emerging that the police action was rash and went too far.  Twenty three people were injured as police attempted to move in on demonstrators camped out in protest atop a five-story commercial building at Hangangno 2-ga in Seoul’s Yongsan district.   

The fire broke out at approximately 6:45 a.m. as police attempted to enter an area they knew to be dangerous, with approximately 70 containers of highly flammable paint thinner in and around a “watchtower” occupied by protesters, which became engulfed in flames.   

Yongsan Police Station Chief Baek Dong-san said that protesters “sprayed all of their paint thinner about and then threw Molotov cocktails toward police when a police special tactics team attempted to enter the watchtower.”   

Witnesses, however, said that one Molotov cocktail thrown in the direction of police hit the water from a police water cannon and fell onto the surface of the building’s roof, igniting the flammable liquid.   

The human damage was particularly serious because police used three water cannons to corner people into the watchtower by the time the fire broke out. Protesters threw Molotov cocktails after being shot with water in the freezing cold and cornered into the watchtower structure.   

Police never attempted to engage protesters in dialogue, charging in on them just 25 hours after the protest began. Though armed with Molotov cocktails and liquid petroleum gas tanks, protesters were surprised and helpless in the face of a police operation that came just after the protest’s first day.   

Roughly 1,600 police from 20 companies of full-time riot police were involved, as were 49 SWAT officers trained for anti-terrorism and major crime operations.   

The SWAT officers were from the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency. Their participation in the operation was requested by the Yongsan Police Station chief and approved by Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner Kim Seok-ki, who has been appointed as the next commissioner general of the National Police Agency.   

Police have usually sought only to get involved in disputes in areas scheduled for redevelopment when there are conflicting interests between redevelopment cooperatives, construction companies, and people being removed from their homes. This time things were different.   

“The police have been siding with the construction companies and redevelopment cooperatives since late last year,” said Lee Won-ho of the Korean Coalition for Housing Rights. “This is pushing the weakest in the equation, those who are losing their homes, to the brink.”   

 2.  AP   


SKorean officials probe clash that left 6 dead

By KWANG-TAE KIM – 2 days ago  

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — Authorities stepped up their investigation Wednesday into a deadly clash that left six people dead and 23 injured at a vacant office building occupied by displaced tenants in central Seoul.   

Forensic experts searched inside the five-story building in Seoul’s Yongsan neighborhood as human rights officials investigated whether police used excessive force Tuesday morning to break up the protest.   

“We are looking into whether police violated human rights” of protesters during the clash, Yoon Seoul-ah, an official of the National Human Rights Commission said.   

A team of 100 commandos landed on the roof in a shipping container to break up the protest by some 40 people who had camped for days in the building. The protesters were tenants and small business owners pushing for better compensation from construction companies redeveloping buildings in the area, a tenants’ rights group said.   

The protesters hurled Molotov cocktails at police and out the building’s windows, police said. Fire then engulfed the rooftop within minutes, sending flames and black smoke shooting into the sky and trapping people inside, witnesses said.   

Police said five bodies have been identified including one police officer and four protesters. They will conduct DNA analysis on a sixth body that was burned beyond recognition, an official at the Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency said on condition of anonymity, citing policy. He did not give details.   

Police said they arrested two protesters Tuesday night after some of about 800 people holding a candlelight vigil near the building clashed with riot police. About 1,400 riot police were deployed around the protest site.   

The incident comes as President Lee Myung-bak tries to win back public support amid an economic crisis and six months after the violent street protests that erupted over allowing U.S. beef imports last year.   

Lee ordered the incident investigated and Prime Minister Han Seung-soo called the it “extremely unfortunate” and expressed regret over the deaths.   

The tenants’ association said the protesters were employees and business owners unhappy with plans to redevelop the area in the heart of the South Korean capital. Many of the dilapidated buildings in the neighborhood have been torn down to make way for new businesses, real estate agents said.   

Molotov cocktails were a common feature of the pro-democracy protests in South Korea in the 1980s but are rarely used against police today.   

Tuesday’s clash was one of the most violent in recent years between police and protesters. South Koreans took to the streets last year over the government’s decision to reopen the market to U.S. beef but no one was killed in the near-daily protests.   

3. Timesonline   


Police raid on squatters leaves five dead in building fire in Seoul


(Lee Jae-Won/Reuters)  

The early morning raid on the apartment block ended a 24-hour standoff between squatters and police  

Image :1 of 2   

Leo Lewis in Tokyo   

Police commandos today stormed a building in the heart of Seoul during a dramatic dawn raid which left at least five people dead and 20 injured after petrol-fuelled fire tore through the building.   

Fighting between protesters and police escalated quickly, with demonstrators hurling petrol bombs, acid and bricks down towards the police lines.   

The dead are thought to include residents of the apartment block who had been trapped inside as flames engulfed its roof and walls. The building is due for demolition but the redevelopment plans have met with fury and violence from many of its inhabitants.   

At least one member of the police commando was reportedly killed on the roof, where the flames are thought to have ignited the protesters’ supplies of paint thinner and home-made explosives.   

The early morning assault on the five-storey building – a raid that involved lowering the commandos from a crane in a steel container – followed a near 24-hour standoff between police and about 40 squatters.   

Several members of the group used Molotov cocktails to repel earlier attempts by police to enter the building, said eyewitnesses. Police – described by some eyewitnesses as “out to kill” the protesters – returned fire with powerful water cannons. That tactic was met with a salvo of makeshift missiles from the building that included golf balls and stones.   

The protest, which creates potentially huge headaches for South Korea’s embattled president Lee Myung Bak, was being staged in opposition to plans that would see large areas of Seoul’s central Yongsan ward re-developed on a grand scale. The squatters’ principal grief is the low level of compensation they are being offered for being forced out of their homes.   

The violent and deadly end to the siege highlights the extreme volatility of public opinion in South Korea, where discontent on a wide range of issues has sparked mass street protests and fierce anti-government rhetoric.   

In answer to growing public criticism of his handling of the economy, Mr Lee yesterday reshuffled his cabinet, replacing many of the key financial posts with new faces. But, significantly, the president also replaced Seoul’s police chief over the way the mass anti-government protests had been handled over the summer.   

The protests in Seoul and other major Korean cities began over plans to resume imports of US beef – plans which some believed posed a BSE-related health risk. But the tone of the demonstrations quickly morphed into a more general antipathy towards the government, which then grew more intense as the export-led economy began to suffer in the global financial meltdown.   

Protest leaders on the streets of Seoul were not provided with a model of stability and calm by the country’s own parliament and the seat of its volatile democracy. Recent weeks have seen sit-in protests within the parliament building itself, one of which culminated with a battle involving sledgehammers, power saws and water hoses.   


Annex 3 : MINBYUN’s Statement   



We Rage against the Disaster Caused by Police Crackdown   

1. Crackdown against demolition protesters resulted in catastrophe. 6 people died, including 5 squatters and 1 police officer, 20 or more were injured on Jan. 20, 2009 during the crackdown against demolition protesters who were sit-in protesting a redevelopment project in a rooftop of one building in Yongsan, central Seoul. We express our sincere condolence for the victims.   

2. We rage against the brutal police crackdown. The police regarded the protesters as terrorists mobilizing police commandos by using a crane to lift a container to the rooftop with the Police commandos inside and firing water canon at the protesters. Considering the circumstance that protesters were with makeshift bombs full of inflammable materials which showed a possibility of an inferno, that the crackdown caused a tragedy was a corollary. The policed seemed to have top priority to crackdown not to the people.   

3. With the redevelopment project, impoverished tenants had nothing but to be evicted from their original residence without enough compensation to get new homes or start new businesses; their demands, therefore, were absolutely fair since they had no options. The government and the Seoul authority which had publicly been claiming for securing public welfare had disregarded the demands of the protesters such as establishing a temporary shopping district. The police, however, swiftly cracked them down within a day since they had started a sit-in protest.    

4. This case is an obvious human rights violation in that a number of citizens died during law enforcement actions. All the truth have to be clearly revealed and the persons in charge should be definitely punished. Who decided the crackdown and how it was made would be the priority to be realized. The fact that the police commandos which are directly belonged to the Commissioner General of the National Police Agency were mobilized as soon as the Seoul Police Agency Chief Kim Seok-Ki was nominated as the Commissioner General of the National Police Agency is implying that the will of the Seoul Police Agency Chief and the government was reflected in this disaster. Details on crackdown and how those casualties were victimized should be evidently disclosed as well.   

5. The police are trying to evade responsibility with an excuse that the illegality of the squatters cannot be connived. That the public power, which was the wrongdoer, itself is investigating this case is totally not making sense; rather covering the truth. We, MINBYUN, declare our will to follow out the truth with creating the  Fact Inquiry Commission in collaboration with experts and civil society groups as soon as possible when needed.   

Jan. 20, 2009   

MINBYUN; Lawyers for a Democratic Society   

President Baek Seung-Hun

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