Human Rights Situation in the Republic of Korea
- MINBYUN – Lawyers for a Democratic Society wishes to draw the attention of the 11th session of Human Rights Council to the situation in the Republic of Korea, in which a number of human rights are being violated as the following incidents illustrate.
Regulation of NGOs2. Recently the government has been restricting activities of NGOs that have expressed critical views of government policies, under the guise of uprooting illegal demonstrations. For example, the police have labeled 1,842 NGOs as ‘violent demonstration groups’, because of their participation in the People’s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease and 50 organizations which are part of Korea Alliance For Progressive Movement (KAPM). Further, they informed government ministries such as the Ministry of Strategy and Finance of the groups’ status in an effort to reduce their subsidy. In addition to NGOs, various organizations and political parties and professional organizations of the press and the media are currently participating in the People’s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease.
3. Without individually evaluating each group’s activities and whether these constituted ‘violent’ demonstrations or not, the police indiscriminately labeled these groups as such, and consequently the government halted its subsidies to these particular groups. Because certain violent conservative groups such as the Association of Headquarters Intelligence Department Officers, which trespassed into one party’s office and attacked the employees and others, which have used physical force at their demonstration sites have not been named in the ‘violent demonstration groups’ list, some have concluded that the selection of ‘violent demonstration groups’ was arbitrary. Additionally, it is important to note that during the subsidies administration process, the Ministry of Women and the Ministry of Labor are accepting memorandums and sworn written statements promising not to participate in illegal assemblies from NGOs.
Restraint on the Freedom of Assembly and Demonstration
4. In the police document prepared for Labor Day and the one-year anniversary of candlelight demonstrations related assembly, six organizations including Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union were labeled ‘left-wing’ organizations, while approximately 20 citizens who were active in an online ‘netizen’ organization were labeled as ‘perpetual demonstrators’. Through five meetings on countermeasure hosted by the Chief of police from 21 April 2009 to 2 May 2009, the police discussed their plans to “eradicate the left-wing groups and 2,500 perpetual demonstrators once and for all, and establish legal order within [a] short amount of time to support government policies.” Today, many citizens who participated in the candlelight protests of 2008 and NGO activists who organized and participated in various demonstrations continue to be summoned for investigation by the police.
5. The police have even labeled press conferences which voice criticisms of government policies as ‘illegal demonstrations’ and have arrested participants. On 14 May 2009, in front of the Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office, the Pan-Citizen Yongsan Tragedy Countermeasure Committee, reproving the prosecutors who failed to reveal parts of the investigative reports despite the courts decision to disclose, held a press conference demanding that “the investigation reports of [the] Yongsan tragedy to be open to the public”. In response, the police claimed that this was an “unnotified illegal demonstration” and arrested the seven participants. Previously press conferences were freely held without the need of notification.
6. There have been several recent cases in which the police arrested participants collectively at the site of assembly demonstrations without defining the specific violation/crime each had committed. At the 1 May 2009 Labor Day event, approximately 200 individuals were taken by arrest, including some citizens who were not participating in the demonstration. On 16 May 2009, 457 laborers were arrested at an assembly in Daejeon, instigated by the death of a labor union officer who worked in a door-to-door delivery service, which demanded better working conditions of specially-hired workers. Out of the 457 arrests, some were made in restaurants and in buses. Following the demonstration and large-scale arrests, police prohibited any future assemblies hosted by the primary organizers of this assembly, namely Freight Solidarity and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU).
Downsizing of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)
7. On 6 April 2009, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security enacted a reformation order to reduce the size of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. Despite worries from civic groups and international society that it will impair NHRCK’s independence and exacerbate the human rights situation in Korea, the preparation and announcement of the reformation order was performed one-sidedly without any input from NHRCK, the relevant organization with significant interest. In accordance with the reformation order, NHRCK underwent a 21% reduction in human labor and structural reduction.
8. Superficially, the reduction of NHRCK was a result of the Board of Audit and Inspection’s finding that staff reduction would increase the NHRCK’s labor efficiency. However, an alternative interpretation is that the NHRCK suffered these cutbacks after voicing concern regarding certain government policies, including the use of excessive force used during the candlelight protests against US beef imports in 2008, which the NHRCK denounced as a human rights violation. The downsizing, it would seem, was intended to diminish the NHRCK’s authority and organizational legitimacy. The NHRCK has recently brought action to the Constitutional Court regarding adjudication on jurisdiction disputes and temporary disposition to suspend its effect.
Infraction of the Independence of the Press 9. At the outset of the new government in February 2008, the Lee Myung-Bak administration assigned Special Advisors from the presidential election to top positions related to the press and the media: Mr. Lee Byung Soon as the president of Korean Broadcasting System (KBS), Mr. Koo Bon Hong as Chairman of the Board of Directors of YTN, as well as others to numerous officer positions at Skylife/Arirang/OBS. Furthermore, a journalist who produced MBC [PD Suchop], a TV program denunciatory of a government policy, was forcefully taken and arrested, and currently a prosecutorial investigation are underway.
10. The government of the Republic of Korea and the ruling party are attempting to pass a bill amending the Newspaper Law and Broadcasting Law, which will enable major corporations and large newspaper companies to own broadcasting companies. Many civil society groups are expressing concern that when major corporations and newspaper companies own and manage terrestrial broadcasting companies, news-only channels and other news-broadcast channels, media monopoly will appear, pro-corporation and pro-government news will pour forth and preclude the creation of a diverse public opinion and infringe the citizens’ right to know.Increasing cases under National Security Law 11. On 21 April 2009, the Seoul District Court defined the Solidarity for Realizing of the June 15 South-North Joint Declaration as Enemy-Benefiting Group and convicted 4 activists of the Solidarity for violating Article 7(inciting or appraising) of the National Security Law. Furthermore, six members of the South Korean branch of Pan-Korean Alliance for Reunification (PKAR), have been arrested on the charges of violation of article 7(Organizing and Joining an Enemy-Benefiting Group) of the National Security Law on 7 May 2009.
12. Other UN Human Rights mechanisms, in particular, the Human Rights Committee have repeatedly said that a serious attempt ought to be made to phase out the National Security Law, which is a major obstacle to the full realization of the rights enshrined in the ICCPR. Even though the Korean government should abolish the National Security Law, which gravely restricts the freedom of opinion, expression, thought and conscience, cases in which article 7 of the National Security Law have been applied have recently increased.
Recommendation 13. Thus, MINBYUN strongly calls on the government of the Republic of Korea to:
(a) stop policies which oppress NGO activities and listen to the concerns and comments of NGOs and allow these to be reflected in its policies;(b) ensure the freedom of assembly and demonstration, which is guaranteed in the Constitution, and release the demonstrators in currently in custody;(c) restore the independence of the NHRCK. MINBYUN also calls on the Human Rights Council to:
(a) remind the government of the Republic of Korea of its responsibilities and duties as a member state of the Human Rights Council;(b) request the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression’s visit in the Republic of Korea.
 MINKAHYUP Human Rights Group and Korean Confederation of Trade Unions(KCTU) also share the views expressed in this statement. MINBYUN submitted a written statement regarding the general deterioration of human rights situation in the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/10/NGO/82) to the 10th Session of the Human Rights Council. such as the Democratic Labor Party and New Jinbo Party including the Korean Journalist Association and the Motion Pictures Association of Korea The Seoul Newspaper report on 19 May 2009 During a sit-in protest by tenants of a commercial building which was scheduled for demolition to make way for a development project of the Yongsan district in Seoul, a crackdown by the police resulted in a number of deaths. The police indicted the demolition protesters for the special obstruction of the performance of official duties, etc., and civic groups and the families of the victims formed a Countermeasure Council to clarify the facts of the tragedy. The prosecution is not revealing parts of the investigation contents of the crackdown process.