HUMAN RIGHTS COUNCIL
Agenda item 4
Human Rights Situation in South Korea1
1. MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, a non-governmental organization in special consultative, wishes draw the attention of the 10th session of Human Rights Council to the deteriorating human rights situation in South Korea since February 2008.
2. The South Korean government has been re-elected as a member state of the Human Rights Council, as well as a state party of six core international human rights treaties, International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights(ICCPR), International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights(ICESCR), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination(ICERD), Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women(CEDAW), Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment(CAT), Convention on the Rights of the Child(CRC).
3. The South Korean government, as a member of the United Nations Human Rights Council, as well as a state party of six core international human rights treaties, has a special responsibility to set a high standard for promoting and protecting human rights domestically. However, at the present time, the South Korean government is not fulfilling this responsibility.
Suppressing of the candlelight protests
4. The Amnesty International Report2 and a Joint Fact-finding Mission3 conducted by Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-AISA), the Asian Legal Resource Centre (ALRC), and the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) have documented the violations committed by riot policemen against peaceful candlelight vigils from May 2008 to July 2008. At least one million citizens participated in these peaceful demonstrations
5. As of November 2008, over 1,500 individuals participating in such candlelight vigils were arrested under summary indictments, or were indicted with or without detention. In the case of passive involvement, more than 1.5 million won in penalties have been imposed. Furthermore, prosecutors also indicted producers of the MBC (Munwha Broadcasting Corporation) program ‘The PD suchop,’ claiming that the program instigated the candlelight vigil with its report on mad cow disease.
Attacks on Freedom of Expression
6. The government replaced the CEOs of two broadcasting companies, YTN (Yonhap Television News) and KBS (Korean Broadcasting System), with pro-government figures, and fired disciplinary punished employees of the companies who were protesting against these
1 Korean House for International Solidarity(KHIS) also shares the views expressed in this statement.
2 Amnesty International report is available at: http://www.amnesty.org/en/library/asset/ASA25/008/2008/en/7866408a-9395-11dd-8293-ff015cefb49a/asa250082008en.pdf
3 Joint Written Statement submitted by FORUM-ASIA, ALRC, AHRC is available at: http://daccessdds.un.org/doc/UNDOC/GEN/G08/152/40/PDF/G0815240.pdf?OpenElement, A/HRC/9/NGO/21
replacements. IFJ (International Federation of Journalists) has issued a press release4 detailing and condemning this political interference in the Korean media.
7. On 7 January 2009, Mr. Park Dae-sung, a popular Internet blogger known as “Minerva” was arrested and detained for his online criticism of the Korean government’s economic policies. The “Minerva” case exemplifies the South Korean government’s willingness to suppress freedom of expression, even on the Internet. RSF (Reporters sans frontières) has issued a press release5 recognizing the “Minerva” case as a significant attack on freedom of expression in South Korea.
Conscientious Objectors’ Rights Denied
8. The Korean Auxiliary Policeman’s System has not been abolished, and conscientious objection of military service is still punishable in Korea, despite the fact that South Korea pledged to ratify Article 105 of the ILO Convention while running for a member state of the Human Rights Council. The Ministry of Defense has failed to introduce the Alternative Service System as per the recommendation of Universal Periodic Review on South Korea. Some young Korean men are entering law enforcement action in the place of ‘military service’, which constitutes ‘forced labor’ under Article 105 of the ILO Convention. One police commando who claimed freedom of conscience and refused to enter law enforcement is now being detained. Over 450 conscientious objectors are currently under detention in South Korea.
Pressure on National Human Rights Commission of Korea
9. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) is carrying out its role as a vice-chair state of ICC and is a symbol of human rights development of South Korea. On 22nd January 2009, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security, however, announced that it settled on a plan to reduce the NHRCK’s staff by 30 percent from 208 members to 146 and informed the NHRCK of this decision
Pro-government bills waiting for passage
10. Within the special session of National Assembly in February 2009, the South Korean government and the ruling party intend to pass bills to restrict freedom of expression and freedom of the press. It plans to revise the Assembly and Demonstration Act by adding a provision prohibiting citizens from wearing masks in any assembly or demonstration. The government is also working on the enactment of the Collective Lawsuit Act, which we expect to address damages caused during demonstrations, and the Counter-terrorist Act, which will likely further empower the National Intelligence Service on the pretext of counter-terrorism. Government also plans to revise the Protection of Communications Secrets Act to increase its access personal communications records, and the Broadcasting Act, allowing for large corporations and big newspaper companies to own broadcasting businesses.
4 IFJ press statement available at: http://www.ifj.org/en/articles/ifj-condemns-political-interference-in-korean-media
5 RSF press statement available at: http://www.rsf.org/article.php3?id_article=29954
11. The South Korean Government asserts that it plans to pass these bills within the earliest session of National Assembly in order to establish law and order and promote economic growth. However, considering the South Korean Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, it is a matter of grave concern that these bills would significantly violate the human rights of South Korean citizens by placing restriction on the most fundamental freedom for protection and promotion of human rights.
12. The South Korean government’s actions demonstrate a clear departure from the human rights achievements of the last 15 years, and shows signs of returning to military dictatorship. The government has furthermore announced its intention to revoke its agreement with UN, which protect and promotes human rights.
We, MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, request that the HRC urges the South Korean government:
- To be reminded that it is a member state of Human rights Council.
- Stop policies returning the human rights situation to the era of authoritarian government immediately.
We also request the Special Rapporteur for Freedom of Opinion and Expression and the Special Rappoteur on the situation of Human Rights Defenders’ visit in the South Korea and also UN Human Rights Council’s sincerest attention.