The following is an urgent appeal from 2008 to the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council by several South Korean NGOs regarding the Korea-US negotiations on beef imports.
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Joint NGO Urgent Appeal
Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council
14 JULY 2008
MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society, PSPD-People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Korea Women’s Association United (KWAU), Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet, NGOs in Special Consultative Status with the Economic and Social Council of the United Nations, GONGGAM-Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group, SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights, , MINKAHYUP Human Rights Group
In association with
Busan Human Rights Center, Committee of Sexual Minority of KDLP, CHINGUSAI, Lesbian Counseling Center, Committee to Support Imprisoned Workers, Dasan Human Rights Center, Disability and Human Rights in Action, Human Rights Center for Disability, Human Rights Solidarity for New Society, Korea Research & Consulting Institute on poverty, protesting against poverty and discrimination Solidarity for Human Rights, Migrant Human Rights Solidarity, The Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan, Ulsan Human Rights Solidarity
◆ Outline of the Urgent Appeal ◆
(1) Extreme Failure of the Government Policy
During Korea-US negotiations on beef import,
-Although it was an important agenda related with the right to health and the right to eat healthy food,
-The government changed its original stance in just a few hours and completely complied to the US position,
-During the process, the government completely ignored the public opinion,
-There was no trace of transparency whatsoever during the process.
(2) Initial Responses of the People
MBC’s critical report on this matter triggered movements such as,
-Internet became a forum for various opinions
-People started candle-lit assemblies to express resistance
-Festivals initially started by young students spread throughout the whole country.
(3) Initial Response of the Government to the Public Movement
The Government denied its policy failure
- made its irresponsible comments such as “Don’t buy it if you don’t want to it.”
- labeled the public opinion as “rumors”
- stressed that there is a “background” for the public resistance.
-stated that it has no choice but to take harsh actions against “violent demonstrations” when the actual assemblies had been peaceful throughout.
-began a search for the source of the “rumors,” the “background,” and the participants of the “violent demonstrations.”
(4) Continued Civil Resistance and the Government’s Systematic Oppression
The Government has shown no intention to communicate with the public so far, and the angry public continued resisting by having assemblies and marching.
During the process, the Police responded with force, arrested about 1000 people, and injured thousands of people.
(5) Continuous and Systematic Oppression by the Government
Right after the additional negotiation with the U.S. government,
-The President sued some media organizations for the charge of libel
-MBC, which was the start of critical opinions, is now under government investigations
-The Government is increasing its control over internet media by ordering internet portal sites to erase users’ writings that request for less advertisement on some Government- friendly papers and arresting people who wrote critical opinions on Government policies.
-The Government arrested main leaders of the People’s Association for Measures against Mad Cow Disease, an organization made of 1700 different NGOs and seizure and searched the office of the People’s Association for Measures against Mad cow Disease.
-The Government blockaded the City Hall Square, where assemblies usually take place, to stop assemblies from happening.
-The Government defined the movement as impure, and made it seem like an ideological movement.
-The President is claiming that candle-lit assemblies are the cause of the current economic crisis, and it is expected that there will be more systematic oppression on the assemblies.
▶ Confirm that there have been violations of the freedom of speech and other basic rights and urge for punishment of people in charge.
▶ Be aware of the seriousness of the situation and express a stance directly
▶ Start a direct involvement such as the Country Visit investigation.
[The promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression]
1. The ROK government decided to open its market to U.S. beef with SRM
Inaugurated on February 25 this year, on April 18, the new President Myung-bak LEE agreed to alleviate U.S. beef import restrictions which had banned beef from cattle 30 months of age or older. The deal leaves South Korea vulnerable to Specific Risk Material (SRM). Considering eating habits of Koreans that virtually consumes all parts of the animal, internal organs, bones, and few other parts were once banned due to its risk of SRM. That is, Lee’s two-month-old government agreed to U.S. all-parts beef imports ignoring continued efforts so far made to strictly regulate the imports on the body parts and age.
Currently, in South Korea, there is high opposition of its citizens to U.S. beef imports sparked by fears of mad cow disease, and its government is using various means necessary, even compulsory ones, to carry out its deal with the U.S. disregarding the voice of its people. The government dares to violate the freedom of expression of its citizens while doing so.
From the beginning of candlelit assemblies on May 2, the government has been maintaining its invasive and hard-line measures to curb its citizens’ opposition, and the measures are so diverse and vast that the people’s freedom of expression is being severely infringed. The public prosecutors’ investments on the TV programs that deal with the mad cow beef issue, issuance of delete orders for the Internet postings opposing U.S. beef imports, the police’s attempts to blockade the candlelit assemblies, forcible arrest, dispersal, and detention, issuance of dismantlement order for banners with opposing messages at a district office, and other invasive and hard-line measures are still enforced.
2. Repressing the peaceful candlelit demonstrations and restraining expressive objectives An Internet portal site, www.agora.daum.net, initiated the candlelit demonstrations. At its petition section, netizens voluntarily led several signature-seeking campaigns including a petition called ‘Urging legislation of a special law to abolish the hasty U.S. beef import deal’ that engaged an estimated one million people. Candlelit demonstrations are also the case that all the discussions and suggestions went on on-line realized off-line. In the evening of May 2 at the Chunggye Plaza, Seoul, a candlelight festivity demanding the
annulment of the U.S. beef import agreement engaged an estimated one ten-thousand people. In the early stage, the demonstrations went on without any organizers so that members of the Internet sites that are against the mad cow beef imports such as www.michincow.net took the host role (Sung- Gyoon Baek, operator of www.michincow.net), and participants freely had speeches and sang. The demonstrations are peaceful and voluntary that even Korean celebrities including Jang-hoon Kim, Do- hyun Yoon, Hee-eun Yang, and Seung-hwan Lee voluntarily participated in these demonstrations with some songs and opinions.
These assemblies aren’t held just in Seoul. On May 3, spreading in Busan, Daegu, Incheon, Gwangju, and Chuncheon, they are now held in many big and small cities nation-wide. Not only taking place in South Korea, but these peaceful demonstrations also took place in Berlin, Frankfurt, Paris, and Auckland by overseas Koreans.