NGO response to Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai’s press conference

2월 17th, 2016 | Posted by admin in (iii) Press Statements | 1. Documents from Minbyun | 2. Documents from other NGOs

(Joint Press Release) The position of Korean human rights NGOs and labor groups regarding the official press conference of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association, Maina Kiai.

29th January, 2016. By Lee Dong-hwa.

The UN has expressed serious concern about regression of the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in Korea.

As President of the UN Human Rights Council, the Korean government should be proactive in responding to the concerns and recommendations of the UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai.

1. The UN Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, gave a press conference today (29th January) at 14:30 to announce the results of his nine day official investigation in Korea, from 20-28 of January. Over the course of those nine days, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai met with government bodies and businesses, progressive NGOs and conservative NGOs in investigating the current state of the freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in Korean society.

2. UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai announced to the press conference his serious concerns and recommendations about the freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in Korea. First, with regards to the freedom of peaceful assembly, the UN Special Rapporteur confirmed that in recent years the freedom of assembly and protest in Korea has been regressing. The UN Special Rapporteur emphasized in particular the existence of undue restrictions at every stage of the assembly process (before, during, and after).  He stressed that it is not appropriate under international law for police to use prior notifications requirements of assemblies as a form of licensing system, nor to ban an assembly because of concerns about traffic disruption: he noted that restrictions such as these are reducing the right of peaceful assembly into a privilege. The UN Special Rapporteur expressed concern about the trend of courts to hand down judgments restricting rights, when they should be protecting them. He also expressed concern about the use of police water cannons and bus barricades, citing the case of Baek Nam-gi. Furthermore, he stated that the police summoning for investigation of around 1,500 people on suspicion of disrupting traffic during last November’s ‘People’s Rally’ constricts the freedom of peaceful assembly, and underlined that organisers of assemblies should never be held liable for the criminal actions of other participators, as was the case with the ‘People’s Rally’ organisers Han Sang-gyun and Park Lae-goon. With regards to the Sewolho Ferry Disaster, the UN Special Rapporteur emphasized that the right to the freedom of assembly for protestors and for victim’s families must be guaranteed, and that the government must maintain open channels of communication with the victims’ families and their representatives.

3. With regards to the freedom of association, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai expressed his concern that the Korean Teachers and Education Workers union had been outlawed merely for retaining nine dismissed persons, stating that this fell short of the high threshold for such judgments set in international law. He confirmed he knew of no comparable case elsewhere in the world. The UN Special Rapporteur found the limitations of rights in the Valeo Electrical Systems Korea case to be especially disturbing, where workers fell under pressure to join entities favorable to the employer’s interests, and urged Korea’s courts to comply with international law in their judgments.  The UN Special Rapporteur found that the right to strike is also being constrained, with strike participants being made subject to criminal charges for disrupting business operations or civil suits for damages; he urged the Korean government to ratify International Labour Organisation Conventions 87 and 98, and to rescind its reservation to article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights.

4. UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai expressed his concern that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Maritime Affairs and Fisheries had refused to register the legal status of sexual minorities association ‘Beyond the Rainbow Foundation’ and ‘4.16 Sewol Families for Truth and A Safer Society’ respectively, without presenting alternatives, and emphasized that the government should take proactive measures to promote the right to association to all. Finally, UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai recommended the abrogation of article 7 of the National Security Act, which contains broad and vague language that unduly restricts assembly and association rights.

5. The human rights NGOs and labor groups who met formally with UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai during his time in Korea welcome the contents of his presentation at today’s press conference, and express their appreciation for the weight and impartiality attached to the investigation by UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai.  UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai had requested interviews with various responsible cabinet ministers and vice ministers within the government, but most apparently declined.

6. Through today’s press conference UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai presented his serious concerns and recommendations about the freedom of assembly and association in Korea.  The Korean government should accept the concerns and recommendations presented today by the UN Special Rapporteur seriously, as befitting its status as President of the UN Human Rights Committee, and give its best efforts to improving the freedom of assembly and association within Korea.

7. UN Special Rapporteur Maina Kiai is expected to present at the June 2016 meeting of the UN Human Rights Council a final and comprehensive report which will include the contents presented today in regard to the freedom of assembly and association in Korea. Korea’s human rights NGOs and labor groups intend to continue submitting information in order to ensure that the state of the freedom of association and assembly in Korea is accurately reflected in that final report.

29 January 2016

Minbyun – Lawyers for a Democratic Society

Catholic Human Rights Committee

GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation

Korean Federation of Trade Unions

People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

Rainbow Action against Sexual-Minority Discrimination

Saranbang Group for Human Rights

UN Human Rights Policy Center.

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