SOUTH KOREA: Case of Gangjeong – Good example of worst governance 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is disturbed by the arrest of 29 people including those from a religious group for praying in front of the construction site of the naval base in Gangjeong village in Jeju Island on January 10, 2012. They were released after two days after their arrest but the incident delivers a message to the people that the local government can arrest anyone if they feel that their actions relate to the construction of the naval base.

According to the information, Gangjeong village in Jeju Island was designated for a naval base in 2007. Legally, if the government plans to build a facility, the relevant authorities have to obtain the consent of the residents in the area and the decision must be made at a meeting of the villagers. However, according to an interview with Mr. Kang Dong-Kyun, the head of Gangjeong village, a meeting for approval of the naval base was illegally held at that time. It is reported that only 87 out of 1,900 villagers took part in the meeting and everything was passed without due process. The construction has started and has been going on while no investigation has been made in spite of the illegality of the meeting.

It is also reported that almost 95 percent of residents in Jeju Island are against the construction of naval base there but the relevant authorities are pushing forward the construction. Those who opposed the establishment of the naval base have held peaceful protest onwards. Their demands were to withdraw the plan and leave the island as it was. As more construction was made more and more people have supported the villagers and protested against the establishment of the naval base. While the local mainstream media is reluctant to take up this issue, alternative media and foreign media including Al Jazeerahave high lightened the issue.

While the protests are going on, the government started taking legal action against anyone protesting against the base. Catholic priests and activists were repeatedly arrested and released and hundreds of villagers have been called by the police for questioning. Under these circumstances, the villagers consider such legal action as a form of threat by discouraging their protest.

Apart from the impact on the environment and ecology which will be caused by the construction of the naval base, the social impact goes far beyond that of being just a local problem. The villagers lived in the location for several decades by fishing and farming. However, after the area was designated as the naval base, democratic values and process in the village was completely ignored and hatred and mistrust among villagers even family members arose. This became worse after legal action against the villagers and activists was taken.

Governance is a process of decision-making and the process by which decisions are implemented. The government is one of the actors in governance and other actors involved, in the current context, are the civil society. Sadly, what the local government of Jeju Island has demonstrated so far is not only misleading but takes advantage of the result of decision-making which was done illegally. The very existence of the government is to provide a place for people concerned to take part in and make voluntary decisions in order to solve a problem, not taking one side and implement the government’s view by force.

In fact, the case of Gangjeong is one of many examples which prevail in South Korea that a law is enough to suppress the opposed without removing the contents of which restrict the fundamental rights of people who are affected by the law. It is common sense that all persons should be entitled to the benefit of a law publically made but the law in itself deprives people of rights and is introduced for a particular group of people not for all. It demonstrates that governance is not able to survive without the rule of law.

Legal action against those opposed to the construction of naval base in Gangjeong village and the arrest of peaceful demonstrators only demonstrates the serious failure of governance as well as misleading of the rule of law under the name of the rule by law. For the last couple of years, the South Korean government emphasis on law and order but without the substantive requirements of the law, it will turn South Korea into a country where a law stands for a particular group and benefit to the group rather than people in common.

Having monitored the situation of Gangjeong village and the arrest or persecution through legal means against the villagers and activists, the Asian Human Rights Commission urges the government of South Korea to stop the arbitrary use of force by the police and military in Gangjeong village in Jeju Island, guarantee the right to peaceful assembly and demonstration and respond to the demand of villagers who are affected by the construction. A policy with no reflection from the affected will only result in the increase of arbitrary use of force as well as gaining of mistrust, not only from the affected people but the population in general.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-012-2012
Countries : South Korea,