SOUTH KOREA: Vicarious administrative execution is not legitimate without just and fair consultation of Miryang villagers 

It is unavoidable that dissent, regardless of its severity, arises between the authorities and the people affected from national plans such as construction and redevelopment. It is reported that a nuclear plant has been being built in Busan in order to supply electricity to Seoul and for this reason, 69 transmission towers for the 765 kVs of power that will be generated from the nuclear plant were approved by the government in November 2007. Villagers composed mostly of persons between the age of 70 to 80, living in the affected village of Miryang close to Busan have opposed such construction since its approval. Regretfully, Mr. LEE Chi-woo, a villager, burned himself to death in protest to the police violence and oppression of government in January 2012. When the Korea Electronic Power Corporation (KEPCO) announced that they would resume construction on October 1, 2013, hundreds of police and public officials were deployed and they have arrested the villagers and rights activists and isolated them from receiving support, including food and water from others.

Such actions taken by the government are not a surprising, rather having been a consistent, cohesive step which the government has taken in the name of law there is only vicarious administrative execution. When the country was in the process of economic development in the 1970s and 1980s, economic growth was always considered first while the rights of marginalised group of people such as workers working in extremely poor conditions were ignored. As such, whenever a government leading development project is adopted, it requests only the sacrifice of those affected who have become more marginalised and vulnerable. At this moment in Miryang, the elderly have been protesting against the construction of the transmission towers at the great risk of being targeted by the police and public officials.

In order to ease the tension or conflict that has arisen in the affected area, a step has been taken to set up a consultative group of experts to study and make recommendations. However, it is reported that the consultation was carried out in an unjust and biased manner while excluding those who were opposed. Whenever questioned, the government has made the justification that the process of consultation was carried out. But, it was only with the group of people who support it. The case of the construction of naval base in Gangjeong village, Jeju Island is another example of such unfair consultation made, based on which the construction has started. Unfortunately, this unfair process of getting consents from those who are affected has not been taken seriously when the matter is brought before the court. It is another contributing factor that has continued to allow the government leading projects to disregard the rights of the affected and be justified in the name of law.

It is a duty of the state to promote and protect human rights under international human rights laws which the government of South Korea has ratified. The right based approach together with the development in thematic issues such as the business and human rights have already become the core that has been discussed in international forums such as the UN Human Rights Council where the government is a member and expanding to other UN organs for incorporation of right based approach when they perform their duty. The recent cases have demonstrated that it is the return of the government’s old style of getting benefits from the sacrifice of others which is clearly contrary to the protection of human rights.

Since the government has disregarded its obligation, it is supposed to be the role of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea that should have taken preventive measures by active involvement from earlier stage but it has failed to do so, except to send staff to monitor the situation after violations take place. Under these circumstances, it has come as no surprise that the government of South Korea was reminded by UN experts of its duty to take measures to ensure the POSCO project does not adversely impact human rights when operating abroad.

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) strongly urges the government of South Korea to unconditionally release all villagers and activists arrested while protesting against the construction of the transmission towers, respect the right to peaceful assembly and association and all possible rights relate to the situation of villagers and activists in Miryang, take measures to ensure that the Ministry of Trade, Industry and Energy is properly guided with the help of the Ministry of Justice so that the KEPCO fulfils its obligation to protect rights of villagers.

Considering the fact that the construction of transmission towers are being built for the shortage of electricity in Seoul, the AHRC would like to provoke in particular, the residents in Seoul to declare that they do not wish to get electricity from the sacrifice of villagers currently protesting in Miryang and should express deep concern over the ongoing situation through various means including social network services, asking them to find ways to solve the matters with a just and fair process. It is the duty of the government to find ways to secure the shortage of electricity in Seoul but it does not have the right to force villagers in Miryang to be scapegoats for that purpose. It is deplorable for South Korea to witness such typical violations mostly occurring in underdeveloped countries.

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Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-179-2013
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Judicial system, Right to food, Rule of law,