SOUTH KOREA: Human Rights in 2011 – Systematic setup to restrict rights vs. systematic failure to protect rights 

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the Occasion of the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011

On the occasion of the International Human Rights Day, December 10, 2011 the AHRC is publishing the annual report on the State of Human Rights in South Korea in 2011.

The full report is available for download at

In 2011, the Asian Human Rights Commission believes that human rights in South Korea have deteriorated through ‘legal action’ in order to oppress those that oppose government policies and that due process is no longer meaningful. In addition, freedom of expression over the internet which has been an alternative role of the media is jeopardised after a new organ was established to restrict it. Compared to the previous years it will be shameful if any government department is proud of the human rights record in the country.

In terms of human rights violations by business enterprises, despite the fact that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has prioritised this issue, there has hardly been any development except holding an international conference. In fact, more violations have been recorded than previous years. Nothing is done in order to discuss the genuine problem due to the complete silence from the NHRCK. The case of Ms. Kim Jin Sook is a good example of the current problem. In addition there has no systematic approach or national discourse how to deal with such violations. In addition to the case of Ms. Kim, the case of the SSamgyong Motor Company indicates how the government has failed. Over dozens of its workers committed suicide after their dismissal and forcible dispersal by the police when they went on strike in the workplace. Most of them are reported to have been suffered Post Traumatic Stress Disorder from the process of forcible dispersal.

Additionally, the role and function of the NHRCK continued to adopt a silent mode to the rights violation issues which are politically sensitive. It is doubtful whether the NHRCK works properly according to their mandate while it took disciplinary action against a number of staff who criticised the chairperson.

Legal attacks on rights activists have continued. The case of Mr. Park Lae Goon and Lee Jong Hoi is a good indicator as they helped to organise peaceful assembly and demonstration but were later sentenced to a criminal offence. The detention of Mr. Song Kyung Dong, renowned poet and Mr. Jeong Jin Woo who suggested people to go down to Busan in support of struggle of Ms. Kim is another example of this.

Conscientious objectors to the military service continue to be imprisoned due to the absence of government’s action despite the fact that UN Human Rights Committee adopted over a hundreds of individual communications that the government of South Korea violated the right to freedom of thought, conscience and religion from the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR) to which the South Korean government is a state party. Meanwhile, restriction of changes of workplace of migrant workers which has been criticised to create rights violations is constitutional by the Constitutional Court.

There has not been many cases of torture reported but from the perspectives of definition of torture according to the UN Convention Against Torture, many cases are able to be categorized. Intimidation or threats are reported to have been used during the interrogation process. Unfortunately, the country does not have a definition of torture in its Criminal Law and Criminal Procedure Act. In addition, when a place is designated for redevelopment, thugs are usually hired by a company to forcibly evacuate the residents. Lots of violence occurs in this process but little investigation is made. This practice is legal by the Security Service Industry Act. However, it is easiest way to shift the state responsibility to the third party when rights violation takes place. The thugs are even collaborated with the police to forcibly disperse workers from their strike or villagers from their residence.

A new organ was established to restrict freedom of expression over the internet by the Korea Communications Standards Commission (KCSC). The government would likely set up more organs under the government to restrict free flow of opinion or expression and information from the internet together with legal action, criminalisation of defamation.

The above is only a part that the Asian Human Rights Commission has witnessed and there are a lot more that are documented by local human rights organisations. However, one common problem in spite of all that is that many new organs or laws are attempted to be made in order to restrict fundamental rights which are not incompatible with the international human rights norms and standards. Despite the heavy criticism, as long as the government does not pay attention to such criticism, the more rights violations will occur.

The full report is available for download at