SOUTH KOREA: Not human rights based but violence-based redevelopment 


After the G20 summit came to an end, violence started up again with the eviction of citizens. On November 15, 2010, three families who lived in a knockdown building located in Gwonsun 3 zone of Suwon city, provided by the Gyeonggi province government were forcibly evicted without prior notice. Four more evictions against the residents as well as the human rights activists protesting against the forced eviction and the demolition of buildings occurred between November 15 and December 1, 2010. The period between December and February was dexterously avoided during which demolition is banned according to the Urban Development Act.

Fifteen years ago, the Suwon administration planed to construct a public park for children. This was in consultation with the residents who lived in the proposed area. It also provided for the temporary demolition of buildings with the agreement that the administration would provide them with permanently leased-public houses later. Twenty-three households, including these three families, have lived here for ten years, most of them leaving their homes after confrontation and conflict with the administration. Some moved to government-leased housing and others moved to private housing after receiving compensation from the administration, although it was not sufficient.

In 2000, the local, government-financed Gyeonggi Urban Innovation Corporation responsible for construction withdrew its agreement. They forced the tenants to apply for the five year- leased public apartments in lots that the tenants cannot afford. Since then, the tenants have been demanding that the initial agreement be honoured, which is their right. All three families who lived at the temporary building are beneficiaries of the National Insurance for Primary Life, meaning that they are the poorest of society living without a regular income source.

At noon on November 15, while all the families were away, and without prior notice, persons hired by the Corporation came to demolish the building. As a result, all their personal belongs were destroyed including the children’s clothes, textbooks, and school materials. After demolition of the houses, three residents who protested against the demolition throughout the night were arrested early the next morning. Currently, three children studying in the 6th grade of primary school, 1st grade of middle school and 3rd grade of high school respectively, find it difficult to study while having to live and study in the office of the human rights activists.

The Corporation has an execution writ from the court proving that the building belongs to the Corporation with the right to handle it. Whether or not it has the legal right is not the issue. The process of eviction and demolition should be carried out respecting and protecting the rights of housing of the residents. In any case, the Korean government is legally bound according to the UN Convention, Covenant and the relevant principles such as the Basic Principles Guidelines on Development-Based Evictions and Displacement.

Apparently, all the forced evictions occurred in November. This shows that the Corporation, a government agency, completely ignored the concluding observations of the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights published in November 2009. This Committee observed the violent forced evictions of the Youngsan incident. They recommended that forced eviction be used only as a measure of last resort. Furthermore, no project of development or urban renewal may be carried out without prior notification of residents and access to temporary housing for those affected, to avoid recourse to violence.

The violent evictions carried out by the government allow and foster the private sector to abuse the human rights of Korean citizens. On November 15, the evictees protesting the forced eviction in Gwangmyung 1 dong, Gwangmyung city, Gyeonggi province, were assaulted by thugs resulting in one evictee being taken to the hospital emergency room. On November 29, the owner of a commercial building located in Hapjung-Dong, Seoul, without prior notice and consultation, evicted the tenants from the building. Subsequently, on November 30, one family composed of a mother and three daughters living in Duk-yi Zone, Goyang city of Gyeonggi province protested against their forced eviction to make way for a redevelopment project. They were arrested by the police after their shelter for a stay-in strike was demolished. The mother was prosecuted for disrupting the eviction while one of her daughters was under investigation. On December 5, the chief of the residents association for redevelopment in Duk-yi Zone was prosecuted for accepting a bribe. It was reportedly provided by the company involved in the redevelopment of the area.

These forced evictions expose the dynamics of redevelopment interaction between the government, the so-called public sector, a company or private owners and the police. All contribute to promote a violence-based development, which excludes the poor resident or tenants. Municipal and provincial administrations are the major actors in redevelopment projects. Often, they neither provide appropriate compensation relative to the residents’ demands nor keep to their initial agreement. Hence, protests against redevelopment surface. Through sheer neglect, the administration allows the private construction company or the public corporation to practice corruption and violence which aims to get rid of protesting evictees. By charging the protestors with disruption of construction work, police and law enforcement agencies, make the evictees and their supporters into criminals. There is no official mechanism to monitor the eviction process and to prevent forced eviction. The prevention of demolition according to the Urban Development Act amended last June is limited between December and January to the urban development zone. This legally allows demolition anytime before and after these three months and fails to prevent forced eviction.

The government has not shown a willingness to prevent forced evictions. But rather use legal loopholes to accomplish their goals despite condemnation from the international human rights societies including the UN Committee and the Asian Human Rights Commission. On December 1, the building where five evictees and one police officer were killed, known as the Yongsan incident, was demolished. The Seoul Metropolitan City, Guro-gu administration, who pledged to provide loans for the tenants forcibly evicted from Gocheck traditional market (see the urgent appeal for details) in July 2010, now says that the administration will only provide the loan depending on the tenants’ credit. Given the fact that most of the tenants are poor elderly 50 to 80 years old, it is doubtful that the administration has any good will in supporting them. In addition, the administration will not allow for the temporary street market, saying that it is not allowed in a zone designated for urban beauty despite the fact that the market owner had agreed to provide a street market for the tenants around its market building.

Mr. Ban Ki-moon, Secretary-General of the UN makes great efforts to promote human rights all over the world, particularly in those countries where democracy and human rights deem to be less developed than in Korea. By holding the G20 summit, Korea seems to have set itself a global platform. However, this cannot conceal the fact that the government does not respect, protect, and fulfill their international law and human rights obligations, which is clearly shown in forced evictions. Supporting the Korean civil society and condemning a series of forced evictions which occurred immediately after the G20 summit, the AHRC urges the government to put forth a comprehensive law and policy to prevent forced evictions. Current domestic laws fail to respect, protect, and fulfill international law regarding the rights to housing and prevention of forced eviction.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-246-2010
Countries : South Korea,