REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners must end immediately

REPUBLIC OF KOREA: Torture and inhuman treatment of prisoners 
must end immediately

Prisoner kept in handcuffs and in a straitjacket for 466 days 
in violation of ROK’s international obligations

27 June 2003

A Statement By the Asian Human Rights Commission – AHRC

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has learned that JEONG Phil-ho has been handcuffed and been in a straitjacket for 466 days, from 08 March 2000 until 18 June 2001, in Gwangju and Mokpo prisons in the Republic of Korea (ROK). This cruel and inhuman punishment has directly exposed the problem that prisoners’ rights have been severely violated and ignored for a long time in the ROK. The AHRC notes with great concern that Mr. JEONG was kept in a straitjacket for the first 26 days and only untied one or twice a week in total afterwards. He has submitted petition to the Constitutional Court and the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) of Korea. 

Article 7 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Republic of Korea is a party, states that no one shall be subjected to torture or to cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment. The Standard Minimum Rules for the Treatment of Prisoners adds that, “Instruments of restraint, such as handcuffs, chains, irons and straitjacket, shall never be applied as a punishment.” The Convention Against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment (CAT), which Korea has also ratified, likewise forbids torture and the infliction of severe pain or suffering. Using straitjackets and handcuffs is therefore a cruel and unusual punishment which is in violation of the ICCPR and the CAT. However, the ambiguity of the Penal Administration Law of Korea and the custom of practicing excessive discipline have permitted prison officials to use handcuff as a common form of discipline, with impunity, in violation of Korea’s international obligations as outlined above. 

In fact, this case is not exceptional, and shows the severe violations against prisoners in Korea. Many cases of inhumane treatment and punishment against prisoners have been reported by human rights organization in Korea. It is not surprising that during its inaugural year (2002), 30.9 per cent of human rights violation complaints received by the NHRC of Korea related to detention facilities and the abuse of disciplinary power and tools of restraint. For the last ten years, annually 8-9 prisoners in solitary confinement have committed suicide and several hundred prisoners have attempted suicide in segregation cell as average. About 22 prisoners every year die because of the lack of medical treatment in Korea. It is evident that the human rights of the prisoners in Korea are now severely threatened. 

The AHRC urges the Korean government to provide physical rehabilitation like physiotherapy, counseling for trauma caused by these actions, and monetary compensation to Mr. JEONG for violating international legal obligations of the Korean government. The AHRC urges the Korean government to take strong measure to stop the use of these inhuman tools of restraint, like handcuffs and straitjackets. The AHRC urges furthermore the Korean government to reform the current Penal Administration Law which violates the human rights of prisoners, and to create legislation to ensure the human dignity of all prisoners. Also, the AHRC calls upon the Korean government to make a significant effort to incorporate CAT into domestic law, declaring torture as a punishable crime in the country. 

The AHRC furthermore urges the Korean government to create an independent working group to examine and monitor prison reform, with unrestricted access to the prison system and its records, to ensure that Korea comes into compliance with its international obligations. The AHRC strongly urge the Korean government in educating all enforcement personnel on the international standards for the treatment of prisoners, and in the creation of an independent mechanism to monitor their progress. 

The AHRC also encourages the NHRC of Korea to take far more progressive steps to ensure that human rights are protected in Korea, in particular in prisons. In addition, the AHRC urges civil society in South Korea to play its vital role in advocating the changes in human rights violations in the prisons. Furthermore, the civil society must show its support in tangible ways by providing medical, legal, financial, and personal assistance and care. It is only through these actions, by both the government and civil society that the dignity of all people can be protected, and the provision for fair trial and the rule of law of the state ensured. 

Asian Human Rights Commission ?AHRC, Hong Kong
Asian Human Rights Commission ?AHRC
Unit 4, 7th Floor, Mongkok Commercial Centre
16 Argyle Street, Kowloon
Hong Kong SAR, CHINA
Tel: +(852) 2698-6339
Fax:+(852) 2698-6367
Web site:

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AS-22-2003
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Torture,