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Archive for September, 2010

Korea Gov.’s high rejection rate to refugee status brings legal fights

September 29, 2010 1 comment

Jun 15, 2010

By MyungJin Lee

In March of 2010, the first naturalized South Korean citizenship was granted to a 38-year-old Ethiopian man who fled Ethiopia in 2001. However, this milestone event granting citizenship seems to not be an extension to other refugees seeking asylum status in South Korea. As such, these desperate people have filed law suits against the Ministry of Justice in Korea.

Since 1992, when South Korea adopted the 1951 Refugee Convention, the Korea government has received asylum status claims beginning in 1994 and the first refugee entered South Korea in 2001. Overall, between 1994 and 2009, the South Korean government received total 2,492 applications, mostly from North Korea.

However, the Korea Justice Department has rejected 994 refugees in 2009 which has been deemed sudden and unusual. A number of refugees who seek legal resolutions are dramatically increasing; 121 cases have been filed to the Seoul Administrative Court from January to May of 2010 compared to 15 cases in 2008.

These decisions were made to maintain strong national security, particularly due to North Korean defectors being revealed as espionage agents. Of the recent defectors turned spy, Kim, a 36 year-old female North Korean defector, is under custody. According to Yonhap News, she reportedly passed herself off as a refugee from the closed communist state, then began a relationship with a former subway employee, who handed her classified information including emergency contacts for Seoul’s subway system. South Korean authorities fear the information could be used by the north for terrorist attacks.

As a result of the policies, the South Korean Justice Department has rejected hundreds of asylum status applications from refugees. Desperate people have come to the Seoul Administrative Court, but because of time and money constraints it “has a limit to solve the entire problem,” said one court official close to the matter.

Since most refugees do not receive legal status in Korea, they cannot be employed and earn money. As such, receiving aids from non-profit organizations is the only way for most to survive in Korea. A high NGO official stated that “refugee applicants hope for increased services” to protect more refugees in Korea help restart their lives.

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National Human Rights Commission of Korea stopped abuse use of police’s handcuffs

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

By MyungJin Lee

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has stopped police abuse of handcuffs on potential suspects. According to the NHRCK’s recent decision, it has determined that the unnecessary use of handcuffs and ropes violates personal freedom as guaranteed under Article 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.

Under law police officers are required to not violate the human rights of arrested and detained suspects, particularly the right to self-defense without being psychologically strained during investigation conducted by law enforcement officials. Therefore, such devices like handcuffs and ropes should only be used when there are evident risks of flight, violence, disturbance, self-injury, and so forth.

However, Lee, one of the victims who filed complaints to the NHRCK last January, was handcuffed without reasonable doubt last January when he visited a police station in Gyeonggi province. When entering, Lee had no idea that he was turning himself into law enforcement officers as he was “wanted” for failing to pay a 700,000 won fine ($700). Lee felt shame and believed his rights were disturbed by police officials, particularly as he was handcuffed for failing to pay a fine and not for any serious offense. One of the police officers said in the interview with Korea Herald that he handcuffed Lee because “he seemed possible to flee.” However, there were no circumstances substantiating that the complainant was about to flee or injure himself while being questioned as a suspect.

In a similar case to Lee, another complainant, Kim, was handcuffed because of smoking in a police station and refusing to answer questions during his investigation. His right to refuse to make any self-incriminating statements was violated. Furthermore, applicable regulations prohibit police officers from using police devices on such grounds.

The NHRCK additionally figures that many police stations including other Seoul branches violate detainees’ human rights in similar cases, and has ordered the police department to strengthen human rights education for its law enforcement personnel and admonish the police officers who are related to this matter. The NHRCK expects this strong decision to prevent further recurrences.

Labor Unions’ Arduous Struggle over the “Time-Off” System

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

July 25, 2010

By Myungsun Kim

The Labor unions’ struggle with the government and management over the controversial ‘time-off’ system drags on, but with diminishing enthusiasm on the unions’ part the number of business organizations that recognize the new system has increased. The unions’ last resort, the general strike of the Korean Metal Workers’ Union (KMWU) held on Jul 26 turned out to be a failure.

Labor unions started a head-on clash with the government and management after the ‘time-off’ rule took its effect on July 1. The ‘time-off’ rule limits the number of full-time union members at local companies to a maximum of 24, depending on the size of the company’s workforce and the size of the labor union. Union groups argue that the significant cut in the number of full-time union workers will heavily restrict rightful labor activities by weakening workers’ bargaining power and labor movement.

To protest the ‘time-off’ system, unions at several business organizations affiliated with the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) began staging walkouts in late June, even before the rule took effect. The general strike of the KMWU, the biggest industrial fraction of the KCTU, was supposed to be the most critical blow to the government, with more than 100,000 expected participants, but in reality only 5,000 took part in the strike. Especially disappointing to the KMWU was the decision of its biggest affiliate, the Kia-motor union, who sent only 500 union members out of its 34,000 members to the strike scene.

According to the Ministry of Labor’s statistics issued on Jul 16, out of 1,320 workplaces that have more than one hundred unionists, 682 workplaces (51.7%) have reached a tentative agreement on operating within some confines of the time-off rule or renewed their collective agreement under the new measure. Compared to the 362 workplaces on Jul 4, the number of workplaces partially or fully adopting the ‘time-off’ rule has more than doubled in the last twelve days.

Labor Unions including the KCTU demand to immediately discard the “time-off manual,” the government-issued guideline for the specific and practical implementation of the new system. The manual will be used by labor supervisors to instruct or supervise business places.

The manual instructs the users to cancel the existing wage payments to all former unionists, except for the appointed people on the exemption list. Unions and the users decide on the total number of the people to be on the exemption list, and must announce the confirmed list to the users beforehand. However, labor unions criticize that the time-off manual puts excessive restriction on the number of unionists and target businesses by creating the legally ungrounded exemption list.

Tae-young Kim, a vice branch manager of the Kia-motor union, said in the interview with the internet news media Ohmynews on July 14 that “Unilaterally deciding on the unpaid leave of absence for the former unionists who were forced out of the union without negotiations with unions violates the management’s business manual.”

He also pointed out the inherent problem in the system itself, saying “In other countries where the time-off system is implemented to lower the limit for the minimum number of the former unionists, and do not, like South Korea, impose the upper limit that allows a certain number of unionists.”

According to the Internet News media, Nocutnews.com, Jurists’ Organizations including Lawyers for a Democratic Society (MINBYUN), Gathering of the Certified Labor Lawyers for realization of the Labor Human Rights, and Democratic Legal Studies Association (DELSA), had a press conference at Seoul Gwanghwameun square in the morning of Jul 20 and insisted that, “the present labor law concerning the full-time union workers seriously violates the principle of autonomy in labor management. The National Assembly and government should immediately revise it.”

They also said, “The time-off scheme and its manual violate the fundamental elements of the labor’s three primary rights, while deepening the conflicts between managements and unions,” emphasizing that the “[time-off rule] must be immediately nullified.”

Categories: Labour

State-run Standardized Test

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

By Hyoyeol Chong

Regarding the State-run standardized test carried out by the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology on July 13, conflict between the central government and local education offices has arisen. This test was once abolished under liberal governments, but has been re-introduced by the Lee Myung-bak administration. The nations’ Progressive Teachers’ union and parent groups have protested this test claiming that it could rank schools, which brings unnecessary competition among students and schools through performance. Furthermore, the government has taken firm action on those who choose not to take the exam.

Since last October, a total of 14 teachers were fired from schools due to their opposition to the test. In addition, about 330 students boycotted the tests last year. Both claim that, like England, the government has to let schools decide whether they choose to take the test to protect rights of students and teachers.

The Jeollabuk-do Office of Education sent a letter to the federal government stating that, unless they have a valid reason, the head of education offices should comply with the removal of standardized assessments under Primary and Secondary Education Law. However, the ministry sent an official warning letter to the Jeollabuk-do Office of Education, stating that other exams or programs aiming to replace or invalidate the test are against education Law. The ministry said that students who skip their exams, whether intentionally or not, will be punished. Also, teachers who let their students abstain from the test are to face punishment as well. This test has also restricted the mobility rights of students as they cannot go abroad during the test period lest they face punishment.

One of the officials of the provincial office in charge of the assessment stated that, “We never discourage students from taking the standardized test. We’ve just requested schools to offer alternative programs for those who don’t want the test.” A teacher said that, “Some school principals are following the ministry’s guidelines too rigidly. They need to adopt them flexibly depending on each student’s individual situation. This rigid observation is resulting in clashes between some parents and schools.”

Categories: Education

Til death do we part. Marriage after 10 days, Murdered after 8.

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

July 25, 2010

By Mirae Kang

On July 8 Thach Thi Hoang Ngoc, a young 20-year-old bride, was killed by her husband in the port city of Busan. Since being united with her husband, she was beaten and stabbed in the stomach after a quarrel. Ngoc’s 47-year-old husband, Kim turned himself in while confessing of hearing a ghost telling him to kill his wife.

Ngoc, seeking her “Korean Dream” was married to Kim within ten days in January through an international marriage agency but had to wait to receive her visa. Prior to their marriage, Kim had been treated for mental illness 57 times over the past 8 years. The lack of information provided to Ngoc on Kim’s mental condition has caused concern.

The National Human Rights Commission said in a statement that, “the government should thoroughly investigate the cause of the case of the Vietnamese woman and prevent such incidents that infringe upon marriage migrants’ rights,” noting it will also join efforts to reform the system, according to Yonhap News.

The rising social issues of international marriage and migrant workers have been a relatively recent issue for the South Korean government. A decade ago, South Korea was a labor exporting country, but migrant women have increasingly been entering in search of work via international marriage.

Multi-cultural families have increased threefold since 2004 and 255,000 foreigners (2.4% of the population) of 152 nationalities live in Seoul alone.

Since the incident, the Ministry of Justice has called for preventive measures in requiring men seeking international marriage to take cultural or marriage counseling courses with the Korea Immigration Service. Another legislative measure is in progress requiring men to provide information on past mental disorders, domestic violence, divorces, or alcohol addictions before receiving marriage visas.

Historically, Korean women have been portrayed as obedient housewives but with the cost of living increasing, Korean women have increasingly entered the job market. These women have slowly changed the image of obedience to one of independence and have voiced their opinion in the lack of women rights within Korean society. But for Korean men, especially in rural areas, finding a suitable mate has proven to be difficult. Deeply rooted traditions of family life are difficult and unattractive for modern Korean women; as such these men have begun to seek wives internationally in neighboring Asian countries. But the cultural and language barriers of between spouses have led to a rising number of divorces and in this case, death.

According to Yonhap News, the number of counseling sessions for foreign wives rose to 16.5 percent from a year ago. In a report provided by the Seoul-based Emergency Support Center for Migrant Women conflicts between couples vary from domestic violence, conflicts with the mother-in-law, disappointment with reality and economic difficulties.

The Korean government hopes to keep this incident from affecting South Korean-Vietnamese relations but the needs and issues of the foreign population are growing. During the 2008 UN Universal Periodic Review on human rights standards in South Korea, the international community boldly expressed their concerns in meeting the needs of the foreign population and recommended that South Korea ratify the UN International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (CMW).

Starting July 19, city and district offices will begin investigating over 1,000 international marriage agencies for valid licenses. But the government has yet to state what punitive measures it will take against illegal agencies currently in practice. The South Korean government and public have shown deep concern over the matter and hope to see improvements in the coming months.

Don’t judge me by my skin, judge me by my actions.

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Sat. July 25 2010

By Jay Oh

[Interview]

Mr. Bonojit Hussain. From Yonhap News by Kim Eun-jung (ejkim@yna.co.kr)

A year ago Bonojit Hussain was a research professor at Sung Kong Hoe University riding the bus with a friend when he was verbally assaulted by a Korean man who used racism and expletives without any provocation. A year has passed, and Mr. Hussain is now back in India, but within that year Mr. Hussain began a campaign to end racial abuse and intolerance with the hopes of promoting self-reflection and understanding for the Korean community.

The incident, which has been extensively covered by the media, began when a Mr. Park began to hurl racial insults at Mr. Hussain and his colleague Ms. Hahn Ji-seon. During this incident Mr. Hussain was called a “filthy Arab” and a “black bastard” amongst a slew of other racial epithets. We at the Human Rights Monitor spoke with Mr. Hussain a year after the incident to look back and reflect upon a formative and changing year.

Were there any other incidents of police discrimination that day?

Well, when I handed them my ID card, they could not believe I was a research professor. They thought because I was South Asian that I was automatically a migrant worker and so they had to verify my card for a whole hour. They failed to separate me and Ms. Hahn from Mr. Park and they did not intervene as he chased and goaded us around the station. Also, while Mr. Park was screaming at us in the station, the police did nothing to stop him. All they said was something like, “Mr. Park you look like an educated man, why do you abuse the poor foreigner.” What is worse is that the whole time Ms. Hahn was visibly upset at the poor handling of Mr. Park. When she began to cry because Mr. Park would not leave us alone, they told her to shut up. Finally when I told the police it was a case of racial discrimination the policeman in charge said, “There is no racism in Korea.”

You are the first foreigner in Korean history to ever have a case in the criminal court. How did the legal system work for you?

The prosecutor’s office was surprisingly polite, I think because at the time my case had been publicized in the media pretty heavily. I was surprised at how there was no general anti-racism bill. I had to register under a personal insult case. They even brought Mr. Park for interrogation as well, who was very apologetic, he withdrew his case against me and pleaded with me to withdraw mine as well. However I realized that this was not up to me. There are 1.1 million migrants in Korea most of whom cannot speak up and fight against racism, so I decided to continue my case and try and get Koreans to see my landmark case and reflect upon the treatment of migrants

Tell me a bit about the campaign and what changes you are hoping for Korea.

We have tried to focus on fighting discrimination through seminars and workshops. We are trying to get the issue out into the open forums and push the issue of necessary change. Some people may be saying the wrong things without even knowing it, I recall a spokesperson from the ministry of justice, as he was giving statistics, he was using words like purity of blood, mixed blood, black, and brown… this kind of language is unacceptable from state agencies. I can understand Mr. Park abusing me on a bus, but the police department is a prominent agency of the state. If a state institution discriminates and is racially biased, that is a serious problem.  That means the state itself is unaware of racism on an institutional basis in Korea.

There are detractors online who say that your campaign is a violation of freedom of speech and expression. What are your thoughts on that?

I think there is a very thin line between freedom of speech and hate speech. We have to recognize that freedom of speech cannot mean that you are free to say abusive things to anyone. Many people use censorship and freedom of expression too conveniently to meet their own goals. There has to be a mechanism of stopping these groups from propagating hate on the basis of identity. You’re free to give your opinion as an individual, and then there may be debate. But if somebody in the subway just gets up and starts screaming hate speech at someone, I don’t think that’s freedom of speech. To me that man has gone beyond freedom of speech and violated my rights of being a human being. That man would have violated my human dignity. So that cannot be defended in the name of freedom of speech.

What are your final hopes for the campaign and for Korea?

Well the anti-racism bill is a start, but it’s only the beginning. We have thousands of laws which make no difference. A law in itself must give birth to critical self reflection, debate and discussion within the society. Specifically to Korea I feel there has to be more of an opening up to the East.  Most Koreans I’ve interacted during my three years have exposure to the world, but only to the west. They have no idea about many things in India, Indonesia or Thailand, despite many migrant workers coming from those countries. To an average person in Korea, the image of India was of the views ascribed by the British in the 1920s! Korea as a society needs to learn. An ordinary Korean knows what album is being released in the U.S but they are myopic to the rest of the world. This is something else the campaign is working upon, to broaden the horizons of Korean society.

Bonojit Hussain is formerly a Research Professor at SungKongHoe University, Seoul. He was also concurrently programme officer at the Asian Regional Exchange for New Alternatives. He has been a political activist in India for over a decade where he has been involved in progressive students’ movement and social movements working on developmental and environmental issues, informal sector workers’ rights, and university democratization.

Categories: Racial Discrimination