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Official Statement Korean House for International Solidarity: Arrest and Detention of Ms. Moshrafa Mishu, a labour leader in Bangladesh

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Please see below statement by Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS), FORUM-ASIA member in South Korea. They made a statement on the arrest and detention of Ms. Moshrafa Mishu, a labour leader in Bangladesh. Ms. Mishu, President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF), was arrested by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police on 14 December 2010 without a warrant. According to KHIS, Ms. Mishu was arrested in relation to her activities during workers strike on 12-13 December 2010 against Youngwon Corporation, a Korean company in Bangladesh.

In total, 30 Korean organisations endorsed the statement, and Korean NGOs hold a press conference on 26 January 2011, in front of Bangladesh Embassy in Seoul, South Korea. For more details, please see below and the attachments.

Ms. Gayoon Baek
East Asia Programme Officer
Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

__________________________________________________________________________KHIS- PDF: Press Statement-Bangladesh HRD-26 Jan 2011

The Government of Bangladesh should release a labour leader Ms. Moshrefa Mishu immediately!

Ms. Moshrefa Mishu (46), President of the Garment Workers Unity Forum (GWUF), was illegally arrested by the Dhaka Metropolitan Police at around 1am on 14 December 2010. According to Ms. Mishu, she had been under intelligence surveillance and the Dhaka Metropolitan Police illegally arrested her without an arrest warrant. Also, the Bangladesh government neither allowed Ms. Mishu, who suffers from asthma, to take necessary medication nor provided her adequate medical treatment. As a result, her condition has seriously deteriorated while in detention. Furthermore, the Bangladesh government threatened Ms. Mishu with death if she refused to cooperate with the government, while interrogating her for her union activities in garment industry for over 20 years. It is obvious that the arbitrary detention and ill-treatment of Ms. Mishu is the irrational repression to labor movement by the Bangladesh government.

We are more concerned by Ms. Mishu’s case because her arbitrary detention is closely related to the recent massive protest organized by the garment industry workers on 12~13 December 2010. This protest was triggered by the workers of the Korean company called Youngwon Corporation, the biggest garment factory in Bangladesh. As been reported in the Korean press, thousands of workers protested in the center of Dhaka as well as the Chittagong free export zone (FEZ) where Youngwon Corporation is located, and called for the increase of the minimum monthly wage and improvement of working conditions. However, the Bangladesh police brutally suppressed protesters by using rubber bullets and tear bombs and as a result, four protesters died and over 200 were injured. Garment exports account for 80 percent of the county’s total exports and several Korean companies including Youngwon Corporation are standing on the heart of garment industry. The December protests became the momentum that raised big concern over the miserable condition of the Bangladeshi workers within the Korean society. More Korean people are now urging that the Korean garment companies in Bangladesh should be held accountable for the December crisis.

We strongly criticize the Bangladesh government’s illegal detaining of Ms. Mishu and denying providing her a proper medical treatment. These acts by the government, which clearly violated international human rights laws, is very shameful behavior and should be strongly blamed. We also urge the Bangladesh government to immediately stop arresting and abusing the union activists. It is shame to see that the Bangladesh government is repressing the labour leaders rather than making any effort to improve the severe working conditions of workers. Such repression by the Bangladesh government eventually forces workers to work under the poor work conditions with very low wages, while being the effective method to increase Foreign Direct Investment (FDI) outflows. This gives us clear signal that the Bangladesh government would continue to violate rights of workers and ignore international criticism. The anti-human-rights capital attraction fever which is representing as free economic zone and free export zone in all the corners of the world including Bangladesh and Korea made the workers’ daily lives worse like a misery. In this regard, Ms. Mishu’s suffering cannot be separated from ours and we will strongly fight for Ms. Mishu with solidarity.

We particularly urge that the government of the Republic of Korea and Korean companies should also take responsibility for Ms. Mishu’s case. Many Korean companies entered Bangladesh market by taking advantage of the Bangladesh government’s low wage policy and anti-union policy, and are highly contributing to build up the vulnerable conditions for the workers. Youngwon Corporation has claimed that the massive workers’ protests triggered from its own factory in December, must be controlled by external powers and kept denying its own responsibility. However, when it comes to take a close look into the purpose of operating its factory in Chittagong FEZ, it becomes very clear why Youngwon Corporation should be held accountable for the December protests. The workers in the FEZ are denied to wield the right to take collective action, while the FEZ authorities has absolute power over the issues such as the workers’ wage negotiation, the employment and dismissal of workers. If the benefited Korean companies would not take responsibility for the damaged workers by the benefits, then who should take responsibility for this? It is clear that the Korean companies are benefitted by the Bangladesh government’s abuses against workers. In this regard, Korean companies are also responsible for Ms. Mishu’s illegal arrest, detention, and ill-treatment by the Bangladesh government.

Instead, the Korean government has been promoting Korean companies to invest in Bangladesh by suggesting attractions such as low wages and weak labour protection policy. Till now, the Korean government has been paid less attention on the international labor standards and has not been implementing its international obligations. However, the recent massive protest in Bangladesh indicates that the Korean government should not remain passive over the labour issue in Bangladesh. At least, the Korean government should sincerely study the causes behind the massive labor demonstration and try hard to make sure that Korean companies are not involved in human rights abuses against Bangladesh workers. One of President Lee Myung Bak’s national campaign slogans is “becoming the mature global country”. Urging the Bangladesh government to release Ms. Mishu should be the top priority for the Korean government as “the mature global country”, for the sake of protecting and improving human rights.

We, the Korean civil and union groups, strongly call for Ms. Mishu’s immediate release. Standing in solidarity, we will continue to fight together with Bangladesh workers until Ms. Mishu is released and workers achieve three basic labour rights and live like a human being. All the workers are the one; no one’s human rights should be violated!

This statement is endorsed by:
Altogether
Ansan Immigrant Center
Asia Pacific Workers Solidarity Links Corea
Catholic Guri Namyanju Migrant Center
CHANG: Korea Human Rights Reserch Centre
Cheon-an MOYSE(Migrants Center on based Catholic)
Committee to support imprisoned workers
Daejeon Association for Foreign Laborers
Daejeon MOYSE(Migrants Center on based Catholic)
Democratic Workers’ Solidarity
Friends of Asia
Gumi Catholic Workers’ Center
Human Rights Welfare Organization for Migrant Workers
Korea Migrant Workers’ Human Rights Center
Korean Confederation of Trade Unions
Korean House for International Solidarity
Korean Progressive Labor Network
Migrant Labor Center in Gyeongsan
Migrants’ Trade Union
Network for Glocal Activism
Network for Migrants’ Rights
Osan Laborer`s & Migrant`s Shelter
People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy
People’s Solidarity for Social progress
Public Interest Lawyers Group ‘Gonggam’
Pusan Missionary Association for Foreign Labor
Ronel Chakma Nani
Solidarity with Migrants
Window of Asia
Yang San Migrant Worker’s House

It’s better to be quiet –Minerva: Law against spreading false information ruled unconstitutional

January 28, 2011 Leave a comment

Dae Sung Park (right), known as online economic expert “Minerva,” and his lawyer Park Chan Jong on 28th December 2010 meet reporters following the Constitutional Court ruling that the restriction on distribution of incorrect information online is unconstitutional.(Yonhap News Agency)

By: Min Hee Park

On 28th December 2010, the Constitutional Court ruled an article of the Telecommunications Law which criminalized those who distribute misleading content online as unconstitutional.

The epoch-making ruling is expected to help Dae Sung Park, more commonly known as online economic expert Minerva. According to the Telecommunications Law, Article 47, Clause 1, people who spread false information with the intention of “damaging public interest” through the telecommunication infrastructure are subject to a fine of up to a 50 million won (40,000USD) or up to five years of imprisonment.

However, the Constitutional Court judged the term “public interest” as vague and in violation of the constitutional principle to be “clear and definite” The constitutional Court judges concluded that “the definition and interpretation of public interest differs from person to person.”

The 7-2 ruling, which nullified the previous Telecommunication Law, is expected to create a stir, because under Myung Bak Lee’s administration, many people have been prosecuted over such violations.

In the case of Minerva, Dae Sung Park became famous for his online criticisms of the Lee administration’s economic policies, on Korea’s second largest portal site Daum between July and December 2008. Many of his predictions and analysis about the economic situation were proven false, but his accurate prediction about the bankruptcy petition of the Lehman Brothers and the collapse of the monetary value of the Korean won against the U.S. dollar allowed him to gain huge popularity.

The prosecution sought conviction over spreading misleading information related to the economic situations that allegedly misguided investors in Korea. However, Dae Sung Park and his lawyer insisted that the relevant law is a suppression of peoples’ freedom of expression: finally, the Constitutional Court concluded the article of the Telecommunications Law– which had been the grounds of the penalty for Dae Sung Park— unconstitutional.

Thirty four people who were prosecuted for spreading false information on the internet are expected to be affected by the constitutional court decision. Some of the false information released by these people were related to the sunken warship Cheon-An, which was assumed to be attacked by North Korea in March 2010, and North Korea’s shelling of the western island of Yeonpyeong in South Korea on November 2010

Most of Korea’s civic groups harshly resisted Dae Sung Park’s prosecution when he was prosecuted three years ago, contending that the prosecution is a violation of freedom of expression which is the essential part of our fundamental rights. Currently, most civic groups have been very satisfied with the Constitutional Courts decision.

Dae Sung Park (Right), known as online economic expert “Minerva”, walked out of the Seoul detention center in Ui Wang-Si Gyeong gi-Do and met his family, after getting acquitted on 20th April 2009.(Yonhap News Agency)

University Instructor Indicted for Caricaturizing the President

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment


 

By: Yeseul Christeena Song

Prosecutors have attempted to indict university instructor, Park Jeong-su, 41, on charges of defacing public property. Park and four university students had spray painted a picture of a rat on several G20 Seoul Summit promotional posters; the rat is often used to caricaturize South Korean president, Lee Myung-bak.

Prosecutors felt that Park had gone beyond his right to freedom of expression, stating that Park had, “laid out a scheme to tarnish the nation for hosting the important G20 event.” Prosecutors denied criticism of abuse of authority to indict Park based on political aims.

Civil groups have criticized the prosecution, citing the infringement of Park’s “right to freedom of opinion and expression; including freedom to hold opinions without interference” and Park’s “right to freedom of thought,” both upheld by the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. Liberal groups also expressed concern over the administration’s over-reaction to harmless satire and the stifling of independent, free opinion.

Categories: Freedom of Expression

Human Rights Watch: Human Rights World Report 2011

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

Human Rights Watch have recently issued their 2011 Human Rights World Report. Based upon their intensive investigation conducted in 2010, it contains the Human Rights conditions of more than 90 countries and territories in the world.

Human Rights Watch: Human Rights Report 2011

North Korea: Country Summary

Despite lip service to human rights in its constitution, conditions in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) remain dire. There is no organized political opposition, free media, functioning civil society, or religious freedom. Arbitrary arrest, detention, lack of due process, and torture and ill-treatment of detainees remain serious and endemic problems. North Korea also practices collective punishment for various anti-state offenses, for which it enslaves hundreds of thousands of citizens in prison camps, including children. The government periodically publicly executes citizens for stealing state property, hoarding food, and other “anti-socialist” crimes.

Vitit Muntarbhorn, then-United Nations special rapporteur on human rights in North Korea, wrote in his final report in February 2010 that the country’s human rights situation “can be described as sui generis [in its own category], given the multiple particularities and anomalies that abound.” He added that, “simply put, there are many instances of human rights violations which are both harrowing and horrific.”

Inter-Korea relations plunged after 46 South Korean sailors died when their warship, the Cheonan, sank in March 2010. A South Korea-led team that included investigators from the United States, the United Kingdom, Australia, and Sweden blamed North Korea for the attack. In July the UN Security Council adopted a statement condemning the attack. However, North Korea’s strongest ally, China, declined to name North Korea as the party responsible, and shielded it from significant Security Council action.

A campaign for a UN commission of inquiry on North Korea gained momentum in 2010, with a growing number of international and South Korea-based human rights organizations pressing governments to support the initiative.

Monetary Devaluation and Food Shortages

Reports of deaths from starvation surfaced in the months following North Korea’s ineptly managed monetary devaluation scheme, which effectively demonetized savings in the old currency in November 2009. North Korea abolished its old bank notes with virtually no advance notice and only allowed North Koreans to exchange up to 100,000 won (approximately US$25 to US$30 according to the then-market exchange rate) of the old currency for the new bills. Authorities also banned the use of foreign currencies and closed markets. It later lifted those bans.

Many people saw their entire private savings wiped out overnight, while prices for food and other basic commodities skyrocketed as merchants stopped selling goods in expectation of further price hikes.

South Korea-based NGOs and media with informants inside North Korea reported on new hunger-related deaths, especially among vulnerable groups. North Korea reportedly executed Pak Nam Ki, the former finance minister who implemented the currency revaluation, accusing him of being a South Korean spy intent on wrecking the economy. Although several international humanitarian agencies continued to deliver food and services, they have continued to have difficulty confirming delivery to the most needy.

Torture and Inhumane Treatment

Testimony from escaped North Koreans indicates that persons arrested on criminal charges often face torture by officials aiming to enforce obedience and to extract bribes and information. Common forms of torture include sleep deprivation, beatings with iron rods or sticks, kicking and slapping, and enforced sitting or standing for hours. Detainees are subject to so-called “pigeon torture,” in which they are forced to cross their arms behind their back, are handcuffed, hung in the air tied to a pole, and beaten with a club. Guards also rape female detainees.

Executions

North Korea’s Criminal Code stipulates that the death penalty can only be applied to a few crimes, such as “crimes against the state” and “crimes against the people,” although at least one scholar believes a December 2007 law extended the penalty to many more. In reality, North Koreans are executed for a wide range of crimes, including vaguely defined non-violent offenses.

Forced Labor Camps

Testimony from escapees has established that persons accused of political offenses are usually sent to a forced labor camp, known as gwalliso.

The government practices collective punishment, which results in an offender’s parents, spouse, children, and even grandchildren also being sent to a forced labor camp. These camps are notorious for abysmal living conditions and abuse, including severe food shortages, little or no medical care, lack of proper housing and clothes, mistreatment and torture by guards, and executions. Death rates in these camps are very high.

North Korea has never acknowledged these camps exist, but US and South Korean officials estimate some 200,000 people may be imprisoned in these facilities, which include No. 14 in Kaechun, No. 15 in Yodok, No. 16 in Hwasung, No. 22 in Hoeryung, and No. 25 in Chungjin.

Refugees and Asylum Seekers

North Korea criminalizes leaving the country without state permission. Those who leave face grave punishment upon repatriation such as lengthy terms in horrendous detention facilities or forced labor camps with chronic food and medicine shortages, harsh working conditions, and mistreatment and torture by camp guards. Some are even executed, depending on their offense and who they met abroad.

Most North Koreans who leave do so across the country’s northern border with China. Hundreds of thousands have fled since the 1990s, and some have settled in China’s Yanbian Korean Autonomous Prefecture. Beijing categorically labels North Koreans in China “illegal” economic migrants and routinely repatriates them, despite its obligation to offer protection to refugees under both customary international law and the Refugee Convention of 1951 and its 1967 protocol, to which China is a party.

Many North Korean women in China live with local men in de facto marriages. Even if they have lived there for years, they are not entitled to legal residence and face arrest and repatriation. Some North Korean women and girls are trafficked into marriage or prostitution in China. Many children of such unrecognized marriages are forced to live without a legal identity or access to elementary education in order to avoid their mothers being identified and repatriated.

Government-Controlled Judiciary

North Korea’s judiciary is neither transparent nor independent. All personnel involved in the judiciary, including judges, prosecutors, lawyers, court clerks, and jury members are appointed and tightly controlled by the ruling Workers’ Party of Korea. In cases designated as political crimes, suspects are not even sent through a nominal judicial process; after interrogation they are either executed or sent to a forced labor camp with their entire families.

Labor Rights

The ruling Korean Workers’ Party firmly controls the only authorized trade union organization, the General Federation of Trade Unions of Korea. South Korean companies employ some 44,000 North Korean workers in the Kaesong Industrial Complex (KIC), where the law governing working conditions falls far short of international standards on freedom of association, the right to collective bargaining, and gender discrimination and sexual harassment.

Restrictions on Information, Association, and Movement

The government uses fear-generated mainly by threats of forced labor and public executions-to prevent dissent, and imposes harsh restrictions on freedom of information, association, assembly, and travel.

North Korea operates a vast network of informants to monitor and punish persons for subversive behavior. All media and publications are state-controlled, and unauthorized access to non-state radio or TV broadcasts is severely punished. The government periodically investigates the “political background” of its citizens to assess their loyalty to the ruling party, and forces Pyongyang residents who fail such assessments to leave the capital.

Key International Actors

The UN Human Rights Council reviewed North Korea’s human rights record at a Universal Periodic Review session in December 2009. North Korea failed to formally state whether it accepts any of the 167 recommendations that it took under advisement from that session. The same month the UN General Assembly adopted a resolution against North Korea for the fifth straight year, citing member states’ serious concerns about continuing reports of “systemic, widespread, and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights.” In April 2010 the council adopted a resolution against North Korea for the third year for abysmal, systematic human rights violations.

In July 2010 the European Parliament adopted a resolution calling for the European Union to sponsor a resolution to establish a UN commission of inquiry to assess past and present human rights violations in North Korea.

The Six-Party talks on denuclearizing the Korean peninsula remain stymied. Citing the attack on the Cheonan, the US announced new sanctions targeting Office 39, a secretive Korean Workers’ Party organization known to raise foreign currency for the party. North Korea jailed Aijalon Mahli Gomes, a US citizen who crossed the border, on charges of illegal entry and other unspecified crimes. Former US President Jimmy Carter secured Gomes’ release in August 2010.

North Korean leader Kim Jong Il visited Chinese leaders in Beijing in May and August 2010 to discuss economic and other cooperation schemes. Observers speculate the trips were tied to building support for a future transfer of power from Kim to his third son, Kim Jong Un.

North Korea’s relations with Japan remained frosty, largely due to a dispute over abductees. North Korea admitted in 2002 that its agents had abducted 13 Japanese citizens in the 1970s and 1980s to use them for training North Korean spies. It returned five to Japan, but claimed the other eight had died. Japan insists the number of abductees is higher. No legal means of immigration between the two countries exists; of the nearly 100,000 migrants from Japan to North Korea between 1959 and 1984, only 200 have been able to return to Japan by escaping clandestinely.

PDF:  Human Rights Watch_World Report_2011_North Korea

NHRCK Prohibits Discrimination Based on Health

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Yuri Yi

On December 31, 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has advised the chief of hospital X, name not stated for protection purposes, to remedy his decision of refusing to hire a medical laboratory technologist on the basis of being positive for Hepatitis B.

Mr. B, who remains anonymous for his protection, was disqualified from the hiring process due to his medical condition and petitioned NHRCK to have hospital X withdraw the decision. He said, although I passed all the tests including the final interview, my carrier state disqualified me from the job.”

On the other hand, hospital X argued that “we couldn’t help limiting his employment because the disease is contagious. Due to the nature of the job of a medical laboratory technologist such as managing blood of patients, he was an improper applicant.”

However, NHRCK judged that “It is an excessive limitation to reject him for the reason of infectiousness. According to the opinion of specialist, hepatitis B is an illness not easily caught through normal cohabitation, if there is no blood or sexual contact. Working in hospital with people belongs to the case of normal cohabitation.”

One of the officials at NHRCK explained that,a hospital would be able to prevent dangerous situation from happening by letting Mr. B obey the pollution prevention regulations like other medical laboratory technologists. There are enough alternatives such as temporary suspension of duty which might be able to transmit the virus through blood.”

Mr. B has work experience at a hospital in Gangwon Province, Korea.