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No ‘Human Rights’ at the NHRCK

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Tae-young Kim, an investigator of NHRCK stages a relay of one-man protests to remonstrate the unfair dismissal.

Bichi Lee

“The duty of the National Human Rights Commision of Korea (NHRCK) is to make society a better place in which people can live like a decent human being. But NHRCK does not consider people important. They unfairly dismissed and suggest ‘there’s no labor union’. Please, reconsider it before it is too late”

Tae-young Kim, an investigator of the NHRCK carried signs in front of the building of the NHRCK in the Jung-gu district of Seoul on February 14, 2011. Kim is a public certified labor attorney who handled the paperwork on the Right to Work. On February 8th Kim submitted a written resignation in protest of the unfair dismissal of In-young Kang, an investigator at the NHRCK. In-young Kang was the second manager of the Anti-Discrimination Division and handled documents on sexual discrimination.

Kim stated, “I can’t just sit back and watch my colleague be wrongfully fired. As a person that is in charge of labor, I advised NHRCK to withdraw the unfair dismissal of temporary positions.  Regardless, my coworker was wrongfully fired. Byung-Chul Hyun, chairperson of NHRCK should withdraw it.”

Beginning with Kim, commissioners of the NHRCK started to stage a series of one-person protests to demonstrate against the unfair dismissal by Chairman Byoung-Chul Hyun and Secretary General Sim-Gil Son.

It was the first time in the history of the NHRCK that its Commissioners took to the streets in protest. Apart from the labor union, the Commissioners will be continuing the relay of the one-person protests for three weeks during lunch breaks.

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

First South Korean elected to UN Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities

November 8, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Soo Yon Suh

On the 1st of September, the United Nations in New York announced the new elected members to the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities. South Korean International Studies Professor at Korea University, Kim Hyung-Sik, was one of the 12 elected to the committee from a pool of 23 candidates. The ministry stated that Kim is the first South Korean to earn a seat at the Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

The committee is an 18 member group consisting of experts in the protection of persons with disabilities. The Committee on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities works to monitor the implementation of the Convention.

South Korea signed onto the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disability in December 2008.

Professor Kim is currently the Director of the Disability Research Center, Korean Society for the Rehabilitation of Person with Disabilities. As well as worked previously as the Korea Representative to the UN to negotiate the drafting of the CRPD.

To name a few notable Koreans in the United Nations:

Yanghee Lee, Committee on the Rights of Child

Heisoo Shin, Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women

Mr. Hyung-Sik Kim Photo Courtesy of Donga.com

http://www.ccdailynews.com/section/?knum=170315

http://news.naver.com/main/read.nhn?mode=LSD&mid=sec&sid1=104&oid=001&aid=0004635244

http://news.mk.co.kr/v3/view.php?year=2010&no=474793

http://www.bernama.com.my/bernama/v5/newsworld.php?id=525711

Park Rae-gun, and His Noble Fight for Justice and Human Rights: “Human rights movement is my life and fate… “

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

[Interview]

Park Rae-gun, co-president of Justice for Yongsan Evictees and permanent activist of Sarangbang Group for Human Rights, has been a leader and beacon for human rights activists for over 23 years. Devoting his entire life to human rights, he has always fought for the disadvantaged and marginalized people in South Korea. After being linked with an illegal rally in the Yongsan 4th redevelopment region in September 2009, he turned himself in to the police on January 11, 2010, and was acquitted after four months in jail. We at the Human Rights Monitor requested Park rae-gun, for an interview to express his opinions on the high court’s recent decision on the Yongsan protesters.

___________________________________________________________________________________

Why help find justice for the victims of the “Yongsan Tragedy”?

The “Yongsan Tragedy” was a major catastrophe that resulted in many injuries and 6 deaths. In a human rights perspective it was not just an accident, but a stark violation of civil rights. As a human rights activist I was naturally drawn to this issue which dealt with the right to housing, forced eviction, and police brutality.

What is your opinion on the heavy sentencing and on the “New Town” policy?

In a causal relationship, it was an excessive crackdown. Although deaths and injuries were predictable at the time, the police forcibly rushed in without any precautionary measures. In the trial, the court ruled in favor of the government by adopting only portions of victims’ testimonies that could be favorable for their position. Therefore, the court’s ruling was clearly biased and ignored the evictees’ suffering. It was a political decision which violated the basis of law, justice and conscience.

The “New Town” policy can be seen as necessary to a certain extent. For instance, shabby houses and narrow streets are definitely creating inconvenient living conditions for residents. However, prior to the redevelopment plan, its purpose should have been aimed at providing a better living environment for residents. In my understanding, less than 20 percent of tenants and business owners were able to resettle while 80+ percent were forced out of their homes and businesses.

Although many people sympathize with the victims of the “Yongsan Tragedy,” the victims do not actively fight for their rights as they desire to receive the benefits given through redevelopment.  Therefore, many perceive this issue as a double standard. However, people must acknowledge that their indifference intensifies the polarization of society. Living is not just limited to housing; it also incorporates aspects of education and life itself, therefore, the “New Town” policy needs to be reevaluated and adjusted. It must ensure that the residents can resettle and enjoy the better living conditions offered.

What of the rights of evictees?

Many people do not realize the truth and often are given distorted facts. Currently, under the law, evicted small business owners are guaranteed compensation only equivalent to their original four-month income. This is unfair however, as these business owners have invested a lot more money in their businesses’ premiums, interior design and employee wages. Therefore, if the government forcibly evicts them without sufficient compensation these owners cannot make ends meet. This is why evictees chose to resist with violence.

In reality, construction companies often purchase ‘demolition gangsters’ to forcibly evict tenants and business owners. In the process, these gangsters use violence, threats, commit acts of vandalism and create as much chaos as possible.

As you can see it’s a catch 22 situation, either suffer from the violence and vandalism of thugs, or suffer under unjust government authority. As such, it is difficult for evictees to claim their rights and receive justice. In the case of the “Yongsan tragedy”, Molotov cocktails and golf-balls were a last resort in a bid to fight injustice. If anyone witnessed the actual scene, they could easily understand the severity of the situation. It was truly horrifying.

What is a possible solution for the next victims of forced eviction?

The purpose of the “New Town” policy in Korea is aimed at supporting real estate, preventing economic stagnation and maximizing the benefits of construction companies. Unfortunately this policy does not mention any improvement of living conditions for residents.

Instead of pushing its policy by force, the government should institute a channel to hold sufficient discussions with residents for drafting a fairer redevelopment project. It is the government’s responsibility to ensure that indigenous tenants resettle in an equivalent or better living arrangement.

The UN consistently urges the government to ban forced eviction. However, the government has completely ignored the Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights (CESCR) and their recommendations and general comments. Our government should at least acknowledge the importance of the UN recommendations and draft a law to prohibit forced eviction. Violence will only beget more violence.

How is life as a human rights activist?

It is painful. Sometimes it gets so painful that I don’t feel like meeting victims of human rights abuses, but I know that I cannot do such a thing. Every time my heart acts before I have second thoughts, because of this I have spent my fair share in a prison cell.

Human rights work is my life and destiny. I work in the human rights movement because my heart does not let me look away from the pain of the disenfranchised. I do not always relish my job, but someone has to do it and do it right. Nevertheless, it is definitely a rewarding job.

Are there any big plans for the future?

Because I have been in and out of prison for so long, I am resting for now. As a permanent activist in the Sarangbang Group for Human Rights, I have been supporting other human rights organization since July. However, due to the lack of financial resources, things are not panning out as well as they should. As such, this year I will be focusing on establishing a foundation for financial resources to establish necessities like a human rights center which other organizations can utilize. ■