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Reflection: Security Preparations for Seoul G20 Summit: Protective Measures or Infringement on Human Rights?

November 24, 2010 Leave a comment

By: Soo Yon Suh

South Korea officially held the 2010 G20 Summit in its capital, Seoul, from November 11-12. This was the fifth meeting of the G20 heads of government to continue its discussion of the global financial system and the world economy. The Seoul G20 Summit holds a significant meeting for the host country as it will be the first non-G8 nation to host the event. The theme of the Seoul summit is “Shared Growth Beyond Crisis.”

The summit became a hot topic of conversation for its significance in South Korea taking a bold leap in leadership in the international arena; domestically the G20 summit stirred a lot of criticism. As the G20 summit was a forum that gathered world leaders into Seoul, it was necessary for security to be top notch. Within this context the South Korean government indicated that it will put up a 2.2 meter high protective blockade around the G20 convention hall. Buses were rerouted and streets were blocked off to restrict civillian entry into the vacinity of the convention hall. It was also notified that trains will not be stopping at SamSeong Station, where the convention hall is located, during the two days of the event. The Korean police authorities are stating that the measures are taken to protect the well being of the leaders participating in the summit.

Many criticized this protective measure as a second “Myung Bak Fortress”, reflecting on the 2008 container blockade the government set up to resist the candlelight vigil regarding the U.S. beef issue.

According to an interview conducted by Kyunghyang Newspaper of a police authority, the officer indicated “I am aware that even at the G20 summit held last June in Toronto, Canada there was a 3 meter high metal wire fence placed up.”

One can’t help but question whether this is an infringement on citizen’s human rights. With the precedence of the container blockade installed during the candlelight vigils in 2008 by the Korean government, justification by comparing other country’s actions won’t cut it. In addition to the barricades, the Korean government placed many questionable regulations on the country during the summit that triggered the human rights infringement alarm. For example, many protests permits were rejected by the city of Seoul claiming that the possibility leaders passing through the area exists. There were reports that known foreign protesters of the G20 were identified and were detained and returned back to their point of departure at the airport.

The most impacted by the G20 regulations would be the underpriviledged. Many homeless and street vendors that depend on their days earnings to get by have been chased out of streets causing social unrest. In addition, there was a large scale crack down on illegal migrant workers deporting all those with expired visas. The list is endless, it was also indicated that there were forms of racial profiling stopping and searching those of Middle Eastern decent in the name of terror prevention measure.

Many human rights activists in the country criticize these actions as infringements on the citizen’s basic human rights. Freedom of speech, freedom of assembly, and freedom of travel to name a few were clearly infringed.

The South Korean government patted themselves on the back for a successful and smooth end to the G20 summit. However, the efforts of the government to safe face and covering up their social issues posed more suspicision and questions about the state of the countries human rights.

Sources:

http://news.khan.co.kr/kh_news/khan_art_view.html?artid=201009152201445&code=940100 http://www.ohmynews.com/NWS_Web/view/at_pg.aspx?CNTN_CD=A0001446866 http://www.sisainlive.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=8850 http://news.khan.co.kr/kh_news/khan_art_view.html?artid=201011052143415&code=940702 http://www.koreatimes.co.kr/www/news/nation/2010/10/119_70762.html http://www.sisainlive.com/news/articleView.html?idxno=8850

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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.

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

Lee Ra, Korea’s 1st immigrant to be elected to a provincial council: “I want to help multicultural families”

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Tues Jun 15

Ji-Su Park

Lee Ra, a 33-year-old immigrant from Mongolia who obtained South Korean citizenship only two years ago, was elected to the provincial council of Gyeonggi Province as a proportional representative for the Grand National Party.

In her interview with Yonhap news, Lee said, “When we make a decision to come to this country, we think of spending the rest of our lives here.  So we don’t want to be treated as foreigners all the time.  While newcomers should make efforts to adjust to a new environment, the government needs to provide more support for them to help deal with the language barrier, the lack of job opportunities, and sometimes, discrimination.”

The South Korean local elections held on June 2nd were significant.  Many political parties across the nation including the Grand National Party, Liberty Forward Party, and the Participation Party had “multicultural candidates” as their candidates for proportional representatives.  Proportional representatives gain seats in the provincial councils according to the number of votes their party receives in the election.

Lee’s win holds a great symbolic significance in South Korean society, since she became the first naturalized Korean citizen to be elected to a public office in South Korea.

This year’s local elections were very unprecedented, since there were six multicultural candidates in several political parties.  But Lee was the only candidate who was elected to the office.  In the council of Gyeonggi Province, Lee plans to work on policies to improve employment and education for female foreign migrants and their children.

Lee first came to Korea in September 2003 after marrying a South Korean businessman.  She changed her name from Gerel Nergur, a Mongolian name, to Lee Ra, a Korean name.  Lee obtained South Korean citizenship in October 2008 and has been helping other foreign brides and multicultural families as a marriage-based immigrant herself.  Currently, Lee works at a Seoul immigration office and volunteers at a multicultural support center in Seongnam.

The National Election Commission of South Korea recently stated that today, 88,000 naturalized citizens and 12,899 foreign nationals who have been permanent residents of South Korea for more than three years have the right to vote. ■

Homosexuality is No Longer a Sin in the Society but is Still a Crime in the Military

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Tues Jun 15

Hyoyeol Chong

On June 12, the 11th Korea Queer Culture Festival titled “Outing,” took place in Cheonggyechon, Seoul. Within the Festival there were information booths from religious groups, political groups and NGOs. A parade took place with special guests including Seok-chon Hong, one of the first Korean actors to declare his homosexuality, and Theodore W. Jennings, a professor from the Chicago Theological Seminary and advocate of Church-LGBT relations.

Aside from this festival, dramas, movies and music videos about homosexuality are becoming more and more common in Korea. A Korean drama, titled “Beautiful Life,” depicts love between two men and their difficulties in society, and the drama has become a sensation in Korean society. Expressing different sexualities openly has been taboo for a very long time in Korea; however Koreans have slowly started to accept homosexuality within society. Movies such as, “The King and The Clown,” “Ssanghwajeum” and “No Regret,” each depict homosexual love and the difficulties of it within the conservative mood of society, have also contributed to the change and the decline of prejudice.

In regards to this changing climate Seok-chon Hong said, “Some people should have told this kind of story beforehand. I appreciate that homosexuality is being dealt in mass media and I want people to know homosexuals can be our friends or family members.” Another participant in the festival would state that, “Mass media is much more effective than our sixteen years of effort. It is obvious that we gays can show up in the society compared to the past.”

Changing perspectives of society on sexual minorities is evident due to mass media and festivals like these acknowledging the presence of homosexuality in Korean society. However, discrimination of homosexuals still exists, particularly within the military. There is controversy over clause 92 of the Military Criminal Law, which states that, “a person who commits sodomy is sentenced under one year imprisonment.” Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is subject to disciplinary action but sodomy is unconditionally punished. The Court for Armed Forces argues that clause 92 infringes gay rights.

On one hand, there is a welcoming movement among people towards homosexuality in civilian society. On the other, homosexuals are treated as psychopaths and punished with legal penalties in the military. This means that there is no agreement in Korean society whether same-sex love should be dealt as pathological or another form of human love and it remains a roadblock for homosexual rights  in Korea.■

Contributed by HRM intern Ji-Su Park