Anti-Terrorism Act in South Korea
- 2002.08.24 (00:00:00)
Open Statement to the United Nations Commission on Human Rights 58th Session
Since the attacks on September 11, many states have taken steps for counter-terrorism measures and the international human rights community including the Commission on Human Rights has repeatedly expressed its growing concern about their negative impact on the protection and promotion of human rights.
Some Asian countries are not exception in such a context. They have insisted the primacy of national security and sovereignty over human rights. The security laws and measures implemented by those countries such as Internal Security Act(ISA) in Malaysia and Singapore, and National Security Law in South Korea, have already been subject to serious condemnation from the international human rights community. It is well-known that most cases, those security measures have been abused or manipulated by the State in order to suppress political opposition groups and human rights organizations.
Today, those governments are attempting to even strengthen those national security measures or to introduce a new legislation on security. These pose a great threat to the full safeguard of basic human rights as they violate fundamental human rights, and undermine the basic principles of democratic rule of law, accountability and transparency.
MINBYUN, as an organization of human rights lawyers in South Korea, is deeply concerned about the South Korean government’s attempt to introduce a new counter-terrorism legislation.
The ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ was drafted by the Korean National Intelligence Service (NIS, formerly known as Korean CIA) on 12 November 2001 and is about to be adopted by the National Assembly. The Act contains some controversial provisions, which may lead to gross human rights violations. For instance, the Act includes the extremely obscure provisions on the definition of ‘terrorism’ and ‘terrorist organizations’. It also empowers the ‘Counter-Terrorism Center’ which is to be supervised by the Korean NIS to monitor and control legitimate political activities in the pretext of fight against terrorism.
Thus, the draft bill provoked strong opposition not only from human rights community but also from within the South Korean government itself.
The Ministry of Justice and the National Police Agency insisted that the existing law and mechanisms were effective enough to deal with any possible threat of terrorism. Many independent human rights experts also pointed out that the present ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ has very little to do with terrorism itself, and it was rather designed to strengthen the power of Korean NIS which has been gradually reduced since the end of military dictatorship in early 1990s.
The newly established Korean National Human Rights Commission also clearly expressed its opposition in its opinion submitted to the National Assembly in last February, that the ‘Anti-Terrorism Act’ was incompatible with international human rights standards.
It is needless to say that the Human Rights NGOs’ Coalition against the Anti-Terrorism Act has also strongly objected to the introduction of Anti-Terrorism Act’ due to its possible negative consequences on human rights and democracy.
Till today, however, the South Korean government has refused to withdraw such an anti-human rights bill.
Last Friday on April 12, 2002, Mr Kofi Annan, UN Secretary General emphasised in his address to the CHR the that “we cannot achieve security by sacrificing human rights … greater respect for human rights, along with democracy and social justice, will in the long term prove the only effective prophylactic against terror”.
Mrs Mary Robinson, UN High Commissioner for Human Rights also stressed on the fact that “counter-terrorism strategies pursued after 11 September have sometimes undermined efforts to enhance respect for human rights. Excessive measures have been taken in several parts of the world that suppress or restrict individual rights including privacy, freedom of thought, presumption of innocence, fair trail, the right to seek asylum, political participation, freedom of expression and peaceful assembly.”
Their message is simple, clear and very much relevant to the current situation in South Korea.
Any counter-terrorism measure can be justified only when it aims at enhancing human security through full respect for and guarantee of all human rights. In other words, “promotion and protection of human rights should be at the centre of the strategy to counter terrorism”.
In conclusion, Mr Chairperson,
MINBYUN firmly believes that “Anti-Terrorism Act” is indeed ‘excessive’, unnecessary and illegitimate without full respect for basic principles of human rights in counter-terrorism activities.
MINBYUN recommends the Commission on Human Rights to request relevant special rapporteurs to pay special attention to the impact of national security legislation including the counter-terrorism measures on the full enjoyment of human rights in Asian countries, particularly South Korea;
MINBYUN also urges the South Korean government to immediately withdraw the “Anti-Terrorism Act”.
Thank you, Mr Chairperson.