Sarangbang Group for Human Rights
A sarangbang is a room found in a traditional Korean house, where people who do outdoor work, the husbands, live and receive guests and talk about the outside world. The Sarangbang for the Human Rights Movement was conceived in March 1993 to support human rights activists in all fields and to give them a place, like a sarangbang, where they could come and go as they please and propose ideas and gather opinions. It is noticeable that the year 1993 was in the middle of the transition of the democratization movement in Korea. New Korean President, Kim Young Sam did not come from military power, even though he was supported by it. It was an event in Korean contemporary history. People started to go their own paths. So did activists. The human rights movement had to change its policy. The Sarangbang paid attention to the victims of the National Security Law. Before then, the human rights movement was used as an evil means by the government for sustaining political power.
The National Security Law was put into effect when the conflict between the Rightists and the Leftists became intense after National Liberation in 1945. After the Korean War it acted as a system to overturn the North Korean force. However, even though the threat of the North Korean force could not be seen, it was used more as a tool to suppress those opposing the government. It was misused as government security under the mask of national security.
The formation of the leaders of Sarangbang for the Human Rights Movement is also related to the National Security Law. The representative of the Sarangbang, Mr. Jun-sik Suh was a victim of the National Security Law. In 1971, right before the Constitutional Reformation for the 4th Republic, which aimed at securing the 4th term of Park Jung-hee’s presidency, a public security case, ‘the Japanese Brothers Espionage Activity’ was concocted. Mr. Suh was arrested as a result of this case, questioned under immoral torture, and imprisoned as a prisoner of conscience for 17 years.
The Sarangbang for the Movement of Human Rights was opened with Mr. Suh as the central figure, first for the freedom of general prisoners rather than prisoners of conscience, as existing human right movements do. This was to create a new area in human rights. With the prisoners, who were hidden behind the shadows of prisoners of conscience, the Sarangbang investigated, consulted, and made complaints on behalf of the human rights violation case in Chungsong Prison, and many other human rights violation cases. It also shared problems with the public through the written report The Reality of Korean Prisons. The Sarangbang Freedom Committee accused the government of misusing its power, and tried to protect victims from authoritarian power, which even state power cannot use. These include rights such as the freedom of self-expression, the freedom of assembly, the right to fair judgement, the right of protection from brutal punishments, etc.
Recently it has helped give new meaning to freedom by the refusal of questioning. It made us realize how much the violent control of social power was spread in everyday life by throwing a question at the problem of questioning, which is an act of searching through a person’s belongings without due process. It was a chance for the blind and obedient public to open their eyes and look at the world from a different view. There is one more important thing which the Sarangbang for the Human Rights Movement wishes for. They hope to help the public free themselves from internalized obedience so they can open their eyes, rather than speak for the weak in the center of the movement.
The Sarangbang emphasizes human rights education. It educates both individuals and the public to make their own decisions and act upon alleged human rights abuses based from a humane point of view and knowledge. Therefore education in human rights is one for human rights and is taught by having people think and act together.
Education in human rights is a retraining program not only for international human right activists, but also for adults and teenagers. At the Human Rights Camp for children, the educator gives an outlined program and the children fill it out. This gradually leads the children to the understanding of the meaning of human rights. Usually because the children are sent to camp by their parents, they show some disapproval of the complex theme ‘human rights’, but soon come close to the meaning through inspiration.
Besides this work, Sarangbang is continuing their study on human rights education by publishing books on human rights. It has also acted as the Korean writer for the 1998 Peace International’s Get Up Stand Up. It also watched to see that the UN Children Rights Treaty was put into effect, monitored the UN Children’s Rights Committee, so as to see if it educated children about their rights, and in 1998 was awarded the Seventh True Education Award by the Teachers’ Union.
The Sarangbang expanded their coverage based on this course of education, to include the pursuit of happiness, to be able to exercise one’s right in everyday society. As the Sarangbang felt the need to protect the quality of life from tyrannical capitalists and market of neo-liberalism, they formed a social power committee and are presently confronting alleged human rights abuses. Recently they presented the results of a survey on the actual condition of social power after the economic crisis which started late in 1997. This survey was published as The Right to Live Like a Human: A Survey on the Actual Situation of Social Right after the 1997 Economic Crisis and showed the human rights problems of the poor, and observed and prosecuted fake welfare institutions like the Yangji Settlement.
What the Sarangbang truly wishes for is for human rights abuse victims to become the owner of their rights and for them to be able to stand up with dignity. In the case of the Yangji Settlement, Sarangbang activists regret that they were not able to assist the settlers in coping with their problems themselves, but could only stand up for them. For human rights abuse victims to be able to stand up with dignity, similar cases must join together and devote themselves to the common problem.
The Human Rights Everyday News provides people with a forum to share their pain and a place to act together. It also helps bring back isolated human rights cases to the discussion table. The general concept of human rights in speech has also expanded and the awareness of human rights of the public has also risen. The Human Rights Everyday News has arranged the situation of human rights, according to period and main events every week since September 1993. There are many events which have become famous through The Human Rights Everyday News.
The News reported the case survey of a woman prisoner of conscience, who was nearing full term, but did not receive the necessary hospital care. Her baby was born dead. This report exemplified how prisoners are treated. Also in 1997. on the date of issue of the one thousandth edition, representative Mr. Suh Jun-sik was arrested by the National Security Law and he reported the falsehood and evilness of this law.
Mr. Suh was arrested for showing a movie during the 1997 Human Rights Film Festival that had a strong benefit to the enemy. The problematic was that the film Red Hunt represented April 3rd Cheju Island Struggle which is thought of as the communists’ uprising just before the Korean War. It was shown at many film festivals, but only at the Human Rights Film Festival did it become a problem. Only Mr. Suh was arrested. It was an event that showed that the government was still using the masked National Security Law for national security and would take away human rights if necessary. However, the struggle for the freedom of expression is an everlasting image of the Human Rights Film Festival. That is, the guarantee of the freedom of expression is an essential right to live like a human. Sarangbang’s struggle for a society which accepts differences, a society in which the voices of the weak are heard and passed on, goes along with the Human Rights Film Festival. Furthermore, the Human Rights Film Festival provided a time for scriptwriters to meet with viewers for them to influence independent Korean movies.
A lot of money is needed to hold the Human Rights Film Festival, but Sarangbang insists on free entry. It is not that they do not know that movies make money. They believe that if a fee is charged then the heart of the festival will die out. Mr. Suh is not the only one who believes so. It is the belief of eleven Sarangbang members, who are not rich.
The standing activists of Sarangbang receive 350,000 KRW every month. If they earn more, they should, by their own internal rule, donate the excess to Sarangbang. Unfortunately, so far they have barely been able to donate any money because they almost have never made more than 350,000 KRW. They are just pleased that their debts went down to 8,000,000 KRW last year from 18,000,000 KRW. Their only means of making money is from subscriptions from The Human Rights Everyday News. 10,000,000 KRW from peoples’ taxes was for an administration project, and money from about ten sponsors, but money has not been collected. That the organization will grow to big is a great worry. If the Sarangbang becomes too big, sponsors’ wishes, which are sometimes different from Sarangbang’s wishes, will have to be met and Sarangbang will not have the mobility to solve problems.
Sarangbang acts mostly on the spot. Therefore, the right to decide belongs to the on the spot activists. The highest decision group, which consists of the representative and eleven standing activists, meet once a month, evaluate the months’ projects and decide on the next project. There is no general meeting. Every week through the bureau, meeting decisions are made in each department. Unless there is a mortgage problem, decisions are passed. Many a time the representatives insist on their projects, but they are usually rejected by the standing activists.
Besides the representative, each activist is in charge of a project. The representative in charge of the freedom committee, the general secretary in charge of The Human Rights Everyday News and a reporter, and one or two activists from human rights education, the Human Rights Film Festival, the human rights morgue, etc., are working with volunteers. There is not much difference between the volunteers and the standing activists. Recently, about ten volunteers studied basic knowledge with two standing activists and worked on investigating and writing a social rights report. The only difference is that standing activists have more to be responsible for.
Sarangbang activists say that today the Human Rights Movement has come to a crisis. Whereas the previous government’s aggressions on human rights were visible and in clear relief, the present government’s aggressions are a bit more clever. The Human Rights Movement is becoming relaxed and is retreating. Therefore, the Sarangbang is planning to readjust the standard of the Human Rights Treaty, to make an exposition of the treaty, and to make a common people report. Assistance will be given by the Human Rights Information Morgue. Materials from the autocratic time, which were thought to be burned so as to not leave any evidence, were found by Sarangbang, and restored and partly printed.
Sarangbang will now work internationally for social rights. There is no way to fight for human rights, except by doing it as a collective group.
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