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PSPD    People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

  • Int. Solidarity
  • 2010.06.25
  • 3171


An Open Letter to United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon by the Asian Human Rights Commission
Mr. Ban Ki-Moon
Secretary General
Office of the Spokesman for the Secretary General
United Nations



SOUTH KOREA: NGOs facing reprisals for submitting information to UN Security Council


Your Excellency,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) is writing this special appeal to you as United Nations Secretary General, as well as to the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, Ms. Navi Pillay and the presidency and members of the Security Council, in order to bring to your attention allegations that the government of the Republic of Korea is inciting reprisals against local non-governmental organizations. The organizations are facing threats and physical and legal attacks for submitting communications to the UN Security Council questioning the content of the government's report on the sinking of the Cheonan naval vessel in the Yellow Sea on March 26, 2010. There are also grave concerns the government may block funding for a range of civil society groups as a form of collective punishment against dissenting voices.

The AHRC notes that the sinking of the Cheonan has further fuelled tensions in the Korean Peninsula, and that the government of the Republic of Korea (RoK) has sought action by the Security Council concerning this matter. Independent experts and local civil society groups have questioned aspects of the report produced by the government, which points the finger at the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (DPRK) for the attack on the Cheonan. In particular, two NGOs, the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) – which has special consultative ECOSOC status - and Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea, have sent letters to the Security Council in which they expressed doubts concerning the credibility of elements within the investigation report produced by the Korean government-led international investigation team. The government has failed to respond concerning these legitimate questions.

Following this, government officials have made public statements that amount to incitement to attack these NGOs, given the highly charged political atmosphere in the country at present. For example, Prime Minister Jeong Un-Chan, has stated at the National Assembly that, "If they (the NGOs) were patriotic they would not say that the government's investigation report was incorrect at the UN". He went on to say, "I doubt which country they belong to. I express my grave concern that this will never benefit the national interest". An anonymous government official has added that, "This is an act benefiting an enemy state. It distributes ashes over the government's efforts". The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade further stated that the NGOs’ action would hinder the diplomacy that the government was engaged in.

Such statements and others accusing the NGO and its staff of being supporters of the DPRK and acting on this country’s behalf against the Republic of Korea, are highly inflammatory and encourage reprisals against the NGOs. Following the comments by the authorities having been broadcasted, some 200 people belonging to conservative groups attempted to raid the offices of the PSPD on June 16, with other such attacks having been repeated since then. Even though around 100 police officers were deployed to guard the building housing the PSPD’s offices, there are reports that members of the NGO’s staff have been assaulted. There have also been threatening phone calls made to the PSPD’s staff, who remain seriously concerned for their own security and personal integrity at this time.

Several conservative newspapers have also issue articles accusing the NGO of acting to benefit the “enemy State” – language seeking to connect the activities of the NGO with breaches of the National Security Act.

The country’s Prosecutor's office reportedly leaked to newspapers that there was a possibility that the staff of the PSPD might be prosecuted under the National Security Act, if a case were to be filed. In doing so, and through other actions, the Prosecutor’s office has taken an actively biased role in encouraging conservative groups to file complaints against the NGOs, in order to enable the authorities to legitimise the launching of investigations against them.

In response, conservative groups filed a complaint with the Prosecutor's office. On June 15, Mr. Chun Yeong-U, Vice Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade said, "A legal examination is currently ongoing." On 17 June this case was allocated to the Public Security Bureau 1 (Mr. Lee Jin-han, vice chief prosecutor) at the central prosecutor's office. NGO leaders, Mr. Lee Tae-ho and Mr. Gu Gap-u, who were allegedly involved in the submission of information to the Security Council, are expected to be summoned by the authorities soon.

It is also understood that the Prosecutor’s office has similarly approached one of the experts who worked on the government-led report in order for this expert to submit a complaint concerning alleged criminal defamation by the NGOs.

It is reported that the Prosecutor's office will investigate and summon all persons that are deemed to have been involved and investigate them under the National Security Act, notably under Article 7, as well as for criminal defamation and obstruction of performance of official duties. Article 7, paragraph one reads: "(1) any person who praises, incites or propagates the activities of an orgnisation, a member thereof or of the person who has received an order from it, or who acts in concert with it, or propagates or instigates a rebellion against the State, with the knowledge of the fact that it may endanger the existence and security of the States or democratic fundamental order, shall be punished by imprisonment for not more than seven years..."

The AHRC recalls the mission report concerning the Republic of Korea (1) issued by Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on 17 May, 2010, in which he states the following concerning the National Security Act and criminal defamation:

National Security Act: "I am very much aware of the security concerns faced by the Republic of Korea, particularly in light of the recent Cheonan incident, and believe that all States have the legitimate right and obligation to have national security laws in place to protect its population. However, any national security law that restricts the right to freedom of expression must fufill the criteria that I have mentioned previously, including the requirement that the law must be clear and drawn narrowly. Thus, while I welcome the fact that the number of charges and prosecutions on the basis of the National Security Act has decreased, I would like to reiterate the recommendations made by my predecessor fifteen years ago, by the UN Human Rights Committee, and by the NHRCK to revise article 7 of the National Security Act, as it remains vague and can be misinterpreted.

Defamation: "In the Republic of Korea, defamation is a criminal offence under the Criminal Code and an "unlawful act" under the Civil Code. Although criminal prosecutions have decreased, the filing of civil defamation suits and accusations of criminal defamation exert a significant chilling effect on freedom of expression…During my visit, many cases of defamation have been brought to my attention…

As stated in article 19(3) of the ICCPR, the protection of the reputation of individuals is a legitimate ground for limiting the exercise of the right to freedom of expression. However, to fulfill the criteria of necessity and proportionality, there are specific conditions that need to be met. First, the statement must be intentionally false, and must injure another person’s reputation. Secondly, public bodies and public officials of all kinds -- including all individuals of the legislative, executive or judicial branches of Government or who otherwise perform public functions -- should be prohibited altogether from bringing defamation actions. Public office entails public scrutiny, as part of checks and balances of any democratic system. Thirdly, States should abolish all criminal defamation laws. The threat of harsh criminal sanctions, especially imprisonment, exerts a profound chilling effect on freedom of expression, which cannot be justified particularly in light o f the adequacy of non-criminal sanctions in redressing any harm to individuals’ reputations. Such measures include an issuance of apology, correction or reply, or publication of any judgment which finds statements to be defamatory.

Hence, I recommend the Government to remove the crime of defamation from its Criminal Code, and to promote a culture of tolerance regarding criticism. Moreover, I would like to emphasize the principle that defamation cannot be brought by a third party or a State institution as a plaintiff."

Furthermore, on June 15, Mr. Go Heung-gil, a chair of the ruling Grand National Party, stated publicly that there should be an overall review of the government's subsidy policy for non-governmental organisations. The AHRC is concerned by the fact that the government appears to be using government subsidies to civil society to disproportionately fund conservative groups that support the government, while penalising any groups that are critical of the government. Following widespread anti-US beef demonstrations in 2008, the government cut subsidies to a large number of NGOs that had participated in the candle-light vigils and demonstrations. According to statistics from 2009, only one percent of subsidies to civil society organisations was allocated to politically progressive groups in Seoul. The PSPD has not received subsidies from the government since 1998, for its part, so it now appears that cuts to subsidies are going to be used more widely as a form of collective punishme nt against other dissenting groups.

The AHRC is gravely concerned by this concerted effort by the authorities in the RoK to undermine the freedom of expression, opinion and association and its attempts to rid the country of the dissenting voices that are essential for a pluralistic, democratic society.

The Asian Human Rights Commission therefore calls on the Secretary General of the United Nations to take all necessary steps to ensure that the reprisals, either directly or indirectly attributable to the government of the Republic of Korea, are immediately halted against civil society groups that have communicated with the UN. The AHRC appreciates the work of the Secretary-General concerning reprisals and urges his offices to include this case as part of efforts to protect civil society members from facing attacks based on their participation with in the UN’s work.

The AHRC also urges the High Commissioner for Human Rights to intervene with the Republic of Korea to ensure that these reprisals are halted and that the recommendations of the Special Rapporteur on the freedom of expression are implemented in full and without delay. The AHRC in particular calls for the abolition of the National Security Act and the decriminalisation of defamation in the Criminal Code, as such provisions clearly run contrary to international human rights law and standards.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls on the Presidency and members of the United Nations Security Council to call on the government of the Republic of Korea to provide full explanations to clarify the substantive questions posed by the NGOs concerning the sinking of the Cheonan, as this situation is likely to have significant repercussions on the security of the Korean Peninsula and beyond.

Finally, the Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the government of the Republic of Korea to ensure that all government officials immediately cease making statements that incite hatred, violence or arbitrary legal action against any NGOs that are legitimately exercising their freedom of expression and opinion. The government officials that have made statements against the People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy and Solidarity for Peace and Reunification of Korea must issue public apologies that include calls for all groups in society to respect each other’s right to the freedoms of opinion and expression. The authorities should abandon the arbitrary and unjustifiable legal attacks against these NGOs, both under the National Security Act and in relation to alleged criminal defamation. The government should without delay implement in full the recommendations made by the Special Rapporteur on the freedoms of opinion and expression, notably those concernin g the National Security Act and criminal defamation.

Finally, the government of the Republic of Korea, which is a member of the Human Rights Council (HRC), should ensure that government subsidies are not used as a tool to only promote groups that are aligned with it politically and to punish those voices that are engaged in expressing other opinions, including those that may be critical of the government. The government, which is expected as a member of the HRC to uphold human rights to the highest standards, should foster diversity and freedom of opinion and association in society. The Republic of Korea has been a leading nation in the Asian region in terms of human rights, but is currently undermining this record. Ultimately, it is only through protecting democratic values and human rights that the Republic of Korea will guarantee its stability and security.


Yours sincerely,

Basil Fernando
Director
Asian Human Rights Commission, Hong Kong, Special Administrative Region of China



CC.

1. Mrs. Navi Pillay, High Commissioner for Human Rights, SWITZERLAND
2. Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, SWITZERLAND
3. Permanent Mission of Mexico to the United Nations, Two United Nations Plaza 28th Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA, FAX: +1 (212) 688 8862, Email: onuusr1@sre.gob.mx
4. Permanent Mission of Japan to the United Nations, 866 U.N. Plaza, 2nd Floor, New York, NY 10017, USA
5. Permanent Mission of China to the United Nations, 350 East 35th Street, New York, NY 10016, USA
6. Permanent Mission of France to the United Nations, 245 East 47th Street 44th floor, New York, N.Y. 10017, USA
7. Mission permanente du Gabon auprès des Nations Unies, 18 East 41st Street, 9th Fl., N.Y. 10017, USA
8. Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations in New York, 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 531-533, New York, NY 10017, USA
9. Permanent Mission of Nigeria to the United Nations, 828 Second Ave, New York 10017, USA
10. Permanent Mission of the Russian Federation to the United Nations, 136 East 67 Street, New York, N.Y. 10065, USA
11. Permanent Mission of Turkey to the United Nations, 821 UN Plaza, New York, NY 10017, USA
12. Permanent Mission of Uganda to the United Nations, 336 East 45 Street, New York, NY 10017, USA
13. United Kingdom Mission to the UN, One Dag Hammarskjold Plaza, 885 Second Avenue, New York, NY 10017, USA
14. United States Mission to the United Nations, 140 East 45th Street, New York, N.Y. 10017, USA
15. Austrian Mission to the United Nations, 600 Third Avenue, 31st Floor, New York, NY 10016, USA
16. Permanent Mission of Bosnia and Herzegovina to the United Nations, 420 Lexington Avenue, Suites 607 & 608, New York, NY 10170, USA
17. Permanent Mission of Brazil to the United Nations, 747 Third Avenue, 9th Floor, New York, N.Y., USA
18. Permanent Mission of Lebanon to the United Nations, 866 United Nations Plaza, Suite 531-533, New York, NY 10017, USA
19. Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office and other International Organizations in Geneva, Avenue de l'Ariana 1,
P.O. Box 42, 1211 Geneva 20, SWITZERLAND


 

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) was founded in 1986 by a prominent group of jurists and human rights activists in Asia. The AHRC is an independent, non-governmental body, which seeks to promote greater awareness and realisation of human rights in the Asian region, and to mobilise Asian and international public opinion to obtain relief and redress for the victims of human rights violations. AHRC promotes civil and political rights, as well as economic, social and cultural rights.

AHRC endeavours to achieve the following objectives stated in the Asian Charter "Many Asian states have guarantees of human rights in their constitutions, and many of them have ratified international instruments on human rights. However, there continues to be a wide gap between rights enshrined in these documents and the abject reality that denies people their rights. Asian states must take urgent action to implement the human rights of their citizens and residents."

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