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FOWARDED APPEAL (South Korea): Deaths of protesters protesting against forced eviction

ASIAN HUMAN RIGHTS COMMISSION – URGENT APPEALS PROGRAMME

Forwarded Urgent Appeal: AHRC-FUA-001-2009

29 January 2009

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SOUTH KOREA: Deaths of protesters protesting against forced eviction

ISSUES: Forced eviction; right to housing

———————————————————————

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) has received information
from the Sarangbang Group for Human Rights in South Korea regarding
the deaths of activists protesting against forced eviction on 20
January 2009. Five protesters and one police officer were killed and
several others injured during the eviction.

Although South Korea has achieved economic development in a short
period of time, those who have been forcibly evicted from their
residence have seldom received attention under the guise of
‘development’ or ‘redevelopment’. It is reported that there are about
300 areas newly designated for redevelopment. We are concerned that
similar incidents may occur if the government continues denying of
realisation of the right to housing.

For further queries please feel free to contact Sarangbang Group for
Human Rights by email humanrights@sarangbang.or.kr
<mailto:humanrights@sarangbang.or.kr>

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Desk

Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

———————————————————————

In South Korea, 5 people died while protesting against an imminent
forced eviction

1. Summary of the Incidence

At 6 a.m. on 20th January, people who were asking for solutions to
avoid eviction in February in Youngsan-Gu, Seoul lost their lives as
a consequence of violent oppression from the police. A 1500 strong
police force was dispatched to disperse about 50 protesters. The
police actions taken toward these protesters were similar to those
taken in times war. Less than a day after those facing eviction
started protesting and without further conversations or an effort to
discuss the issues, the government dispatched a special police force
and staged an anti-terror operation. After the police entered the
building where the protesters were, a fire broke out and the
circumstances became dangerous. However, without taking any safety
measures, the police proceeded with the operation which resulted in
the death of 5 protesters and 1 police officer.

Dispatching a special police force for an anti-terror operation in
less than 24 hours is a rare case even in South Korea. Since the
Conservatives took power however, the police have often cracked down
on protesters in a violent way. This incidence also happened under
this context.

A place to pray for the dead was set up at the spot of the incident.
Despite of it being the Korean New Year holiday, visits from people
continue. A fact finding committee composed of civilian organizations
is carrying out investigations whilst the government is trying to
close the case as soon as possible.

2. Background and Characteristics

It is well known that there are many problems coupled to rapid
re-development projects in South Korea. Existing solutions (such as
compensations, providing temporary place to stay etc) are neither
realistic nor properly implemented. It is especially worrisome that
forced eviction, which is prohibited under international human rights
law, is being pursued under the auspices of the government.

South Korea, who is a signatory to the International Covenant on
Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was requested twice by the
Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to provide
protection to victims of forced evictions. However, as shown in this
case, the South Korea government violated its obligation to respect
the right to an adequate housing and to not being forcibly evicted.
It also violated its obligation to protect the safety and the life of
victims of forced evictions.

For over a year, lodgers in the re-development project area demanded
the Yongsan-Gu Office for appropriate protection. The Yongsan-Gu
Office provided no opportunity for talk or negotiation. Local lodgers
went to the Youngsan-Gu Office to file an appeal but got rejected.
During this appeal process, private security officers hired by the
construction company threatened the lodgers and sexually harassed
them. However, the police did not take any action against the private
security officer s practices. Despite the fact that eviction in the
cold season requires the taking of special measures prior to the
eviction, the Youngsan-Gu Office approved the construction company s
request to initiate the re-development from February. Lodgers faced
with forced eviction entered the empty building to stage protests
against this process and lost their life due to violent police
operation.

Lodgers living in re-development areas are excluded from both the
process and results of re-development projects as they do not own a
property in the area. Re-development to improve the housing condition
causes inequality in housing as many lodgers have to move into a place
worse than their previous housing. A serious problem is that in the
previously re-developed area, only 10~15 percent of local residents
will get to stay in that same area.

Lodgers suffer a serious violation of their housing rights during the
re-development process. The aim of re-development projects should be
in improvement of housing conditions and relieving poverty for the
people living there. The government is obliged to provide necessary
information and guarantee participation for people living there
regardless of their ownership of the housing. However, these demands
are ignored by the government and the construction companies who get
benefits from the re-development in South Korea.

On the other hand, the investigation carried out at the government
level is criticized for being biased. The police carried out
autopsies of the bodies of the victims without the consent of their
families. The police report on the incident was revealed to be false
in light of a variety of evidence reported by the major media. The
police attitude, which is neither democratic nor transparent, creates
deeper mistrust. A fair and impartial system for the investigation is
urgently required. Rather than trying to close the case as soon as
possible, an effort to prevent this kind of tragedy from happening
again and a guarantee of democratic participation are required.

3. Demands

– Guarantee participation of civil organizations in the investigation
process to secure a fair and thorough investigation

– Punish those responsible for the incidence

– Review current re-development projects which do not guarantee the
right to housing of the lodgers

– Guarantee the right to housing as a human right.

4. Action for everyone

We would like to show international support at the second
pan-national memorial for the dead. Please email us your supporting
messages and let us know whether you would sign our statement by noon
of the 30th January. Please also send us a copy of your complaints for
those responsible. Sending complaints for those responsible continues
until mid February.

Email to Sarangbang Group for Human Rights :
humanrights@sarangbang.or.kr <mailto:humanrights@sarangbang.or.kr>

1) Send us your supporting messages.

2) Please sign the statement below.

<Statement>

We urge the South Korean government to protect victims of forced
evictions and to carry out a thorough investigation and punish the
responsible for the deaths that occurred during the police action in
Youngsan-Gu, Seoul 20th January 2009

We pray for the repose of the deceased who protested to secure the
right to housing. With sorrow and anger about the deaths, we send our
warmest regards to the family. We feel devastated with the reality
that a demand for a living with dignity turned into a death and send
our support to the family and people in South Korea who resist
against the government.

We pay attention to the fact that this incidence was rooted in the
problems of the re-development process in South Korea and resulted
from a unilateral over-use of public power. We regret that the South
Korean government has attacked its citizens who protested against
forced eviction and tried to protect their right to housing.
Dispatching a special police force is an act of labeling its citizens
as a terrorist group, which is contrary to the state s obligation to
respect and protect the rights of its citizens. The government
further damaged its fairness and trust by trying to close the case as
soon as possible and in carrying out autopsies of the bodies without
consent of the family s concerned. We urge the South Korean
government to apologize to the families concerned and come up with
measures to prevent a similar case happening again in future. We
demand the acceptance of responsibility for this incident from Seokgi
Kim, the head of the Seoul Police, Sehoon Won, the minister of the
Ministry of Public Administration and Security, Jangkyu Park, the
head of the Yongsan-Gu Office, Dongsan Baek, the head of Yongsan
Police

We confirm that the aim of re-development projects should lie on
improving the right to housing. We are concerned that the
re-development process in South Korea has become a means to earn more
money for certain groups, such as construction companies, rather than
follow an approach based on international human rights law. Under the
international human rights perspective, forced evictions are a clear
violation of human rights. Despite the fact that the South Korean
government should, as a signatory to the ICESCR, take steps to
prevent forced evictions, the government itself used police force
against citizens who tried to realize their right to housing,
resulting in the death of five citizens and one police officer.
According to human rights organizations in South Korea, for over a
year demands by lodgers in the re-development project area for
appropriate protection, talks and negotiations were rejected by the
Yongsan-Gu Office. They had asked several times to make plans for
re-settlement but received no answers back. Out of desperation prior
to the forced eviction, these people staged protests that cost them
their lives. We urge the South Korean government to review any
re-development projects that do not provide protection to the lodgers
and that do not guarantee the participation of citizens.

Sending our support and expressing our solidarity to those in South
Korea demanding a thorough investigation and punishment of the
responsible, we urge the following:

1. Guarantee participation of civil organizations in the
investigation process to secure a fair and through investigation;

2. Punish those responsible for the incidence;

3. Review current re-development projects which do not guarantee the
right to housing of the lodgers, and;

4. Recognize housing as a human right and guarantee this right to
housing.

3) Please, send any protesting messages to the following addresses:

Myung-bak Lee, the president of South Korea

http://www.bluehouse.go.kr/kr/index.php

1 Sejongno Jonno gu

Seoul Korea(110-820)

Tel +822-730-5800

Fax: +822-770-4943/+822-770-2440

Sehoon Won, the minister of the Ministry of Public Administration and
Security

http://www.mopas.go.kr

Tel +822-2100-3000

Fax: +822-2100-4001

Seokgi Kim, the head of the Seoul Police

http://www.smpa.go.kr

Tel +822-720-3993

Fax: +822-754-7000

Sehoon Oh, the Mayor of Seoul (Metropolis)

http://www.seoul.go.kr

Tel: +822-731-6060

Fax +822-737-8688

Jangkyu Park, the head of the Yongsan-Gu Office

http://www.yongsan.seoul.kr

Tel: +822-710-3333

Fax +822-718-0333

———————————————————————

Thank you.

Urgent Appeals Programme

Asian Human Rights Commission (ua@ahrc.asia)

—————————–
Asian Human Rights Commission
19/F, Go-Up Commercial Building,
998 Canton Road, Kowloon, Hongkong S.A.R.
Tel: +(852) – 2698-6339 Fax: +(852) – 2698-6367

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