Asia Rights

Journal of Human Rights, Media and Society in Asia and the Pacific

Archive for October, 2011

Film Underscores Koreans’ Growing Anger Over Sex Crimes

Posted in Korea, News on October 24th, 2011

By CHOE SANG-HUN See here for original article

SEOUL — At an appeals court in the southwestern city of Gwangju in 2006, a school official was convicted of raping a 13-year-old deaf girl and sentenced to one year in prison. When the verdict came, an outraged middle-aged man, also deaf, let out an incomprehensible cry from the galley, signaling frantically with sign language.

Samgeori Pictures

Chung Yoo-mi portrayed the human rights activist Seo Yoo-jin in a courtroom scene from the movie “The Crucible.”

“It was clear that the man was shouting, ‘This is wrong! This is wrong!”’ Lee Ji-won, a newspaper intern, wrote in her blog later that day under the subject line, “I saw the foul underside of our society.”

The man was forcibly removed for disrupting the courtroom. And that might have been the end of it. Except that the intern’s blog inspired a best-selling author, Gong Ji-young, to write a novel based on the sexual assaults at the Inhwa School for the hearing impaired, the school’s attempts to conceal the abuses and the victims’ struggle for justice.

Now, a film based on that novel — “Dogani,” or “The Crucible” — has roiled South Korea.

Since its release on Sept. 22, 4.4 million people, including President Lee Myung-bak — nearly a 10th of the country’s population — have seen it. The film has tapped into widespread anger over official reluctance to take sexual crimes seriously, and over how justice is served, or not, in South Korea.

The cabinet has vowed to inspect all facilities for the disabled and minors to ferret out teachers with records of sexual abuse. The head of the Supreme Court admitted that “society is simmering with resentment” toward a legal system long criticized as “yujeonmujoe mujeonnyujoe,” or “not guilty for the rich, guilty for the poor.”

Lawmakers are pushing for tougher penalties for sexual crimes. The Education Ministry has said it will shut down Inhwa School.

For a low-budget movie barred to people under 18, “The Crucible” has had an extraordinary impact.

In a way, that reaction seems at odds with South Korean society. Here, disregard for the disabled is so entrenched that the subway authorities began installing elevators for wheelchair access only in recent years following protests by the handicapped in which they chained themselves to the tracks with signs that read, “We want to use the subway too.”

“What people see in the movie is a capsule version of their society,” said Chun Sang-chin, a sociologist at Sogang University. “There is anger over how the strong bully the weak, despair over how the system protects the well-connected, and fear that the same can happen to the rest of us.”

In the Inhwa case, four teachers and administrators — including its principal and his brother — were convicted of raping or sexually molesting at least eight students aged 7 to 22, some orphaned or mentally disabled, from 2000 to 2004.

But only two of the four served any jail time. The principal was found guilty of raping a 13-year-old girl and taking a bribe of 3 million won, or $2,630, from a teacher. But he was freed when an appeals court suspended his sentence.

“The Crucible” graphically depicts sexual and physical violence against minors. But just as sensational is the cynical collusion it portrays among the elite of the movie’s fictional town of Mujin. A judge gives a lenient sentence to defendants represented by a lawyer who until recently was his colleague on the bench. A police detective pockets cash from a school principal who is both a church leader and sadistic rapist.

Scenes in the film showing demonstrations in support of the defendants mirror events in the Inhwa case.

“When court was in session, members of the Protestant church the principal and his family attended rallied outside the courthouse,” said Park Chan-dong, a human rights advocate who campaigned for the children. “They called us ‘evil’ and ‘Satan’ and loudly prayed that ‘hell fires’ would consume us.”

Judges, defense lawyers and police detectives involved in the Inhwa case have denied any misconduct. But to many here, some of the movie scenes look all too plausible.

“I wanted to show that, although our society has developed a lot, barbarous things still happen,” said the film’s director, Hwang Dong-hyeok.

Underneath the vibrancy of South Korea’s young democracy runs an unease about what many consider deepening inequality — a problem the government recognized last year when it listed “building a fair society” among its top policy goals.

Kim Yeh-ram, a college student who saw the film, said its release had “added fuel” to public outrage. The release followed a series of high-profile incidents that bolstered accusations that the state was failing to protect the vulnerable while some of the rich and powerful acted as if they were above the law.

Last year, for example, Chey Cheol-won, 41, a trucking company owner and cousin of one of the country’s richest men, was convicted of hitting a 52-year-old former union activist 13 times with an aluminum baseball bat while his executives watched. He then wrote out a 20 million won check on a company account and threw it in the victim’s face. Mr. Chey received a suspended sentence.

The number of sexual crimes against mentally or physically disabled people reported to the police was 320 last year, up from 199 in 2007, according to the National Police Agency. But the government estimates that fewer than 10 percent of victims report sexual crimes to the police for fear of being shamed in public trials.

In South Korea, sex crimes generally can be prosecuted only if the victim presses charges, and charges are often dropped if a financial settlement is reached between the defendant and the plaintiff. Two years ago, the law was revised to require that all sex crimes involving alleged victims aged 18 or under be prosecuted, even if they have not themselves pressed charges. Following the uproar over “The Crucible,” the government has promised to extend this to cases where the alleged victims are mentally or physically disabled.

When sexual assault cases involving victims aged 13 and under come to trial now, roughly 95 percent of defendants are found guilty, but penalties are weak, with about a third receiving prison terms and the rest receiving suspended sentences or assessed fines. Half of the teachers who were convicted of sexually assaulting their students or others were given nothing more severe than a pay cut or a short suspension, according to the Education Ministry.

“Many of the facilities for the disabled are stamping grounds for human rights abusers,” said Ser In-whan, secretary general of the Korean Federation of Organizations of the Disabled. “It’s not just Inhwa School.”

The Inhwa case came to light in 2005 when a teacher alerted human rights groups. For that, the teacher was fired.

The police began an investigation four months later, only after former students talked to a national TV station. As the Gwangju city government and school board tossed the case back and forth, students and parents staged a sit-in for eight months outside their offices, calling for justice.

In a movie scene that highlights the disconnect between the authorities and the disabled, a judge slams his gavel and shouts “Silence!” to deaf viewers in the galley using sign language. In the early days of the Gwangju trial, no sign-language translation was provided in the courtroom, Mr. Park said.

Im Eun-jeong, a prosecutor in the case, wrote in her diary at the time of a courtroom filled with “deaf children crying out silently to society with their sign language.”

She noted in the diary, which she recently posted online, “Their anger and despair made every hair on my body stand up.”

A View of Hunger in North Korea

Posted in Articles, Korea, News on October 9th, 2011


October 7, 2011, 12:34 pm


Damir Sagolj, a Bangkok-based Reuters photographer, was among a group of journalists invited last week by North Korea’s Economy and Trade Information Center to document the food crisis in the country’s farm belt. North Korea has appealed for food aid after a harsh winter and a series of summer floods and storms, but so far, only 30 percent of a United Nations aid target has been met.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters Pak Su Dong, the manager of the Soksa-Ri cooperative farm in South Hwanghae Province. Sept. 29.

Alertnet — a humanitarian news service run by the Thomson Reuters Foundation — asked Mr. Sagolj to spend a week traveling in Pyongyang, the capital, and South Hwanghae Province with a reporter and video journalists. The tour, which presented an image of a region in distress, was controlled by government officials. “The regime’s motive in granting the access appears to be to amplify its food-aid appeals,” wrote Tim Large in the Reuters report, which was published Friday morning.

Mr. Sagolj’s work has been featured often on Pictures of the Day — notably from Japan, Thailand and Pakistan. He was born in Sarajevo in 1971 in what was then Yugoslavia and spent five years in the Bosnian army. In 1997, he joined Reuters, where he is chief photographer in Thailand. Kerri MacDonald interviewed him via e-mail. His responses have been edited.

This trip was organized and tightly controlled by government officials. We were, as you can imagine, not free to do what we would like to do, or to photograph what we would like to photograph. However, the visit included rare access to collective farms, orphanages, hospitals, rural clinics, schools and nurseries where we photographed farmers, children, orphans and had at least a glimpse at their daily life.

This was my first-ever trip to North Korea. But as a teenager, I spent years in the former Soviet Union and former Communist bloc, where my father worked as a correspondent for a Bosnian newspaper. So certain things I’ve seen in North Korea were not new to me: collective farms, tightly controlled movement, streets with no advertisements, shops with very little to offer, empty roads, propaganda music and posters on every corner.

But there was some sort of order, which makes this crisis very different from the chaos we see in countries like Afghanistan or Pakistan, Iraq or the Balkans.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters Orphans suffering from waterborne diseases waited to be examined for possible signs of malnutrition. South Hwanghae Province. Sept. 29.

I have worked with government officials that follow every step I make on many occasions earlier in my career — in Saddam Hussein’s Iraq, in Iran, or embedded with different armies.

Only a few weeks ago, on a very different occasion, with very different hosts, I had an exclusive access to shoot and write a story on a United Nations war-crimes tribunal for the former Yugoslavia. I was the first journalist ever to report from inside its detention unit since it was established in 1993.

As you can imagine, that was controlled, too. There were doors I could not peek behind, although to do so would have satisfied my curiosity. One can argue about the freedom of press, but rules are rules in different places. If you don’t follow them, there will be no pictures and no witness report.

It is similar with the hospitals we visited in Haeju, North Korea, where we saw just part of the story. There were not many patients there. When we asked why, officials would give us different reasons. One was the lack of transportation. A doctor told us that one mother traveled about 45 miles on her bicycle to bring her sick child to the hospital.

Some of children had purple paste on their faces. An expert from Doctors Without Borders who was traveling with us explained that that is normal. It works as an antiseptic, but it also makes wounds, and cuts dry faster. It certainly made my pictures stronger, although the condition of the child I photographed — his tiny body, almost no signs of life — made them strong even without that detail.

Some of the children in the hospitals had their mothers next to their beds. Some had younger relatives accompanying them, as their parents had to work in a field. In orphanages there were kids huddled together on the floor of a very basic clinic, looking straight into my camera. Their eyes burnt through the lens as experts from Doctors Without Borders were measuring their mid-upper arms, a standard test for possible signs of malnutrition.

Still, they just looked straight into us, no crying. They sang “We Have Nothing to Envy” (an anthem to North Korea’s policy of self-reliance) as we were leaving.

The hardest aspect of the assignment, as in many in my career, was to see kids suffering, knowing their status might not change before it’s too late. It is always difficult to leave a room after photographing a helpless child, weak and sick, whose life might be very short even by North Korean standards. According to the U.N., North Koreans live on average 11 years less than South Koreans, due mainly to malnutrition.

I have never seen so many pictures — through the window of our bus or just walking the streets — without being able to capture them. I had to follow the strict instructions of the officials. But knowing the nature of the regime in North Korea and how difficult it is for a reporter to work there, what we have seen in the provinces is more than we expected. It was a rare trip, different from the routine coverage of the military parades and mass games that foreign journalist usually see in the capital. What I managed to photograph — people struggling with food and health in the 21st century, just across the border from a country that has plenty — made this trip worth taking.

Damir Sagolj/Reuters A child suffering from malnutrition at a hospital in Haeju. South Hwanghae Province. Oct. 1.

Campaign for Investigation into North Korea’s Crimes Against Humanity

Posted in Articles, Human Rights Ideas, Korea on October 8th, 2011

See here for original article at the Human Rights Watch website.

October 3, 2011

The world’s three largest international human rights organizations, Amnesty International, Human Rights Watch and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), along with 40 other organizations from around the world, today launched a major global campaign to seek the establishment of a United Nations (UN) Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity in North Korea.

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea (ICNK), launched in Tokyo today, includes human rights campaigners from around the world, including Asia, Latin America, North America, and Europe (see list below). Reflecting the global commitment to hold the North Korea government accountable for widespread and systematic violations, human rights organisations such as Christian Solidarity Worldwide (CSW), Jubilee Campaign, People In Need, Freedom House and the Committee for Human Rights in North Korea have joined forces with organizations such as Kontras (Indonesia), Odhikar (Bangladesh), Conectas (Brazil) and the Inter-American Federation of Christian Lawyers toput the spotlight on one of the world’s most abusive human rights situations. Survivors of North Korean prison camps, and their groups such as Free NK Gulag, added their support to the Coalition.

“The time has come for the UN to establish a Commission of Inquiry to investigate crimes against humanity that characterize North Korea today,” said Phil Robertson, Deputy Director of Asia Division at Human Rights Watch. “We demand the world pull back the curtain on the egregious human rights violations that make the North Korean Governmentone of the most brutal regimes on earth.”

The initiative follows a two-day conference in Tokyo on crimes against humanity in North Korea, attended by human rights activists, survivors of North Korean prison camps, diplomats and members of the Japanese Diet and the South Korean National Assembly. Participants hearda video address by former South Korean President Kim Young Sam.Three survivors of the North Korean prison campsand family members of Japanese abductees also provided their testimonies.Other speakers included Japanese Member of Parliamentand former Minister of State for the Abduction Issue Hiroshi Nakai.

The Coalition will campaign for the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry, drawing on the words of the former UN Special Rapporteur, Vitit Muntarbhorn, who,in his final report to the UN demanded an “end to impunity” in North Korea describing violations as “harrowing and horrific,” “egregious and endemic,” and “systematic and pervasive.” He urged the international community to“mobilize the totality of the UN to promote and protect human rights in the country; support processes which concretise responsibility and accountability for human rights violations, and an end to impunity.”

On July8, 2010, the European Parliament passed a resolution calling for the establishment of a Commission of Inquiry, condemning the North Korean Government for its “ongoing, grave, widespread and systematic human rights violations perpetrated against its own people.”

“Establishment of this important coalition will help move human rights to centerstage in all ofthe international community’s interactions withNorth Korea,” said Ha Tae Keung, President of Open North Korea.  “It’s critical that UN member statestake up this calland include language to establish a Commission of Inquiry in the coming annual UN resolution on North Korea.”



  1. The full statement summarising the objectives of the Coalition is as follows:

The International Coalition to Stop Crimes Against Humanity in North Korea unites the world’s major international human rights organizations, campaigners for freedom for North Korea and survivors of the North Korean gulags in a global campaign seeking a full investigation of the regime’s crimes against humanity through a United Nations Commission of Inquiry.

The Coalition aims to bring together all the key organizations and individuals working on North Korean human rights, because we believe that a common, united effort will influence international political and public opinion and send a powerful message to the regime.

The Coalition fully recognizes the need to deploy a wide range of skills and initiatives to bring change to North Korea, and completely respects the individuality of each Coalition member. Coalition members will be free to pursue a variety of approaches, but will unite in a common campaign to seek the establishment of a UN Commission of Inquiry.

Coalition members will include organizations and individuals from across the world, including throughout Asia, North America, Latin America and Europe.


Posted in Articles, Korea, News on October 8th, 2011

A number of reports from North Korea are suggesting that the food situation in North Korea continues to worsen.  In addition, North Korea is reported to have been hit by storms and torrential rain killing and injuring dozens of people.

However, Agence France-Presse reports that South Korea has abandoned its efforts and negotiations to send flood aid to the North amid disagreement with Pyongyang over what kind of aid to send. See here for the report.

The WFP recently gained access to North Korea and have produced this worrying report on hunger in North Korea. See here for the video.

Further, the UN World Food Programme has once again highlighted the situation in North Korea stating that at least one-third of North Korean children under five are chronically malnourished with more at risk of slipping into acute stages of malnutrition unless targeted assistance is sustained. A report in the British Guardian newspaper also reiterated the threat of malnourishment, highlighting the case of orphans, official warnings of failed harvests and the scale of devastating food shortages in the country following a harsh winter and widespread flooding.

However, the South Korean government have stated that they believe that the food crisis in North Korea is ‘not serious’.

But given the scale of malnourishment in North Korea, even outside of periods of particular difficulty such as harsh winters and flooding, can anyone really deny that for the people trying to live and feed their families there is a perpetual and serious ‘Crisis in North Korea?


Posted in Human Rights Ideas, Korea, News on October 8th, 2011

Michel Catuira (m)

Migrants Trade Union’s (MTU) President, Michel Catuira, had his appeal against attempts by Korean authorities to deport him upheld on 15 September. Seoul’s Administrative Court ruled that the Korea Immigration Service’s (KIS) efforts to deport him were in violation of South Korean and international human rights law. The KIS appealed this decision on 30 September and continue to deny Michel Catuira a visa.

In February, the immigration authorities cancelled Michel Catuira’s work visa, and ordered him to leave South Korea by 7 March. Michel Catuira appealed this decision and applied for an extension to his visa, which was denied by the Korea Immigration Service. Michel Catuira then applied for a G-1 visa, which is typically granted to people who need to remain temporarily in the country in special circumstances but this request was also refused. Since the MTU was founded in 2005, the South Korean government has arrested and deported at least five of its leaders, indicating that the authorities are attempting to stop the MTU from conducting its legitimate union activities.

Seoul’s Administrative Court noted in its ruling that the Immigration Service’s motives for attempting to deport Michel Catuira may be linked to his union activities. It declared that foreign workers employed in South Korea must be afforded basic labour rights, including freedom of association and the right to collective bargaining. The Court cited international human rights instruments which South Korea is party to. This includes Article 8 of the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, which provides the right of everyone to form trade unions and join a trade union of their choice.

After the ruling Michel Catuira visited the KIS and was told they were appealing the judgement, and so they continue to deny him a visa on the original grounds that he obtained his work visa by deception. Michel Catuira therefore remains without any visa and is technically still ‘undocumented’.

Please write immediately in English, Korean or your own language:

* Demand that the Korean authorities ensure an extension of visa status for Michel Catuira while the appeal against the ruling of the Administrative Court takes place, and refrain from carrying out his deportation order;

* Urge them to stop practices aimed at deterring or preventing migrant workers from participating in unions;

* Urge them to remove obstacles preventing participation in the MTU, in particular through fully recognizing it as a legal union in South Korea in line with domestic and international law and standards.

PLEASE SEND APPEALS BEFORE 15 NOVEMBER 2011 TO:  (Time difference = GMT + 9 hrs / BST + 8 hrs)

Commissioner of the Korea Immigration Service
LEE Changse
Korea Immigration Service
NC Building 8th Floor
1-19 Byeolyang-dong, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-705
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 500 9127/9059
Salutation: Dear Commissioner

Minister of Justice
KWON Jae-Jin
Ministry of Justice
Building #5,
Gwacheon Government Complex, Jungang-dong1, Gwacheon-si,
Gyeonggi-do  427-720
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 503 7113
Salutation: Dear Minister
And copies to:
Minister of Employment and Labour
LEE Chae-pil
Ministry of Employment and Labour
Gwacheon Government ComplexII
47 Gwanmoon-ro, Gwacheon
Gyeonggi Province 427-718
Republic of Korea
Fax: 00 82 2 504 6708



His Excellency Mr Mr Choo Kyu Ho
Embassy of the Republic of Korea60 Buckingham Gate
London SW1E 6AJ. Fax: (020) 7227 5503. Website:


Michel Catuira has been in South Korea since February 2006 as a documented migrant worker employed under the Employment Permit System (EPS). He was employed at a shoe factory in Seoul. He became President of the Migrants’ Trade Union (MTU) in July 2009.

In July 2010, the Ministry of Employment and Labour ordered him and his employer to appear for an interview under suspicion of a false employment relationship. The Ministry did not find any prosecutable violation of labour or immigration law. However, it found that Michel Catuira’s workplace, a shoe factory, had little business. As the main goal of the EPS is to provide foreign labour to companies with labour shortages, the Ministry sent a memo to Michel Catuira’s employer suggesting that they file a change of workplace form for him.

In November 2010, Michel Catuira was called to appear before an investigation team of the Korea Immigration Service on “suspicion of violation of the Immigration Control Act in the course of applying for a workplace transfer and with relation to actual performance of work duties at present”. The Immigration Service concluded that he was not working at the shoe factory; thus, the grounds for his work visa were “deceitful”, in breach of article 89.1 of the Immigration Control Act. On 10 February, the immigration authorities cancelled his visa, and on 14 February, he was told that he had until 7 March to leave South Korea.

Amnesty International believes that this was another attempt by the South Korean authorities to crack down on the activities of the MTU and to threaten migrant workers’ rights, in particular the rights to freedom of association and to form trade unions. The rights to independent association, collective bargaining and collective action are protected in the Constitution of South Korea and apply to everyone, without discrimination, including migrant workers.


Individuals at Risk Programme, Amnesty International UK, 17-25 New Inn Yard, London EC2A 3EA, 0207 033 1572,

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Posted in Australia, China, Human Rights Ideas, Japan, Korea, South Asia, Southeast Asia on October 8th, 2011

For the original report on the University of New England website please see here.

Call for compassionate approach to asylum seekers in Asia-Pacific

Researchers and human rights advocates meeting at the University of New England have pledged their support for replacing mandatory detention with the processing of asylum seekers within the Australian community.

Their resolution to this effect was an outcome of the international conference “Regional Responses to Labour Trafficking and Refugee Movements in Asia-Pacific” held at UNE on Monday 26 and Tuesday 27 September.

“This year marks the 60th anniversary of the landmark 1951 UN Convention on the Status of Refugees, defining their rights and States’ legal obligations to protect them,” said UNE’s Professor Amarjit Kaur (pictured here), the co-convener of the conference (along with Professor Ian Metcalfe). She said the conference resolution called for “the processing of asylum seekers in the community to replace mandatory detention in accordance with the Government’s ‘Detention Values Statement’ and in compliance with Australia’s obligations to international human rights conventions”.

“The general feeling among the participants was that the current approach of both of Australia’s major political parties – which relies on prolonged detention of many asylum seekers and ad hoc schemes for off-shore processing – is inhumane, counterproductive, massively wasteful of resources, and a violation of Australia’s responsibilities under international law,” Professor Kaur said.

A major focus of the conference was a comparison of the immigration policies of countries in the Asia-Pacific region over time, and an investigation of the causes and effects of immigration policies and their implementation.

Sharuna Verghis from Health Equity Initiatives, Malaysia, discussed the health-related vulnerability of migrant workers, refugees and asylum seekers in Malaysia – a country, she said, with “a conspicuous lack of a comprehensive and coherent migration policy”. Robin Jones from UNE reported on the plight of the minority Karenni people from Burma who have fled persecution to arrive at refugee camps over the border in Thailand. Dr Jones, who spoke from her first-hand experience with the Jesuit Refugee Service, talked about “the general hopelessness that pervades camp life” and “the children’s behaviour – which demonstrates their emotional state and suffering”.

UNE’s Professor Helen Ware spoke about the experiences of Sudanese refugees coming to rural and regional Australia, while Judith Roberts from Northern Settlement Services and Kim Hastings from Regional Development Australia – Northern Inland focused on the New England region in discussing patterns of settlement under the Federal Government’s Settlement Grants Program.

On the subject of labour trafficking, Professor Kaur explained how government policies relating to migrant workers in Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand had weakened the legal status of those workers – increasing their vulnerability to labour trafficking and people smuggling. Sister Margaret Ng from the Josephite Counter-Trafficking Project looked at trafficking in Australia, the Australian Government’s approach to trafficking and response to trafficked people, and the impact of trafficking on its survivors.

Other key speakers included Pamela Curr from the Asylum Seeker Resource Centre in Melbourne,  Professor Tessa Morris-Suzuki from the Australian National University (who focused on the situation in North-east Asia) and  Professor Farida Fozdar  from the University of Western Australia. Myat Mon from Thailand’s Assumption University described the situation of Burmese migrant workers and refugees in Thailand.  Four UNE PhD students presented papers on migrant workers and labour trafficking in Australia  (Melinda Sutherland), South Asia (Zahid Shahab Ahmed), Indonesia (Cakti Gunawan) and Macau (Pao Sio Iu), while Dr Zifirdaus Adnan (UNE) compared the labour-export policies of Indonesia and the Philippines. Dr Saroja Khrishnasawamy (Hunter New England Health and UNE) discussed mental health issues in refugee camps in Sri Lanka.