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☞ Issue 145
글씨크기 크게 글씨크기 작게 기사 메일전송 기사 출력
On the aftermath of “Forced Eviction and Protestors’ deaths at Yongsan, Republic of Korea”

Urgent Appeal and Report

MINBYUN-Lawyers (2009/09/16 16:20)  

1. Background

○ On the 20th of January, at Yongsan, a district in Seoul, Korea, five protestors who were asking for the appropriate compensation of housing and livelihood were killed in the forced suppression of their protest.

○ This tragedy occurred because the Republic of Korea, a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights has been violating that covenant. In the current case, the Korean government has also violated the peoples’ right to life, who were asking for their basic rights to adequate housing and to an adequate livelihood.

○ Urgent actions are needed since the fact-finding investigation is underway and the full-scale forced eviction is arranged for the current month, February 2009. There is no domestic judiciary procedure to advocate for the violations of human rights by forced eviction. With our urgent action for justice, is it requested that the Korean government serve a role as the advocate for the human rights to housing and to never force an eviction in Korea.

2. The Situation of Human Rights, Housing and Forced Eviction in Korea

○ The UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights made general comments recommending the Korean government to stop forced evictions immediately in 1995 and to ensure adequate housing in 2001. However, after 10 years, systematic, forced evictions are being carried out. The protest in Zone 4, in Yongsan, and the subsequent deaths are derived from the government’s lack of will to uphold the previous UN recommendations. We will briefly explain the seriousness of forced eviction for the Urban Redevelopment Project in Korea, based on the general comments adopted by the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights No. 4 and No. 7 , Basic principles and guidelines on development-based evictions and displacement .

○ Most of the urban redevelopment projects promoted in Korea are operated by private enterprises. Once an area is designated as a redevelopment zone by the district government (of the city of Seoul), the enterprises, which are composed of only the owners of the land and buildings proceed to make decisions without input from tenants. The enterprises actually make the project operation proposal and get approval from the office of the district (in the current case, it is Yongsan-gu). The enterprise, and the district operators, make all of the plans and decisions. The tenants are excluded in every process of discussion and decision making of redevelopment. Compensation for the tenants is decided upon by the enterprise seeking to redevelop the zone and are notified after the decision has been made.

○ There are limited provisions for paying compensation to tenants in Korea, thus compensation is never enough for the tenants to resettle. Furthermore, the conditions in order to be compensated are complicated, and the range of the legal compensation is different according to the type of urban redevelopment operation. In many cases, the tenants are not able to get the guaranteed compensation because the redevelopment corporations furnish false information about compensation. There is no adequate legal or other measure. In Zone 4, in Yongsan, the tenants resorted to protest.

○ The main part of the redevelopment and business contract is with the demolition personnel, or the construction workers and security personnel. They are called ‘the hired (hired blackguard)’. They threaten tenants and compel them to move from their residence before the eviction has been decided upon. For this reason, there are many people who move out involuntarily, under threat, before the eviction is ordered by the judiciary. Sometimes the construction workers evict the tenants, in which case, the violence is more severe. For these reasons, the situation continues for several decades it is a situation in which tenants suffer greatly.

○ Even though many problems are caused by the redevelopment projects, the Korean government is not taking any legislative, judiciary, or administrative measures; nor is it leading the redevelopment in a progressive way. At the moment, 10% of the total metropolitan area of Seoul is designated to be redeveloped, and the government is planning to designate more area for development. The state is leading the legislation process for accelerating the development, it is relaxing the restrictions, for example, the abrogation of obligatory construction of rental houses, and it is violating human rights in the process. More violations of the rights to housing and forced evictions are forecasted.

3. Forced Evictions at Yongsan and Human Rights Violations

○ Yongsan was designated as a redevelopment project area in 2006, but the tenants found out about it at the end of 2007, or the beginning of 2008. The tenants had no opportunities to challenge the eviction, to present alternative proposals, or to articulate their demands and priorities since the district government had already approved the operation made by the enterprises.

○ The tenants were made aware of the fact of redevelopment through the notice of compensation, long after the decisions had been made. The tenants were not notified in advance, in writing; they were notified of the amount of compensation and of the eviction date, one month before they were to be evicted.

○ Urban or rural planning and the development processes should involve all those likely to be affected and should include basic human elements. The tenants of Zone 4, in Yongsan, had not been notified of the proposed plans of eviction and never had the opportunity of a public hearing. The enterprise and the district government neither distributed the information, nor proposed comprehensive resettlement plans. The tenants did not have a reasonable time period for public review of, comment on, and/or objection to the proposed plan. They were denied the opportunity to facilitate the provision of legal, technical and other advice about their rights and options as well.

○ Previous to April 2008, construction workers were stationed at Yongsan committing daily violation of the tenants’ rights. They threatened people by carrying cudgels, obstructed business, sexually harassed women, threatened children and actually committed physical violence. For these reasons, some of the tenants moved out involuntarily without any adequate measure for resettlement.

○ Security personnel demolished buildings as soon as some tenants moved out, and piled the construction debris in areas which disturbed the passing of other tenants and their customers. Security personnel scribbled names or skeletons on walls, creating an atmosphere of threat. They sometimes broke water pipes to prevent people from having clean water.

○ International Human Rights Standards state that evictions shall not to be carried out in a manner which violates the dignity and human rights to life and security of those affected, that governments must also take steps to ensure that women are not subject to gender-based violence and discrimination in the course of evictions, and that the human rights of children are protected. But security personnel created an atmosphere of fear for the tenants and violated the dignity, property, body and life of tenants, forcing them to move out involuntarily.

○ The Yongsan tenants asked the police for protection from the daily threats and violence of the security personnel. But the police sided with the construction workers or security personnel by doing no investigation or enforcing no punishments. The Korean government and its agents neglected their obligation to take steps to ensure that no one is subject to direct or indiscriminate attacks or other acts of violence.

○ The Yongsan-gu office also neglected its public duty. The tenants had wanted to have a public hearing, and to make civil appeals to the district office. The office responded, “It is impossible to discuss with the tenants about the compensation.” The office made no effort to arbitrate the conflict between tenants and the business enterprise which owns the building. The office would not hear the reasonable demands of affected people. On the contrary, the Yongsan-gu office tried to demolish the physical location of the Committee of Tenants Protesting Against Demolition, which was established by the tenants. This action violated the freedom of association.

○ According to the international standards on human rights, governments must ensure that adequate and effective legal or other appropriate remedies are available to any person claiming that his/her right to protection against forced evictions has been violated, or is under threat of violation. Also, states must adopt legislative and policy measures prohibiting the execution of evictions that are not in conformity with their international human rights obligations and should refrain, to the maximum extent possible, from claiming or confiscating housing, or land in particular, when such action does not contribute to the enjoyment of human rights. In the current case, the state and the district office represented the interest of the enterprise, instead.

○ The international human rights standards emphasize that comprehensive resettlement plans should be proposed in the process of development but the tenants of Yongsan received false information about the resettlement provisions from the enterprise. According to Korean law on the provision of compensation, tenants can be provided with resettlement and transportation costs and rights to move into rental housing needed for resettlement. In the current case, the enterprise informed the tenants that they will only receive resettlement and transportation costs, which were inadequate. The district office also did not provide the tenants with genuine consultation. As the rent in the area was raised due to redevelopment, the housing environment of vulnerable groups became worse.

○ Some tenants could not move out because they had been earning their living in the Yongsan area. Since they had established themselves over a long time, if they were to leave, it would be hard for them to maintain the same income level as before. They would lose regular customers and pay higher rent and extra costs. Compensation provisions of Korean law do not include compensation for lost profit for tenants doing business in the area. Only three months compensation is provided for by law. Moreover, the enterprise decides the compensation level without any criterion.

○ According to the international human rights standards, comprehensive resettlement plans should be proposed specifically addressing efforts to protect vulnerable groups. The state must provide or ensure fair and just compensation for any losses of personal, real or other property or goods, including rights or interests in property. At least the living circumstances of each tenant should not be aggravated. However, the tenants of Zone 4 were expelled from their businesses and their homes with no plan for resettlement. They were not allowed to receive compensation stipulated in the statute and they were not allowed the opportunity to participate in the procedure of the development plan.

○ The inhabitants asking for the comprehensive resettlement plan joined the Federation Against House Demolition (Jun Chul Yun) in March, 2008. They asked the district and enterprise to deliberate the matter into agreement but there was no consideration. There was also no legal aid and procedure of counseling. As a last resort, the tenants prepared the demonstration. On the morning of January 19th, 2009, approximately 50 people, including tenants of Yongsan, and their supporters started a sit-in protest at a temporary building on the rooftop of a five-story building.

○ The Seoul Metropolitan Police Department decided on compulsory measures and the commitment of a SWAT team, which was created for anti-terrorism. The compulsory measures were decided upon within three and half hours of the initial staging of the protest. The operation was requested by the Yongsan Police Station chief and approved by Seoul Metropolitan Police Agency Commissioner, Kim Seok-ki, who has been appointed as the next commissioner general of the National Police Agency according to a press release. Around 5 a.m., on the morning of January 20th, approximately 1,600 police from 20 companies of full-time riot police were dispatched to the scene, as were 49 SWAT officers trained for anti-terrorism and major crime operations. Also, two more watering carts (water cannon tanks) were deployed.

A shipping container, carrying 23 SWAT officers, was hoisted by a crane to the rooftop. They emerged and tried to dismantle a temporary rooftop building, put up by the protestors. The protestors were occupying this temporary building. Police continued to shoot the water cannon during the SWAT operation.

○ Even though there was the danger of the spread of inflammable material and the danger of the collapse of the temporary building, police agents continued their raid. Appropriate safety measures were ignored. During the police crackdown, a fire broke out. The police arranged some mattresses, but not near the building. Many people who jumped from the building to avoid the fire were severely injured. Five protestors and one SWAT member died as a result.

○ The Korean government used excessive force in this crackdown and violated the principles of necessity and proportionality, as well as the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials. The Covenant was violated along with the rights to life because of the use of armed force. According to the Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials, the development and deployment of non-lethal incapacitating weapons should be carefully evaluated in order to minimize the risk of endangering uninvolved persons; the use of such weapons should be carefully controlled. Law enforcement officials, in carrying out their duty, shall, as far as possible, apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of force and firearms. They may use force and firearms only if other means remain ineffective or without any promise of achieving the intended result. Korean police never attempted to engage protesters in dialogue before the decision of compulsory crackdown.

4. Current Situation

○ Authorities have stepped up their investigation into the deadly clash. Twenty-five protestors were arrested. The police arrested Chung-youn Lee, the chairman of the Committee of Tenants who were protesting against the demolition of the Zone 4 building, while he was in the hospital with a serious injury. The prosecution is also going to request a warrant for the arrest of Kyoung-nam Nam who is the president of the Federation Against House Demolition even though he did not participate in the protest.

○ The government is focusing on the detention for investigation of the protestors without charging the police who were responsible for this violent suppression. There is also an issue as to whether there were illegally concerted operations between the police and the security personnel hired at the site. Many people and experts are raising complaints about the partial treatment.

○ The administrative authorities, and the ruling party, are preparing the introduction of a bill prohibiting the intervention of a third party in urban redevelopment projects, and plan to legislate the ‘Prohibition of Third Parties Statute’ in the February 2009 Parliament. This is an all-out disclaimer of rights to association and rights to resistance. Evictions must be carried out lawfully, only in exceptional circumstances, and in full accordance with relevant provisions of international human rights and humanitarian law.

Even in the case of evictions performed under exceptional cases, governments should explore fully all possible alternatives to eviction. All potentially affected groups and persons, as well as others working on behalf of the affected, have the right to relevant information, full consultation and participation throughout the entire process, and to propose alternatives that authorities should duly consider. In the event that agreement cannot be reached on a proposed alternative among concerned parties, an independent body having constitutional authority, such as a court of law, tribunal or ombudsperson should mediate, arbitrate or adjudicate as appropriate. The prohibition of the intervention by third parties is a violation of the intention of the international human rights standards.

○ Full-scale eviction is underway, since the construction work at Zone 4, in Yongsan, has begun as of the current month, February 2009. However, there are no adequate countermeasures for the tenants as of yet. Some former tenants have been evicted without any resettlement plan, living in half-ruined housing or sleeping at their stores. There are many people who are living apart from their families.

5. Our Requests

○ We request a letter of concern to the Korean government about the forced eviction and deaths at Zone 4, Yongsan.

○ Yongsan tenants are calling for a fair and reliable fact-finding investigation. The executive officer of Yongsan-gu, Jeong-gyu Park; Chief of Yongsan Police, Dong-san Baek; and Commissioner General of Seoul Metropolitan Police Department, Seok-gi Kim, are directly responsible for the tragedy at Zone 4. We request that there be punishment directly for the perpetrators.

○ In addition, tenants are calling for an adequate resettlement plan ahead of forced evictions. We request the Special Rappoteur to investigate the Korean government’s forced evictions and human rights violations, and to address the needs of the tenants of Zone 4, Yongsan, as an urgent action.

○ It is forecasted that more human rights violations will be committed continuously in the future, as more developments are planned, especially where the customary forced eviction prevails. We request the Special Rappoteur to recommend that the Korean government follow the international laws against forced eviction.

○ We request that the enterprise, urban redevelopment operator, and the state follow the obligations contained in the Covenant: (1) the enterprise has the responsibility to ensure the participation of affected people in the procedure of a redevelopment plan; (2) to not commit violence, e.g. by security personnel to induce involuntary removal or to evict; (3) the state should provide for the dissemination of adequate information and aid measures for tenants; (4) the state must prepare every possible legislative, judicial and administrative measures to ensure that a violation of human rights for housing will never happen again.




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