Closing down / Obstacles to freedoms of association and assembly / Harassment - KOR 001 / 0606 / OBS 066.2

Urgent Appeal

The Observatory has been informed of new acts of repression against the Korean Government Employees Union (KGEU).

The Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders, a joint programme of the World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT) and the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), has received new information and requests your urgent intervention in the following situation in South Korea.

New information:

According to the information received, on August 3, 2006, the Ministry of Government Administration and Home Affairs (MOGAHA) issued a directive, requesting all local governments, ministries and agencies to take firm actions against KGEU in order “to take thorough counter-measures, including forceful closing down of the illegal government employees’ organisations, against illegal activities”. In particular, the Ministry asked “to close down all the KGEU offices in government buildings nation wide by August 31”, “to exclude KGEU members from personnel committees, to actively encourage all the government employees joining illegal organisations to withdraw memberships, to prohibit union dues check-off system and to blocking any financial supports like voluntary contribution or donation to the organisations”. Finally, the directive stated that the Ministry will investigate the actual process and conditions on implementing government directives and instructions together with auditing departments and that it will take administrative and financial measures against the local governments that do not implement the directives.

As a consequence, on August 29, 2006, the Gyeongnam Officials Training Institute, an affiliated agency to the provincial government, issued a letter informing that it would execute the MOGAHA’s directive, along with a warrant stipulating that “according to the government instruction that prohibits providing offices to unregistered government employees’ unions by the public officials trade union act, the forceful administrative action would be executed”.

On August 30, 2006, the KGEU Gyeongnam Regional Branch held a rally in front of their union office building in order to protest against this letter. Anti-riot policemen were deployed inside and outside the office building and prevented KGEU members from entering the union office. Several union members tried to hamper the forceful close down of the union office, in vain, and were violently moved out by the police. The union signboard was taken off and the union doors sealed off with thick plywood with a warning sign attached.

Likewise, on August 17, 2006, the Busan Metropolitan City warned the KGEU Busan Regional Branch through an official letter that the City would forcefully close down the office if KGEU did not move out by August 31, 3006. Yet, as of September 7, 2006, the KGEU Busan Regional Branch office has not been closed yet.

Finally, on September 4, 2006, the MOGAHA held a meeting of vice mayors of Metropolitan Cities and vice governors of Provincial Governments, during which the MOGAHA indicated that all the KGEU local offices at government building should be closed down by September 22, 2006. The Minister claimed that notifications or warnings of forceful closing down of illegal organisations’ offices should be constantly issued and that supervision on government employees should be more intensified in order to block them from joining a KGEU’s rally in Gyeongnam on September 9, 2006 in order to protest against the current government repression. Around 20,000 KGEU members are expected to join the rally. The MOGAHA added that those who would play leading roles in the KGEU’s rally on that day should be dismissed and that all other participants should be taken to disciplines depending on their involvement.

This nation-wide wave of closing down of the KGEU offices is also based on the “Directive to promote the transformation of illegal organisations into legal trade unions (voluntary withdrawal of membership)”, which was issued on March 22, 2006 by the MOGAHA. Since then, the MOGAHA has tightened its repression against KGEU (See background information).

Background information:

On May 25, 2006, about 200 KGEU members gathered peacefully in front of the Rural Development Administration (RDA) in order to protest against restructuring plans and the global repression against KGEU. Although the rally had been legally notified in advance, the riot police violently raided the demonstration and blocked participants from joining the rally. In addition, several persons were severely beaten and injured by both riot and plainclothes police officers, including Mr. Kim Jeong Soo, KGEU Secretary General, and Mr. Choi Nak Sam, Secretary of Public Relations, who were taken to the hospital. Many other people were arrested, in particular eight KGEU members, against whom warrants of detention were issued and who were brought to the Suwon Joongbu police station. The Court subsequently approved four of these warrants, which led to the detention of Mr. Park Woon Yong, Secretary of Organising and Dispute, Mr. Lee Jeong Soo, Director of Organising, as well as two KGEU vice-presidents, Mr. Park Kee Han and Mr. Han Seok Woo. The other four were released.

After the dispersal of the rally, another 99 KGEU members were arrested in front of the police station while the union leaders were trying to negotiate their colleagues’ release with the police, in vain. These members were released almost 40 hours after their arrest.

On the following day, during the repression of another peaceful rally in front of the RDA, several women workers were beaten and harassed by security guards.

On May 27, 2006, the KGEU Gyeonggi Regional Branch and provincial government Chapter office at Gyeonggi Provincial Government were forcefully closed down and sealed off with iron plates.

On May 28, 2006, Mr. Sohn sent security forces to forcibly close down KGEU provincial office. KGEU members were then blocked from entering their office. Furthermore, according to the information received, the governor of Gyeonggi province, Mr. Sohn Hak Kyu, decided to take a series of measures to repress KGEU, including infiltrating into the ranks and pressuring a group of workers to initiate a vote to withdraw membership from KGEU and instead make and join a so-called “legal” union. Although, the ballot failed, around half of KGEU members at the provincial hall left the KGEU after then. As a consequence, KGEU members formed an emergency committee and set up tents to implement sit-in protests against Governor Sohn’s measures to break-up KGEU. The provincial government retaliated by cutting electricity and Internet access to the union office. Threats to actually raid the office were then constant.

In the night of July 11, 2006, Messrs. Park Woon Yong, Lee Jeong Soo, Park Kee Han and Han Seok Woo were released on bail after 47 days of arbitrary detention. However, they remain prosecuted by the Suwon Regional Prosecutors’ Office.

These events followed serious acts of reprisals by the Korean authorities against KGEU and trade unions in general. Indeed, on January 28, 2006, the “Act on the Establishment and Operation, etc. of Public Officials’ Trade Unions” came into effect. This text, which was supposed to guarantee the trade union rights of civil service government employees, severely limits their basic labour rights union activities. According to this new law, KGEU falls under the category of an “illegal organisation”.

Furthermore, on February 8, 2006, the MOGAHA held a joint press conference to issue an “Announcement concerning illegal activities of organisations of public officials”, indicating that the government was intending to take several repressive measures against “illegal activities by illegal organisations of public officials”.

Finally, the “Directive to Promote the Transformation of Illegal Organisations into Legal Trade Unions (Voluntary Withdrawal of Membership), which was adopted by the MOGAHA, and transmitted to all government ministries and agencies, on March 22, 2006, clearly qualifies KGEU as an illegal organisation that has failed to submit notice of establishment pursuant to this law. The Ministry further indicates that “no dialogue and collective bargaining will be permitted for illegal organisation that engages in activities without having submitted a notice of establishment”, and instructs all the Government offices “to force transformation into a legal trade union and to issue orders to voluntarily withdraw membership”.

Action requested:

Please write to the authorities in South Korea urging them to:

i. guarantee in all circumstances the physical and psychological integrity of all human rights defenders in the country, including trade unionists;

ii. put an immediate end to any obstacles to the activities of KGEU;

iii. put an end to all forms of harassment, legal action, and ill-treatment of human rights defenders in South Korea, including trade unionists, as well as any obstacles to freedom of expression, association and assembly;

iv. ensure the implementation of the provisions of the Declaration on Human Rights Defenders adopted by the UN General Assembly on December 9, 1998, in particular article 1, which states that “everyone has the right, individually or collectively, to promote the protection and fulfilment of human rights and fundamental freedoms at the national and international levels”, article 5.b which stipulates that everyone has the right “to form, join and participate in non-governmental organisations, associations or groups, as well as article 12.2, which provides that “the State shall take all necessary measures to ensure the protection by the competent authorities of everyone, individually or in association with others, against any violence, threats, retaliation, de facto or de jure adverse discrimination, pressure or any other arbitrary action as a consequence of his or her legitimate exercise of the rights referred to in the present Declaration”;

v. guarantee the respect of human rights and fundamental freedoms in accordance with the Universal Declaration on Human Rights and other international human rights instruments signed or ratified by the Republic of Korea, all the more that the Republic of Korea is member of the new United Nations Human Rights Council.


Mr. Roh Moo-Hyun, President of the Republic, 1 Sejong-no, Jongno-gu Seoul 110-820, Republic of Korea. Tel: +822 770-0018; Fax: + 82 2 770-03 47 or 770-0001 / + 82 2 770-25 79. E-mail: or

Mr. Han Myeong-sook, Prime Minister, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax: + 82-2-720-35 71. Email:

Mr. Chun Jung-Bae, Minister of Justice, 1 Jungang-dong, Gwacheon Government Complex, Gyeonggi Prov., Republic of Korea. Fax: + 82-2-504-5724 / +82-2-503-3337 / +82-2-503-3532

Mr. Lee Sang-soo, Minister of Labour, 2 Jungang-dong, Gwacheon, Gyeonggi Prov. Republic of Korea. Fax : + 82-2-3679-6581

Mr. Lee Yong-sup, Minister of Government Administration and Home Affairs, 77-6 Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, Republic of Korea. Fax : + 82-2-3703-5531

National Human Rights Commission of Korea, 16 Euljiro 1-ga, Jung-gu Seoul 100 842 Republic of Korea. Tel: +82 2 2125 97 00; Fax: +82 2 2 125 98 11 / 96 66. E-mail:

Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations in Geneva, Av. de l’Ariana 1 - CP 42, CH-1211, Geneva 20, Switzerland. Email: Fax: +4122 748 00 01

Embassy of South Korea in Brussels, 175 Chemin de la Hulpe, 1170 Watermael-Boitsfort, Belgium. Fax: + 32 2 675 52 21.

Please also write to the embassies of South Korea in your respective country.


Geneva - Paris, September 8, 2006

Kindly inform the Observatory of any action undertaken quoting the code number of this appeal in your reply.

The Observatory, a FIDH and OMCT venture, is dedicated to the protection of Human Rights Defenders and aims to offer them concrete support in their time of need.

The Observatory was the winner of the 1998 Human Rights Prize of the French Republic.

To contact the Observatory, call the emergency line:
Tel and fax FIDH + 33 (0) 1 43 55 20 11 / +33 1 43 55 18 80
Tel and fax OMCT + 41 (0) 22 809 49 39 / + 41 22 809 49 29

Read more