Annual Report: South Korea 2010

May 28, 2010

Annual Report: South Korea 2010

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Head of state Lee Myung-bak (replaced Roh Moo-hyun in February)
Head of government Chung Un-chan (replaced Han Seungsoo in September)
Death penalty abolitionist in practice
Population 48.3 million
Life expectancy 77.9 years
Under-5 mortality (m/f) 5/5 per 1,000

Discrimination against migrant workers was widespread and many suffered extremely poor working conditions. Police arrested journalists and protesters who were exercising their right to freedom of expression. Impunity for law enforcement officials using unnecessary or excessive force during protests, evictions and immigration raids continued.

Migrants' rights

The government-run Employment Permit System (EPS) provided employers with excessive powers over migrants, which increased their vulnerability to unfair dismissal, sexual harassment and forced overtime. Industrial accidents, including fatalities, were disproportionately higher among migrant workers than national workers. Immigration officers were often not in uniform when arresting irregular migrants and failed to present a detention order or to inform detainees of their rights. Several women recruited as singers under the E-6 entertainment scheme (visas for artistic performers) were trafficked for sexual exploitation in US military camp towns. Applicants for EPS, entertainment and foreign language instruction schemes, were required to disclose their HIV status. Foreigners who tested positive were subjected to deportation.

In November, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (CESCR) recommended strengthening the monitoring of E-6 visas; mandatory training of law enforcement officials, prosecutors and judges on anti-trafficking legislation; and ensuring an effective complaint mechanism for migrant workers regardless of their immigration status. The CESCR also stated that in the current economic climate it was unreasonable for the EPS to stipulate that migrant workers must find employment within three months of leaving a job or lose their legal status. It further recommended that the state uphold the Seoul High Court's decision to grant legal status to the Migrants' Trade Union.


In November, in the first conviction involving racist remarks, Incheon District Court fined Park one million won (US$865) for slander against an Indian research professor, Bonojit Hussain. Park was convicted of "personal insult" because no racial discrimination law exists.

Police and security forces

  • In January, approximately 40 protesters with incendiary material, including at least 10 evicted tenants, barricaded themselves on a rooftop in Seoul's Yongsan district to protest against the lack of compensation following their eviction. After 25 hours without negotiations, two squads of anti-terrorist commandos supported by 1,600 riot police raided the building, which ended in the deaths of five protesters and one police officer.

The authorities prosecuted 1,258 civilians for illegal protest during demonstrations in 2008 against US beef imports. No police were prosecuted for using unnecessary or excessive force during the protests despite evidence that some officials had done so.

In September, the Constitutional Court ruled that article 10 of the Assembly and Demonstration Law, prohibiting demonstrations after sunset and before sunrise, violated the spirit of the Constitution which guaranteed freedom of assembly and association.