South Korea
Urgent Interventions

Grave concerns over ongoing violations against environmental activists in Gangjeong village

21 March 2012

H. E. President Lee Myung-Bak


Sejong-ro No. 1, Jongno-gu

Seoul 110-820

Republic of Korea


Mr. Kim Kwan-Jin, Minister of Ministry of National Defense

Mr. Cho Hyun-Oh, Commissioner General of the National Police Agency

Mr. Hyun Byung-Chul, Chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea

Your Excellency,

We, the undersigned regional and international human rights groups, are writing to you to express our grave concerns over the ongoing human rights violations against environmental activists, peace activists and residents affected by the highly controversial construction of a naval base in Gangjeong village, Jeju Island, the Republic of Korea. Despite calls from the opposition party, the Jeju Special Self-Governing Province and its Council, and civil society groups to halt the controversial project, your government and the navy have insisted on carrying on with the construction of the naval base under the cloak of national security.

On 7 March 2012, Samsung C&T and Daerim, two construction companies began blasting a rock bed, Gureombi, the site of a new naval base. On the same day, around 20 activists and nearby residents were arrested by the police for demonstrating against the blasting on the seashore. It was reported that around 1,000 police forces were present while only 200 protesters were holding a peaceful demonstration. On 11 March 2012, a Catholic priest, Mr. Jung-wook Kim and a pastor, Mr. Jung-hoon Lee, were arrested for causing damage to the fence around the construction site of the naval base. In addition, two international activists who have been actively protesting against the naval base construction have faced deportation orders from the government. On 15 March 2012, the government of Korea ordered the immediate deportation of Mr. Benjamin Monnet, a French activist, while Ms. Angie Zelter, a peace activist and Nobel Peace Prize nominee from the UK, was asked to leave the country before 22 March 2012.

From 2010 to the end of February 2012, 329 people were arrested for their participation in peaceful demonstration against the naval base project. It is indeed alarming and worrisome that the people’s exercise of their fundamental right to peaceful assembly is suppressed by your government through violence and arbitrary arrests. We would like to remind your government that the right to freedom of expression and assembly is guaranteed under article 21 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea. We deplore the arrests of local activists and the deportation of the two foreigners, and strongly urge the government to refrain from further arrests and harassment of residents and activists who oppose the naval base construction. We also urge the government of Korea to release all detainees immediately and unconditionally.

In this regard, we would like to draw your attention to the recent mission report of Mr. Frank La Rue, the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression, which specifically called for the government of the Republic of Korea to “ensure the right of all individuals to freedom of assembly and peaceful demonstrations, as a collective exercise of the right to freedom of expression, by refraining from any de facto practices of prior approval in violation of article 21 of the Constitution”.[1] In addition, Mr. La Rue also urged your government to ensure that “allegations of excessive use of force by law enforcement officials be effectively investigated and that the persons responsible be held accountable”.[2] We strongly urge the government of the Republic of Korea to take heed of these recommendations without any delay or exceptions.

It is also worthwhile to note that the coast of Gangjeong village, where the naval base is to be constructed, is classified as a Biosphere Reserve by UNESCO. The construction of a naval base will destroy the seashore, which is inhabited by a number of endangered marine species, bringing long-lasting negative impact to the environment and ecology. Given its potential environmental damage, we strongly believe that the call to stop the construction of the naval base is a rightful and valid demand.

We particularly regret that the people living in the vicinity of the planned naval base have not been adequately consulted on the planning of the naval base. In April 2007, only 87 out of 1,900 villagers participated in a town meeting that decided to host the naval base in Gangjeong village as the announcement was made only four days before the meeting was held.[3] In August 2007, a referendum on the naval base proposal held in the Gangjeong village resulted in an overwhelming opposition by 94% of the villagers. Despite this, the government has continued with the project. This is indeed an affront to the rights of the people of Gangjeong village, particularly their right to take part in the decision-making process affecting their community.

We wish to point out that article 1 in both the International Covenants on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, and on Civil and Political Rights affirm the rights of all peoples to “… freely pursue their economic, social and cultural development” and “for their own ends, freely dispose of their natural wealth and resources without prejudice to any obligations arising out of international economic co-operation, based upon the principle of mutual benefit, and international law“. As a state party to these international instruments, the government of the Republic of Korea has the obligation to uphold these principles and obligations.

We thus strongly urge the government of the Republic of Korea to:

· Immediately and unconditionally release all those detained for their participation in peaceful demonstrations against the naval base construction.

· Immediately halt the construction of the naval base until proper consultations are held with all relevant stakeholders, especially all communities affected by the construction.

· Give full recognition to the important work carried out by residents and activists working on defending environmental rights, human rights and peace.

· Fully respect the right of activists and residents to hold peaceful demonstrations without being subjected to arrests and harassment.

Thank you.

Yours sincerely,

Yap Swee Seng

Executive Director

Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA)

Souhayr Belhassen


International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH),

in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

Gerald Staberock

Secretary General

World Organisation Against Torture (OMCT),

in the framework of the Observatory for the Protection of Human Rights Defenders

This letter is also endorsed by the following national and regional human rights groups:

  1. Ain o Salish Kendra (ASK), Bangladesh
  2. Alternative Asean Network on Burma (Altsean Burma), Southeast Asia – Sub-regional
  3. Asian Center for the Progress of Peoples (ACPP), Asia – Regional
  4. Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), Cambodia
  5. Cambodian League for the Promotion and Defense of Human Rights (LICADHO), Cambodia
  6. Centre for Human Rights and Development (CHRD), Mongolia
  7. Education and Research Association for Consumers (ERA Consumer), Malaysia
  8. Focus on the Global South
  9. Friends’ Association for Rural Reconstruction (FARR), India
  10. Human Rights Education Institute of Burma (HREIB), Burma
  11. Human Rights Defenders-Pilipinas (HRD-Pilipinas), the Philippines
  12. Human Rights Working Group (HRWG), Indonesia
  13. Human Security Alliance (HSA), Asia – Regional
  14. Indonesian Human Rights Monitor (IMPARSIAL), Indonesia
  15. Informal Sector Service Centre (INSEC), Nepal
  16. Institute for Policy Research and Advocacy (ELSAM), Indonesia
  17. International Women’s Rights Action Watch Asia Pacific (IWRAW AP), Asia Pacific – Regional
  18. Komisi untuk Orang Hilang dan Korban Tindak Kekerasan (KontraS), Indonesia
  19. Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS), Republic of Korea
  20. Law and Society Truest (LST), Sri Lanka
  21. Lawyers League for Liberty (LIBERTAS), the Philippines
  22. Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA), Asia – Regional
  23. Odhikar, Bangladesh
  24. People’s Watch, India
  25. Philippines Alliance of Human Rights Advocates (PAHRA), the Philippines
  26. Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM), Malaysia
  27. Taiwan Association for Human Rights (TAHR), Taiwan
  28. Think Centre, Singapore

[1] Report of the Special Rapporteur on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, Frank La Rue, Addendum: Mission to the Republic of Korea, 21 March 2011, A/HRC/17/27/Add.2 (para. 96).

[2] Ibid.

[3] A decision of the construction of naval base in Jeju Island, 14 June 2007, Hankyoreh21, (Korean)

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