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U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - South Korea

Publisher United States Department of State
Author Bureau of Democracy, Human Rights and Labor
Publication Date 30 January 1995
Cite as United States Department of State, U.S. Department of State Country Report on Human Rights Practices 1994 - South Korea, 30 January 1995, available at: http://www.refworld.org/docid/3ae6aa1c0.html [accessed 29 July 2014]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.
KOREA, REPUBLIC OF

 

 

The Republic of Korea is governed by a directly elected president and a unicameral national assembly selected by both direct and proportional election. The ruling Democratic Liberal Party continued its efforts to reform the political system and the economy but still has not been able to eliminate some vestiges of its authoritarian past.

Responsibility for maintaining internal security lies with the National Security Planning Agency (NSP), the Korean National Police (KNP), and the Defense Security Command (DSC). In July the National Assembly created an intelligence oversight committee to serve as an independent watchdog on security agencies. According to legislation passed in 1993, the NSP is restricted from interfering in domestic politics and has investigative authority only in cases involving terrorism, espionage, and international crime organizations. Although the 1993 legislation was intended to prevent human rights abuses by these security agencies, there continued to be some credible reports of such abuses. Korea has become a major industrial power and achieved rapid economic growth despite a lack of natural resources. After an economic slowdown in 1993, production rose in 1994 with an increase in the gross national product exceeding 8 percent. However, a number of problems remain, including high levels of rural migration to the cities, labor shortages, unbalanced regional development, an inefficient agricultural sector, and inadequate infrastructure.

The Government took some steps to strengthen judicial independence and increase awareness of human rights by appointing new judges, prosecutors, and police. However, it slowed the pace of reform in response to increased tensions with North Korea over the nuclear issue, a rise in violent student demonstrations, and labor unrest, and it shelved planned reform of labor laws. Korea's labor statutes and practice continued to fall short of international standards. There continued to be credible reports that the police deprived some suspects of access to counsel and subjected some suspects to verbal threats and sleep deprivation during interrogation. There was also one confirmed case in which authorities physically abused a suspect under interrogation. Women continued to face legal and societal discrimination and widespread physical abuse, and there is still no effective legal redress for these problems.

The Government continued to subject released political prisoners to surveillance and required them to make regular reports to the police under the Social Surveillance Law. The Government has not addressed the issue of amnesty or redress in some of the cases of prisoners who are serving long sentences on charges believed to have been fabricated by previous governments. Some of these prisoners were reportedly subjected to torture to extract confessions and to trials that did not meet international standards of fairness. Although direct government control over the news media has virtually disappeared, the wide latitude provided judges in determining the motive behind the production, sales, and distribution of "pro-North Korean" or "pro-Communist" literature and the possibility of arrest under the National Security Law (NSL) have curtailed press freedom.

RESPECT FOR HUMAN RIGHTS

Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including Freedom from:

a. Political and Other Extrajudicial Killing

There were no reports of political or extrajudicial killings by the police or military. In August a bystander at a radical student rally was interrogated and assaulted by a group of demonstrators who suspected him of being a government informant. The man died shortly afterwards, and one of the students has been indicted in this case.

b. Disappearance

There were no reports of disappearances.

c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment

The Government has ordered investigating authorities to protect the human rights of suspects, and allegations of abuse by authorities of those in custody for questioning continued to decline. Nonetheless, prosecutors continued to place much emphasis on extracting confessions from suspects. In spite of government directives discouraging sleep deprivation as a technique for obtaining confessions, there continued to be credible reports of police questioning suspects through the night, of suspects being denied the right to talk to a lawyer for several days after arrest, and, in at least some instances, of physical abuse. The Government has confirmed that police physically abused murder suspects under interrogation in one particular case in Pusan. Also, dissidents Kim Sam Sok and his sister Kim Un Ju, who were arrested in September 1993 under the NSL, claimed that they had been abused while in detention. Both charged that the police had used sleep deprivation, verbal threats, and beatings to extract confessions from them. Kim Sam Sok also charged that he had been sexually abused by authorities, while his sister cited threats of rape (see Section 1.e.). An investigation of these allegations is ongoing, but evidence has not yet surfaced to substantiate their claims of sexual abuse. There were also reports of verbal abuse and threats during questioning. These reports were particularly frequent during the mass arrests of students following the upsurge of violent protests over the summer.

The Government continued to investigate and consider cases in which former detainees argued that they deserved redress for torture suffered in the past. However, the Government has failed to provide an effective mechanism for redress, such as an independent body to investigate complaints of human rights violations. It remained relatively rare for officials accused of abuse or harassment of suspects to be prosecuted.

Prison diets are adequate, but the prisons offer little protection against cold in winter and heat in the summer. Consequently, some prisoners claim that the conditions have damaged their health. There have been a few claims that prison guards have used excessive force or have needlessly put prisoners in manacles. Prisoner access to reading materials has improved significantly in recent years. There is little independent monitoring of prison conditions, although representatives of human rights groups may see certain prisoners if approved by the prison warden.

d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile

Korean law is vague with respect to detention, and prosecutors have wide latitude to interpret the law. The NSL defines espionage in broad terms and permits the authorities to detain and arrest persons who commit acts viewed as supportive of North Korea and therefore dangerous to the Republic of Korea. Authorities arrested not only persons spying on behalf of North Korea but also those who exercised their freedom of speech to criticize the Government or to praise North Korea, its leader Kim Il Sung, or Kim Il Sung's "self-reliance" ("juche") political philosophy. The United Nations Human Rights Committee termed the NSL "a major obstacle to the full realization of the rights enshrined in the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights." The Government arrested over 200 dissidents under the NSL during the year, more than twice as many as in 1993.

Article 7 of the NSL permits the imprisonment for up to 7 years of anyone who "with the knowledge that he might endanger the existence or security of the State or the basic order of free democracy, praised, or encouraged, or propagandized for, or sided with the activities of an antistate organization." The legal standard for knowing that one might endanger the existence of the State is vague. Consequently, a number of Koreans have been arrested for what appears to be simply expressing leftwing views. In February the police arrested members of Heemangsae, a singing group whose song lyrics express support for "juche" philosophy, under the NSL's provisions. In May the police arrested students in Kwangju who built an altar honoring Kim Il Sung during a demonstration and charged them with violating the NSL. The police also investigated university professors at Kyongsang University under the NSL because a textbook they had written several years ago used Marxist jargon and echoed some of the ideology of Kim Il Sung (see Section 1.e.).

The Government's rationale for keeping the NSL is that North Korea is actively trying to subvert the South Korean Government and society and that special circumstances call for limiting some forms of expression to block the greater danger to freedom and democracy posed by totalitarianism. The effect is to relieve the Government of the burden of proving in a court of law that any particular speech or action does, in fact, threaten the nation's security.

The law requires warrants to be issued by judges in cases of arrest, detention, seizure, or search, except if the person is apprehended while committing a criminal act, or if a judge is not available and the authorities believe that the suspect may destroy evidence or escape capture if not quickly arrested. In such emergency cases, judges must issue arrest warrants within 48 hours after apprehension, or, if a court is not located in the same county, in 72 hours. Police may detain suspects who voluntarily come in for questioning for up to 6 hours but must notify the suspects' families. However, they do not always respect these legal requirements.

Upon issuance of an arrest warrant, the security services normally must release suspects after 30 days unless an indictment is made. Hence, detainees are a relatively small percentage of the total prison population. Article 19 of the NSL gives judges the power to approve requests to extend the detention period an additional 20 days, making detention legal for up to 50 days. The Constitutional Court, however, ruled that, while the authorities may extend detention beyond the legal limit of 30 days for those suspected of "serious" violations, such as spying or organizing an antistate group, they may not do so in cases in which the suspects are charged only with praising North Korea or failing to report NSL violations.

The Constitution specifically provides for the right to representation by an attorney. However, prosecutors prohibit attorneys from accompanying their clients during interrogation. The Government began to permit suspects during the investigative phase to consult with "duty lawyers," a new system set up by a nongovernmental association of lawyers. However, there were numerous complaints that access to a lawyer was restricted during this phase. There is a functioning system of bail, but human rights lawyers say that bail is generally not granted in cases involving serious offenses, and, even when the offense is relatively minor, bail often will not be granted unless the victim of the alleged crime agrees to the bail request.

There were no cases in 1994 of political dissidents being exiled without due process.

e. Denial of Fair Public Trial

The Constitution provides defendants a number of rights in criminal trials, including presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, freedom from retroactive laws and double jeopardy, the right to a speedy trial, and the right of appeal. When a person is physically detained, the initial trial must be completed within 6 months of arrest. These rights are generally observed. Trials are open to the public, but the judge may restrict attendance if he believes spectators may seek to disrupt the proceedings.

The President appoints the Chief Justice and most justices of the Constitutional Court. Although judges do not receive life appointments, in recent years the judiciary has shown increasing independence, and that trend continued in 1994. Judges cannot be fired or transferred for political reasons. Judicial officials generally considered committed to the independence and integrity of the judiciary were appointed to important positions in 1994.

In July Chief Justice Yoon Kwan nominated six new justices to the Supreme Court, including a lawyer previously active in the human rights movement. In a notable instance of judicial independence, prosecutors who sought to arrest Kyongsang University professors in September under the NSL for writing a Marxist textbook were thwarted by a judge who denied the warrants, arguing that prosecutors had not provided evidence of the professors' pro-Communist activities. Similarly, in the case of Kim Sang Sok and Kim Un Ju, the Supreme Court limited the kind of evidence that could be deemed a "state secret." The Kims, who were convicted on charges of working with North Korean agents overseas, were cleared on appeal of passing a "state secret" (a South Korean newspaper), thus reducing their sentences by from 1 to 3 years.

Judges generally allow considerable scope for examination of witnesses by both the prosecution and defense. Cases allegedly involving national security and criminal cases are tried by the same courts. Although convictions are rarely overturned, appeals often result in reduced sentences. Death sentences are automatically appealed. The Constitutional Court, which began operation in 1988, continued to grow in its role of interpreting the Constitution.

The courts continued to investigate allegations of past abuse of political dissidents. Human rights groups believe that many of these prisoners were sentenced to long prison terms on trumped up charges of spying for North Korea during the 1970's and 1980's. Furthermore, they had been held incommunicado for up to 60 days after their arrest, subjected to extreme forms of torture, forced to make "confessions," and convicted after trials that did not conform to international standards for a fair trial. Human rights groups allege that some of these political prisoners have been denied early parole because they refused to renounce real or alleged communist beliefs. Those political prisoners who have been released continue to be subjected to police surveillance and requirements to report their activities regularly to the police.

In a celebrated case, the families of 65 prisoners sued the Government, arguing that these dissidents had been imprisoned arbitrarily by past regimes. Human rights groups claim that this case and others like it have received only perfunctory investigation and that those who received unfair trials in the past still languish in prison.

It is difficult to estimate the number of political prisoners, i.e., those jailed for exercising their political rights unaccompanied by violence, because it is not clear whether particular persons were arrested for merely exercising the right of free association or were detained for committing or planning acts of violence or espionage. Because of a wave of violent protests in 1994 over such issues as government trade policy and the attendant government clampdown on dissidents, the number of Koreans arrested for politically related crimes increased substantially. Some human rights monitors estimate that the number of political prisoners in Korea increased to more than 500 in 1994. However, their definition of political prisoner generally includes all persons imprisoned for acts that were politically motivated, without distinction as to whether the acts themselves included violence or other criminal behavior. The number of political prisoners and detainees as defined by international standards appears to number under 200.

f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence

In general, the Government honors the integrity of the home and family. In the past, the security services conducted varying degrees of surveillance, including wiretaps, of political dissidents. The Antiwiretap Law and the law to reform the NSP were designed to curb government surveillance of civilians, and appear largely to have succeeded. The Antiwiretap Law lays out broad conditions under which the monitoring of telephone calls, mail, and other forms of communication are legal It requires government officials to secure a judge's permission before placing wiretaps, or, in the event of an emergency, soon after placing them, and it provides for jail terms for those who violate this law. Some human rights groups argue that a considerable amount of illegal wiretapping is still taking place and say the lack of an independent body to investigate whether police have employed illegal wiretaps hinders the effectiveness of the antiwiretapping law.

South Koreans are not allowed to listen to North Korean radio in their homes or read books published in North Korea if the Government determines that they are doing so for the purpose of helping North Korea. Student groups make plausible claims that government informants are posted around university campuses. Persons with backgrounds as political or labor activists may find it difficult to obtain some forms of employment or advance in such fields as government, broadcast media, and education.

Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:

a. Freedom of Speech and Press

While most political discourse is unrestricted, under the NSL the Government limits the expression of ideas that the Government considers Communist or pro-North Korean. The Government's definition is so broad that it often includes the nonviolent views of persons, which the Government opposes. Although most radio and television stations are state supported, the stations maintain a large degree of editorial independence in their news coverage. The censorship board, which screens movies for sexual or violent content before they are released, followed more liberal guidelines in 1994. Consequently, a broader range of films was released to the public.

While the Government has abandoned direct control over the news media, it continues to exercise considerable indirect influence on the media. Because many former journalists hope to become government officials, journalists and editors often practice self-censorship, avoiding or softening criticism of the Government in order to advance their careers. Moreover, while the Government's anticorruption campaign curtailed government payments of money to reporters, it did not eliminate them.

The libel laws sometimes allow the Government or other complainants to win judgments against publications for articles that are unflattering but not necessarily untrue. In March Kim Hyon Chol, President Kim Young Sam's son, sued the Hangyoreh Sinmun newspaper after being the subject of an unflattering article. This case has not yet been adjudicated. In a celebrated case, some Ewha University students sued Newsweek magazine after it published an article describing many Ewha students as materialistic "slaves to money." The magazine was ordered to pay $25,000 to each of three Ewha undergraduates whose photographs were used to illustrate the story.

Prosecutors continued to indict dissidents under the NSL for producing, selling, or distributing pro-North Korean or pro- Communist materials. Court precedents allow Koreans to possess these kinds of publications for purely academic use, profit, or curiosity, but not with the intent of subverting the State. Prosecutors sometimes abuse the discretion allowed them in determining motives for possessing or publishing such material. In 1994 it led to a number of arrests of publishers and writers. In one such case, police arrested Park Chi Kwan, Chief Editor of Il-Teo publishing, for possessing and publishing a novel about laborers in steel mills originally published in North Korea. In September police asked prosecutors to seek an indictment of Cho Chung Rae, author of "Taebek Mountain," a novel published several years ago that depicts Communist partisans in South Korea in the 1940's in a sympathetic light.

The Government continued to allow, within its guidelines, an increase in media coverage of North Korea. South Korean television networks continued to broadcast edited versions of North Korean television programs. The media extensively reported on U.S. and South Korean talks with North Korean officials, sending reporters to cover U.S.-North Korean talks in New York and Geneva.

In July the authorities began investigating eight Kyongsang University professors whose textbook on Korean society was deemed by prosecutors to endorse North Korean ideology. This investigation caused an outcry in the scholarly community as being a serious infringement of academic freedom. Prosecutors who sought to arrest several of the professors under the NSL were denied warrants by a judge who argued that the prosecutors had not provided evidence of the professors' pro-Communist activities.

b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association

The Law on Assembly and Demonstrations prohibits assemblies considered likely to undermine public order. It forbids outside interference in peaceful assemblies approved by the authorities. The law requires that the police be notified in advance of demonstrations of all types, including political rallies. Police must notify organizers if they consider the event impermissible under this law. Associations, except those whose aim is deemed by the Government to be the overthrow of the State, operate freely.

In general, police showed restraint and discipline in the face of severe provocation during violent demonstrations in 1994. During the first part of the year, authorities issued demonstration permits with few restrictions. However, because of an upsurge in violent protests, which increased more than fourfold in the first quarter of 1994, authorities became more restrictive. Such universities as Konguk and Sogang forbade rallies on campus. In the past, Korean universities traditionally had been a safe haven for virtually all forms of political protest. Unlike in 1993, the Government did not support the "South-North Human Chain for Peace and Reunification" organized by the National Council of Churches in Korea (KNCC), and authorities limited the scope of the human chain rallies. The Government also blocked other Liberation Day demonstrations organized by student groups and by a dissident coalition representing "Pomminnyon" (Pannational Alliance for Unification), arguing that the rallies would lead to violence.

c. Freedom of Religion

The Constitution provides for freedom of religion, and the Government respects this provision in practice.

d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation

For most citizens, there is universal freedom of movement within the country. However, police may restrict the movements of some political prisoners who were released from prison. Foreign travel is generally unrestricted, but travel to North Korea is allowed only with government approval. One of the conditions is that the trip must not have a political purpose--that is, to praise North Korea or criticize the South Korean Government. Travelers to North Korea who do not meet this criterion are likely to be punished upon their return to South Korea. For example, authorities revoked the publishing license of Park Bo Hi, President of a newspaper in Seoul, after he made an unauthorized trip to North Korea. Police also arrested Pomminnyon leaders Reverend Kang Hee Nam and Ahn Hee Chan who planned to enter North Korea through Panmunjom to attend Kim Il Sung's funeral.

Between August 1989 and August 1992, 539 South Koreans in 18 different groups visited North Korea, and another 2,247 contacted North Koreans with government approval. In 1994, however, the two sides had few exchanges because of renewed tensions caused by North Korea's refusal to allow complete International Atomic Energy Agency inspections of its nuclear facilities.

In the past, the Government has forbidden some Koreans convicted of politically related crimes from returning to Korea. In September the NSP lifted the entry ban on composer Yun I Sang, a dissident who has been living in Berlin for a number of years. However, the Government required that he refrain from any political activity while in Korea and that he give an accounting of his political activities overseas before authorities would allow him into the country. (Yun refused these conditions and decided against returning to South Korea.)The Government cooperates with the office of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees and other humanitarian organizations in assisting refugees, and there were no reports of forced expulsions of those having a valid claim to refugee status.

Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens to Change Their Government

The Korean people have the right to elect their own government. The Constitution, as amended in 1987, provides for the direct election of the President and for a mixed system of direct and proportional election of legislators to the unicameral National Assembly. The President serves a single 5-year term and may not be reelected. The National Assembly's term is 4 years.

There is universal suffrage for all citizens aged 20 or above, and elections are held by secret ballot. Kim Young Sam, who took office in February 1992, is Korea's first civilian chief executive in nearly 30 years.

Because of cultural traditions and discrimination, women occupy few important positions in government. In past governments, the only woman in the Cabinet had been the second minister for political affairs, whose portfolio was Women's Affairs. Currently there are two women in the Cabinet, holding portfolios of Women's Affairs and Education. In addition, a woman was appointed mayor of Kwangmyong City, and a female legislator was appointed to chair one of the special committees of the National Assembly.

Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights

Several nongovernmental private organizations are active in promoting human rights, and they operate without government restriction. Chief among these groups are the Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Sarangbang, the Human Rights Committee of the National Council of Churches in Korea, the Korean Bar Association, and "Mingahyup," an association of the families of political prisoners. These groups publish reports on the human rights situation in Korea and make their views known both inside and outside the country. Government and ruling party officials generally have been willing to meet with international human rights groups.

Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Disability, Language, or Social Status

Women

A conservative Confucian tradition has left women subordinate to men socially, economically, and legally. In some companies women are expected to resign upon marriage or no later than the birth of their first child. There has been some limited and gradual change in social mores and attitudes affecting women; for example, women have full access to education, and a few have become government officials and hold elected office.

The Government has not effectively enforced equal employment opportunity legislation dating to 1988. As a result there are very few women who work as company executives or leading officials in government. While women account for just over 40 percent of the economically active population, the average female worker's wage remained a little over half of that of the average male worker.

The traditional preference for male children continues in Korea today, although it is less pronounced among people in their twenties and thirties. Korean law bans sex testing and abortions except when the woman's life is in danger, a hereditary disease would be passed along, or in case of rape or incest. However, fetal sex testing and abortion of female fetuses remain common, and it is estimated that when today's children reach marrying age there will be 400,000 "surplus bachelors."Violence against women remains pervasive, and the law does not provide adequate protection. Spouse abuse is common, and some women's rights groups maintain that it has worsened in the past few years. The Amended Family Law, which went into effect in 1991, permits women to head a household, recognizes a wife's right to a portion of the couple's property, and allows a woman to maintain greater contact with her offspring after a divorce. Although the revisions helped abused women, divorce still remains a social taboo, and there is little government or private assistance for divorced women. These factors, plus the fact that divorced women have limited employment opportunities and have difficulty remarrying, lead some women to stay in abusive situations. The Government has created some shelters for battered women and increased the number of child care facilities, which gives women in abusive situations more options, but women's rights groups say they fall far short of effectively dealing with the problem.

Korea has an extremely high rate of reported rapes. A 1992 report by the National Police Agency estimated that 9.8 women per 1,000 are raped in South Korea. Since that time, the number of reported cases may well have risen. The activities of a number of women's groups in Korea have increased awareness of the importance of reporting and prosecuting rapes as well as less serious offenses such as sexual harassment in the workplace. In a precedent-setting case this spring, a female researcher at Seoul National University who alleged sexual harassment by a professor was awarded approximately $40,000 in damages. The award received wide and favorable media coverage, but such cases remain the exception to the rule. According to women's rights groups, cases involving sexual harassment or rape generally go unprosecuted, and perpetrators, if convicted, often receive very lenient sentences.

Children

Children's human rights and welfare have not been prominent social policy issues. The Government continued to devote an increasing share of the overall budget to social expenditures, which includes those related to the welfare of children.

Child abuse has not been studied extensively, and statistics on such abuse are limited. Reported cases of child abuse have generally numbered less than 50 in recent years. Although experts believe that a number of cases go unreported, instances of child abuse still appear to be relatively rare. According to official statistics, the number of runaway children each year has dropped from about 7,000 in the past to approximately 1,000. The Seoul metropolitan government runs a children's counseling center, which investigates reports of abuse, counsels families, and cares for runaway children. In the absence of a specific law against child abuse, however, it is difficult to prosecute and punish child abusers unless they commit a crime punishable under a separate law.

National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities

The Republic of Korea is a racially homogeneous country with no ethnic minorities of significant size. Nonetheless, regional rivalries exist. Persons from the southwestern region (North and South Cholla provinces) have traditionally faced discrimination. Many Koreans believe that successive governments led by figures from the southeastern region (North and South Kyongsang provinces) have deliberately neglected the economic development of the Cholla provinces for political reasons. President Kim attempted to alleviate longstanding regional grievances, such as the violent suppression of the May 1980 Kwangju uprising, through more evenhanded government spending and appointments. Centuries of isolation and a history of foreign invasion and occupation engendered a tradition of xenophobia in Korea.

Citizenship in Korea is based on blood, not location of birth, and Koreans must show as proof their family genealogy. Thus, Korean-born Chinese residents cannot obtain Korean citizenship or become public servants and are unlikely to be hired by major corporations. Due to legal as well as societal discrimination, many Chinese residents in Korea have emigrated to other countries since the 1970's. Amerasian children are usually able to obtain Korean citizenship, and no legal discrimination against them exists. Informal discrimination, however, is prevalent and makes it more difficult for Amerasians to succeed in academia, business, or government.

People with Disabilities

Community and social organizations have begun to consider the rights and treatment of people with physical and mental disabilities. Although there are public displays of concern for the disabled, such as the Special Olympics and television documentaries, public facilities for their everyday care and use remained inadequate, and their general treatment by society discriminatory. The Government lacked adequate educational programs and schools for severely disabled people. The Government did not discriminate officially against the disabled who were capable of attending regular schools, but societal pressures and cultural biases have a negative impact on that access. The Government has introduced guidelines encouraging businesses to reserve a portion of jobs for the diasbled. Beginning in 1995, new public buildings will be required to include facilities for the handicapped such as a ramp access to entrances, a wheelchair lift, and parking spaces for the disabled.

Section 6 Worker Rights

a. The Right of Association

The Constitution gives workers, with the exception of public service employees and teachers, the right to free association. There are some blue-collar public sector unions in railroads, telecommunications, the postal service, and the national medical center. The Trade Union Law specifies that only one union is permitted at each place of work and that all unions are required to notify the authorities when formed or dissolved. About 16.4 percent of all Korean workers are members of a union.

In the past, the Government did not formally recognize labor federations which were not part of or affiliated with the country's two legally recognized labor groupings--the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) and the independent Korean Federation of Clerical and Financial Workers. In the past several years, however, the Labor Ministry officially recognized some independent white-collar federations representing hospital workers, journalists, and office workers at construction firms and government research institutes. Korean courts ruled in 1992 that affiliation to the FKTU is not required in order to be registered as a legal labor federation. In practice, labor federations not formally recognized by the Labor Ministry existed and worked without government interference, unless authorities considered their involvement in labor disputes disruptive.

The Government, however, did arrest unionists it viewed as acting as third parties in instigating or prolonging labor disputes. The number of workers arrested for labor-related activities increased to over 60, compared with 11 in 1993. About 30 workers were still in jail as of year's end. During the summer, for example, authorities arrested more than 20 members of Chongihyup, an unregistered union of railway engineers, for leading an illegal railroad strike in June that paralyzed the transportation network for several days. Other unionists whom authorities alleged had entered the labor movement to foment social unrest were also arrested. In September police detained five members of the Songnam area workers' association and charged them under the NSL with trying to indoctrinate workers with Kim Il Sung's "juche" ideology.

The Government continued the ban on labor union activities by public and private schoolteachers, arguing that the teachers' union (Chonkyojo) is an essentially political organization with radical aims. The Government continued its program of reinstating some of the 1,500 fired teachers if they resigned from Chonkyojo.

No minimum number of members are required to form a union, and unions may be formed without a vote of the full prospective membership. Election and labor laws forbid unions from donating money to political parties or participating in election campaigns. However, trade unionists have circumvented the ban by temporarily resigning their union posts and running for office on the ticket of a political party or as an independent.

Strikes are prohibited in government agencies, state-run enterprises, and defense industries. By law, enterprises determined to be of "public interest," including public transportation, utilities, public health, banking, broadcasting, and communications must submit to government-ordered arbitration in lieu of striking. The Labor Dispute Adjustment Act requires unions to notify the Labor Ministry of their intention to strike, and it mandates a 10-day "cooling-off period" before a strike may legally begin. (This period is 15 days in public interest sectors.) Labor laws prohibit retribution against workers who have conducted a legal strike and allow workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers.

The FKTU is affiliated with the International Confederation of Free Trade Unions (ICFTU). Most of the FKTU's 20 constituent federations maintain affiliations with international trade secretariats, as do KCIIF white-collar federations and the KTUC Metalworkers Council. In response to freedom of association complaints lodged by Korean dissident and independent unions, the International Labor Organization (ILO) Committee on Freedom of Association again issued a report in 1994 which recommended that the Government bring Korean labor law and policy up to international worker rights standards in accordance with the principle of free association. The Government under President Kim continued to cultivate a more neutral stance in labor disputes. For example, the Government refused to intervene in the strike at Hyundai Heavy Industries (HHI), the first time since 1987 that a strike at HHI did not lead to state intervention. Police intervention in labor disputes was relatively rare. During the summer, however, the Government deployed police to arrest workers conducting sitdown demonstrations connected with the railroad and subway strikes. Riot police also dispersed striking workers who had occupied buildings at Kumho and Daewoo factories.

There were no reports of employer-hired squads assaulting workers in 1994.

Since July 1991, South Korea has been suspended from the U.S. Overseas Private Investment Corporation (OPIC) insurance programs because of the Government's infringements on freedom of association and other worker rights.

b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively

The Constitution and the Trade Union Law provide for the right of workers to collective bargaining and collective action. This law also empowers workers to file complaints of unfair labor practices against employers who interfere with union organizing or practice discrimination against unionists. Employers found guilty of unfair practices can be required to reinstate workers who were fired for union activities. Extensive collective bargaining is practiced, even with unions that are not legally recognized by the Government. Korea's labor laws do not extend the right to organize and bargain collectively to government employees, including employees of state or public-run enterprises, defense industries, and public and private schoolteachers.

Workers in Korea's two export processing zones (EPZ's), designated by the Government as public interest enterprises, whose rights to organize were formally restricted, have now been given all the rights enjoyed by workers in other sectors of the economy.

Korea has no independent system of labor courts. The central and local labor commissions form a semiautonomous agency of the Labor Ministry that adjudicates disputes in accordance with the Labor Dispute Adjustment Law. Each labor commission is composed of equal representation from labor (represented by the FKTU), management, and "the public interest." Local labor commissions are empowered to decide on remedial measures in cases involving unfair labor practices and to mediate and, in some situations, arbitrate labor disputes. Arbitration is compulsory in sectors of the economy (e.g., utilities and transportation) that are deemed essential to public welfare.

The Trade Union Law and Labor Dispute Adjustment Law forbid third-party intervention in union and labor disputes by federations not recognized by the Government (such as Chonnohyup and KCIIF), but they allow recognized labor federations, principally the FKTU, its affiliates, and some independent white-collar federations, to assist member unions. The ban on third-party intervention also exempts mediation efforts by lawyers, experts, and others who have the consent of both labor and management, a policy much criticized by non-FKTU labor leaders.

c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor

The Constitution provides that no person shall be punished, placed under preventive restrictions, or subjected to involuntary labor, except as provided by law and through lawful procedures. Forced or compulsory labor is not condoned by the Government and is generally not practiced. There were reports, however, of illegal foreign workers who were not paid back wages by their employers but who continued to work for their employers or who lacked the funds to return to their home countries.

d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children

The Labor Standards Law prohibits the employment of persons under the age of 13 without a special employment certificate from the Labor Ministry. Because there is compulsory education until the age of 13, few special employment certificates are issued for full-time employment. Some children are allowed to do part-time jobs such as selling newspapers. In order to gain employment, children under 18 must have written approval from their parents or guardians. Employers may require minors to work only a limited number of overtime hours and are prohibited from employing them at night without special permission from the Labor Ministry. Child labor laws and regulations are clear and usually enforced when violations are found, but the Government employs too few inspectors to carry out regular inspections.

e. Acceptable Conditions of Work

The Government implemented a minimum wage law in 1988. The minimum wage level is reviewed annually. As of September, 1994, the minimum wage was raised to $12.00 (9,360 Won) per day. Companies with fewer than 10 employees are exempt from this law. Due to Korea's tight labor market, however, most firms pay wages well above the minimum in order to attract and retain workers. The FKTU and other unions continue to claim that the current minimum wage does not meet the minimum requirements of urban workers. In fact, a worker earning the minimum wage would have some difficulty in providing a decent standard of living for himself and his family, despite the fringe benefits such as transportation expenses with which Korean companies normally supplement salaries. (The Government notes that the money an average Korean blue-collar worker takes home in overtime and bonuses significantly raises the total compensation package.) According to the Ministry of Health and Social affairs, 5.2 percent of the population lived below the poverty level in 1992.

Employers continue to discriminate against foreign workers, most of whom come from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan to work, often illegally. The Government has sought to alleviate the problem of illegal workers by initiating a pilot program whereby 20,000 foreign workers are allowed to enter Korea legally to work at established wages and with legal safeguards. Illegal foreign workers, however, who probably number more than 60,000, still suffer significant hardships at the workplace, and employers often provide them substandard living accommodations. It is difficult for illegal workers to seek relief for loss of pay or unsatisfactory living and working conditions because they are always under the threat of being deported.

Amendments to the Labor Standards Law passed in 1989 brought the maximum regular workweek down to 44 hours, with provision for overtime to be compensated at a higher wage, and also provide for a 24-hour rest period each week. However, labor groups claim that the Government does not adequately enforce these laws, especially with regard to small companies.

The Government sets health and safety standards, but South Korea suffers from unusually high accident rates. The accident rate continues to decline gradually, due to public and union pressure for better working conditions. However, the number of deaths resulting from work-related accidents remains very high by international standards. The Labor Ministry has improved enforcement of safety standards but still lacks enough inspectors to enforce the laws fully. The Industrial Safety and Health Law does not guarantee security for workers who remove themselves from dangerous work environments.

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