|The State Department web site below is a permanent electronic archive of information released prior to January 20, 2001. Please see www.state.gov for material released since President George W. Bush took office on that date. This site is not updated so external links may no longer function. Contact us with any questions about finding information. |
NOTE: External links to other Internet sites should not be construed as an endorsement of the views contained therein.
Title: Republic of Korea Human Rights Practices, 1995 Author: U.S. Department of State Date: March 1996 REPUBLIC OF KOREA The Republic of Korea is governed by a directly elected president and a unicameral national assembly selected by both direct and proportional voting. The judiciary operates independently of the executive branch. The Government continued to reform the political system in 1995, holding fair local elections in June. As a result, control of local government administration in major cities such as Seoul and in several provinces passed into the hands of opposition parties. Under the law, responsibility for maintaining internal security lies with the National Security Planning Agency (NSP), the Korean National Police, and the Defense Security Command. There is an independent intelligence oversight committee. Legislation passed in 1993 restricts the NSP from interfering in domestic politics; it has investigative authority only in cases involving terrorism, espionage, and international crime organizations. There continued to be credible reports of some NSP infringements of suspects' rights during the interrogation process. As a result of strong growth in 1994, Korea has one of the world's largest economies as measured by gross national product. Continued strong growth in 1995 was expected to push annual per capita income past $10,000. In the near term, economic growth is expected to remain robust due to high exports, investment in plant and equipment, and, increasingly, consumer spending. However, labor shortages, an inefficient agricultural sector, and inadequate infrastructure continue to constrain the performance of an otherwise extremely successful, market-based economy. The Government generally respects the human rights of its citizens; however, problems remain in some areas. The use or threatened use of the National Security Law (NSL) continued to infringe upon citizens' civil liberties, including the right to free expression. There was no progress toward reform of the NSL, although in some instances court decisions limited the NSL's application in order to protect free speech. Labor practices in Korea remained below international standards. There continued to be credible reports that in some instances police deprived suspects of timely access to counsel and subjected detainees to threats, physical abuse, and sleep deprivation during interrogation. Women continued to face legal and societal discrimination; violence against women and physical abuse remained serious problems. There is still no effective legal redress for these problems. However, judges continued to demonstrate their independence by blocking the prosecution of dissidents under the NSL, and the Ministry of Justice implemented new guidelines requiring that suspects be told at the time of arrest of their right to remain silent and their right to a lawyer. The Government continued its surveillance of some released political prisoners and required some of them to make regular reports to the police under the Social Surveillance Law. In August the Government issued amnesty and pardons to a number of political dissidents, including some prisoners who had been incarcerated since the Korean War. However, the Government did not authorize independent investigations of the cases of prisoners who had received sentences on charges believed to have been fabricated by previous governments. Some of these prisoners had reportedly been subjected to torture to extract confessions and received trials that did not meet international standards of fairness. 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 other extrajudicial killings. In an effort to punish past abuses, prosecutors investigated former President Chun Doo Hwan and other former high-ranking military officials for their alleged role in the army's suppression of demonstrations in Kwangju in 1980, which resulted in the death of several hundred civilians. At year's end, prosecutors were in the process of determining whether criminal charges should be filed against Chun and other officials for ordering the use of excessive force. b. Disappearance There were no reports of politically motivated disappearances. c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment The Government has ordered authorities to protect the human rights of suspects and investigate allegations of abuse while in custody. Nonetheless, prosecutors continued to place much emphasis on extracting confessions from suspects. In spite of government directives discouraging sleep deprivation as an interrogation technique, there continued to be credible reports of police use of sleep deprivation and verbal or physical abuse. There also continued to be reports that police denied suspects timely access to an attorney. For example, Professor Park Chang-Lee was reported to have been deprived of sleep, beaten, and threatened after his April arrest under the NSL. In March courts acquitted three persons on murder charges because of evidence that police had in 1994 tortured the defendants in order to extract confessions. 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 failed to provide an effective mechanism for redress, such as an independent body to investigate complaints of past human rights violations. It remained relatively rare for officials accused of abuse or harassment of suspects to be prosecuted. In February the Government ratified the United Nations International Convention on Torture, which will allow the U.N. Committee Against Torture to bring cases of human rights violations to the International Court of Justice. Prison conditions are Spartan. 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 manacled prisoners. Prisoner access to reading materials has improved significantly in recent years, and they have been granted permission to receive television and radio broadcasts. There is little independent monitoring of prison conditions, although representatives of human rights groups may visit certain prisoners at the discretion of 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 praised North Korea, its former leader Kim Il Sung, or the DPRK's "self-reliance" ("juche") political philosophy. (See also the North Korea report.) The U. N. 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. 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 citizens have been arrested for what appeared to be the peaceful expression of opposing views. For example, in March Professor Kim Mu Yong, a 34-year-old history lecturer, was arrested under Article 7. He was accused of supporting North Korea through conclusions he had reached and published about the Korean guerrilla movement of the 1940's and 1950's. The Government's rationale for keeping the NSL is the claim 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 sometimes relieve the Government of the burden of proof in a court of law that any particular speech or action does, in fact, threaten the nation's security. Citizens continued to be arrested for unauthorized travel to North Korea (see Section 2.d.). The Criminal Code 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 present themselves for questioning for up to 6 hours but must notify the suspects' families. The police generally respected these legal requirements. Upon issuance of an arrest warrant, the security services normally must release suspects after 30 days unless an indictment is issued. Hence, detainees are a relatively small percentage of the total prison population. The Constitution specifically provides for the right to representation by an attorney, but attorneys are not allowed to be present during a police interrogation. The Government began in 1993 to permit suspects to consult with "duty lawyers" during breaks in the interrogation. The Justice Ministry also in 1995 issued guidelines requiring police to inform suspects at the time of arrest about their right to be represented by a lawyer. In at least one case, prosecutors refused to issue an arrest warrant because the police had not read the suspect his rights when subdued by police. Despite these regulations, there continued to be complaints that access to a lawyer was restricted. There is a functioning bail system, 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. Exile is not used as a means of political control. e. Denial of Fair Public Trial The Constitution provides for an independent judiciary. 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 1995. 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 1995. The judicial system has local courts presided over by judges who render verdicts in all cases. There is no trial by jury. Defendants can appeal a verdict to a district appeals court and to the Supreme Court. Constitutional challenges can be taken to the Constitutional Court. The Constitutional Court, which began operation in 1988, continued to expand its role of interpreting the Constitution. The Constitution provides defendants a number of rights in criminal trials, including the right to a speedy trial, the right of appeal, presumption of innocence, protection against self-incrimination, and freedom from retroactive laws and double jeopardy. 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. In a notable instance of judicial independence, in April a Seoul appellate court acquitted Lee Chang Bok, a leader of the National Alliance for Democracy and Reunification of Korea, after he had been sentenced to 10 months' imprisonment by a lower court. In reversing the conviction, the appeals court ruled that the simple coincidence of a citizen's political views with North Korean policy cannot be used as grounds for prosecution. The NSL conviction of Park Chi Kwon, an editor of the monthly magazine "Man and Workplace," was also reversed by the courts; Park had been convicted after publishing a book by a North Korean author. The appeals court ruled in May that the NSL should not be interpreted to make publishing the novel a criminal offense. Judges generally allow considerable scope for examination of witnesses by both the prosecution and defense. The same courts try cases involving national security and criminal cases. Although convictions are rarely overturned, appeals often result in reduced sentences. Death sentences are automatically appealed. The courts continued to investigate allegations of past abuse of political dissidents. Human rights groups believe that many of these dissidents were sentenced to long prison terms during the 1970's and 1980's on trumped up charges of spying for North Korea. Furthermore, they reportedly 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. The Government granted amnesty to a number of these prisoners in 1995, including long-term prisoners Kim Son Myong and Ahn Hak Sop. Human rights groups allege that other political prisoners have been denied early parole because they refused to renounce real or alleged Communist beliefs. Some political prisoners who have been released are subjected to police surveillance and are required to report their activities regularly to the police. It is difficult to estimate the number of political prisoners, 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. Despite an extensive amnesty announced by President Kim Young Sam in August, some human rights monitors estimate the number of political prisoners in Korea to be as high as 400. However, these monitors' 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 be 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 telephone monitoring, 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 assert that the lack of an independent body to investigate whether police have employed illegal wiretaps hinders the effectiveness of the Antiwiretap Law. Citizens are not allowed to listen to radio broadcasts from North Korea 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. Broad interpretations of the NSL allow for restrictions on the peaceful expression of dissenting views. Although most radio and television stations are state supported, the stations maintain a large degree of editorial independence in their news coverage. While the Government has abandoned direct control over the news media, it continues to exercise considerable indirect influence. Journalists and editors practice some degree of self-censorship, avoiding or softening criticism of the Government in order to advance their careers. Moreover, while the Government's anticorruption campaign curtailed politicians' payments of money to reporters, it did not eliminate these payments. Nevertheless, press criticism of the Government is widespread, and the Government did not use heavy-handed or repressive measures to influence media reporting. The Government or other complainants sometimes use libel laws to win judgments against publications for articles that are unflattering. In 1994 Kim Hyon Chol, President Kim's son, sued the Hangyoreh Sinmun newspaper after being the subject of an unflattering article. At the end of 1995, the case had not yet been adjudicated. 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. Because prosecutors are allowed wide latitude in determining motives for possessing or publishing such material, people continued to be arrested for such NSL violations. For example, Moon Ki Seh and Lee Kyung Ryol were arrested in March for producing and distributing a pamphlet at the funeral of a former political prisoner who had fought for North Korea during the Korean War. The pamphlet was alleged to have praised the political prisoner's past exploits. Both of the dissidents involved in this case received suspended sentences. 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. The Government censorship board, which screens movies for sexual or violent content before release, has followed more liberal guidelines in recent years. Beginning in 1994, authorities began investigating eight Kyongsang University professors whose textbook on Korean society was deemed by prosecutors to endorse North Korean ideology. This investigation triggered extensive criticism in the scholarly community as constituting a serious infringement on academic freedom. Prosecutors attempted to arrest several of the professors under the NSL but were denied warrants for insufficient evidence. At year's end, it did not appear that further action would be taken against the professors, but they remained under formal investigation. 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. The Government did not generally interfere with rallies in 1995. 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 former prisoners. 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 receive government permission are likely to be arrested upon their return to South Korea. For example, authorities arrested Park Yong Kil, the 75-year-old widow of Reverend Mun Ik Hwan, in July. Like her deceased husband, Park visited Pyongyang without government authorization, and reportedly met with high-level North Korean officials. In addition, Ahn Ho Sang and Kim Son Jok, leaders of the Korean folk religion Daejonggyo, were arrested when they returned from an unauthorized 5-day trip to North Korea in April. In the past, the Government forbade some Koreans convicted of politically related crimes from returning to Korea, and some citizens would face sanctions upon return. In 1994 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 Citizens 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. All citizens aged 20 or above have the right to vote, and elections are held by secret ballot. Kim Young Sam, who took office in February 1992, is Korea's first chief executive in nearly 30 years not to have a career military background. In June the Government held local elections deemed to be free and fair. The elections also resulted in increased representation for opposition parties. Because of cultural traditions and discrimination, women occupy few important positions in government. In the current and past governments, the only woman in the Cabinet has been the second minister for political affairs, whose portfolio is Women's Affairs. In addition, a woman was elected mayor of Kwangmyong City, and a female legislator chairs 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 The Constitution and equal opportunity statutes forbid discrimination on the basis of race, sex, religion, disability, or social status, and the Government respects these provisions. However, traditional attitudes sometimes limit opportunities for women and the disabled. Ethnic minorities face both legal and societal discrimination. Women Violence against women remains a problem and some women's rights groups maintain that it has worsened in the past few years. The law does not provide adequate protection to victims of abuse. Rape remained a serious problem, with 6,173 cases reported in 1994 (the last year for which statistics are available). Many incidents of rape go unreported because of the stigma associated with being a rape victim. The activities of a number of women's groups have increased awareness of the importance of reporting and prosecuting rapes as well as offenses such as sexual harassment in the workplace. However, in July a Seoul appellate court overturned a landmark 1994 sexual harassment decision by ruling that evidence that a professor coerced or damaged the alleged victim was insufficient. A female researcher at Seoul National University had been awarded approximately $40,000 in damages for being sexually harassed. According to women's rights groups, most cases involving sexual harassment or rape go unprosecuted, and perpetrators, if convicted, often receive very lenient sentences. Spousal abuse is a continuing problem and has reportedly increased in recent 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 children after a divorce. Although the revisions helped abused women, divorce 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 environments more options, but women's rights groups say they fall far short of dealing effectively with the problem. As a result of conservative Confucian tradition, women are subordinate to men socially, economically, and legally. 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. Despite the passage of equal employment opportunity legislation in 1988, few women work as company executives or leading officials in government. Children Children's human rights and welfare have not been prominent social policy issues, although the Government has demonstrated a commitment to promote children's health and welfare. 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 per year 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 not possible to prosecute and punish child abusers unless they commit a crime punishable under a separate law. The traditional preference for male children continues, although it is less pronounced among younger generations. Although the law bans such practices, fetal sex testing and abortion of female fetuses are still believed to occur frequently; hard evidence to support this conclusion is unavailable. People With Disabilities Community and social organizations have begun to consider the rights and treatment of people with physical and mental disabilities. Although there were 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. The Government did not discriminate officially against the disabled who were capable of attending regular schools, but societal pressures and cultural biases influenced parents to send disabled children to special schools. After a dramatic suicide in the spring by a wheelchair-bound street vendor who claimed that the Government's crackdown on unlicensed vendors deprived him of the chance to make a living, the Government stepped up efforts to help the disabled. President Kim announced in late April that his Government would expand job training programs, medical benefits, and welfare facilities for disabled citizens. Since 1991 Korean firms with over 300 employees have been required by law either to hire disabled workers or pay a fee. After human rights groups publicized a recent survey indicating that 89 percent of such companies either paid the fee or evaded the law, the Labor Ministry announced it would increase the subsidies provided to companies that hire the disabled. In 1995 new public buildings were required to include facilities for the disabled such as a ramp access to entrances, a wheelchair lift, and parking spaces for the disabled; these requirements were generally met. National/Racial/Ethnic Minorities The Republic of Korea is a racially homogeneous country with no ethnic minorities of significant size. Citizenship in Korea is based on blood, not location of birth, and Koreans must show as proof their family genealogy. Ethnic Chinese born and resident in Korea cannot obtain citizenship or become public servants, and sometimes have difficulty being hired by some major corporations. Due to legal as well as societal discrimination, many ethnic Chinese once resident 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 difficult for Amerasians to succeed in academia, business, or government. 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 10 percent of Korean workers are members of a union. In the past, the Government did not formally recognize labor federations which were not 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. The 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 functioned 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 labor disputes. By year's end, 30 workers had been arrested for violating the labor laws according to Ministry of Labor statistics, and 21 of them remained in prison. This statistic does not include workers who were charged with violating other laws during a labor disturbance. In the spring, for example, authorities issued arrest warrants for about 20 unionists at the Korean telephone company, Korea Telecom, who police said had committed provocations such as disrupting board of directors meetings and assaulting company managers. The Government continued the ban on labor union activities by public and private schoolteachers, arguing that the teachers' union (Chonkyojo) is essentially a political organization with radical aims. The Government continued its program of reinstating those among the 1,500 fired teachers who agreed to resign from Chonkyojo. No minimum number of members is required to form a union. 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 from 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, unions in enterprises determined to be of "public interest," including public transportation, utilities, public health, banking, broadcasting, and communications, can be ordered to submit to government-ordered arbitration instead 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. Kwon Yong Kil, Chairman of the dissident Korean Council of Trade Unions (KCTU), was arrested in November for labor law violations stemming from his involvement in disputes such as the 1994 railway workers' strike. The authorities charged that he had fomented illegal strikes in the public sector. Human rights groups argued that Kwon was arrested for attempting to exercise the legitimate functions of a leader of a trade union federation in consulting with unions involved in a dispute. His case had not been adjudicated at year's end, and Kwon remained in custody. 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 does 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 issued a report in 1994 recommending 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. Nevertheless, police were dispatched to the Hyundai automobile factory in Ulsan in May when workers there who opposed the policies of their union president staged a wildcat work stoppage that paralyzed the plant. Also, authorities served arrest warrants and took into custody Korea Telecom unionists for disrupting board of directors meetings and committing other provocations. There were no reports of employer-hired squads assaulting workers. 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. The 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. 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 can be made 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 the dissident federation, Minjunochong), 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. 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 gradually been given all the rights enjoyed by workers in other sectors of the economy. 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 not practiced. 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 hold part-time jobs such as selling newspapers. In order to gain employment, children under age 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, which applies to all firms with 10 or more employeees, is reviewed annually. As of September, the minimum wage was raised to approximately $1.65 (1,275 won) per hour. 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. Foreign workers, most of whom come from China, the Philippines, Bangladesh, Nepal, and Pakistan, often face difficult working conditions. The Government has sought to ameliorate the problems of illegal workers by initiating a program whereby 50,000 foreign workers were allowed to enter Korea legally to work at established wages and with legal safeguards. In March the Government also announced its intention to ratify ILO conventions concerning foreign workers. Illegal foreign workers, who probably number more than 60,000, still suffer significant hardships at the workplace. 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. The Government has, however, established counseling centers that will hear complaints from illegal foreign workers facing deportation about such issues as overdue wages and industrial accidents. 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 the law also provides 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 job security for workers who remove themselves from dangerous work environments. (###)
[end of document]
to 1995 Human Rights Practices report home page.
Return to DOSFAN home page.
This is an official U.S. Government source for information on the WWW. Inclusion of non-U.S. Government links does not imply endorsement of contents.