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South Korea: More Deaths Likely from Forced Eviction

South Korea: Absence of administrative review will allow more deaths from forced eviction

Many places nationwide have been designated for redevelopment. The redevelopment plan has been made in order for the government to induce investment from companies. Once a place is designated for redevelopment, residents, including tenants, have to leave their place with appropriate compensation on due process. However, in most cases the evictees receive threats and intimidations by the security business operators hired by development companies and leave with less compensation after they were exposed to extreme violence. In such case, police usually do not provide any protection for the evictees.

On January 20, 2009, five evictees who protested against their forced eviction in the area of Yongsan, Seoul and one police died in the process of the police operation to disperse the protesters. Whereas the prosecutor's office prosecuted around 20 protesters, it decided not to prosecute any police involved in the operation despite the fact that they completely ignored the internal regulations and guidelines during the police operation.

In the process of trial, the accused applied for their access to the prosecutors' investigation report in this case and the court accepted. However, the prosecutor's office ignored the court order and did not produce the investigation report before the court <

Under this circumstance, the district court ruled that seven evictees were sentenced to 5-6 years of imprisonment and two received suspension of execution on October 28. In the court of appeal, this criminal case was merged with other related cases of Yongsan, the investigation report was available to the court in charge and the accused lawyer was able to access to it. In protest, the prosecutor's office strongly appealed this and submitted the application of challenge. After all, other judges were reallocated for the case by way of period personal changes and the Supreme Court dismissed the prosecutor's office's application based on such changes.

On May 31, 2010, the court of appeal ruled that seven evictees were sentenced to 4-5 years of imprisonment and two received suspension of execution. Later on September 28, the Seoul Central District Court handling the case of denial of the accused access to investigation report judged that the government of the South Korea has to pay compensation for the deprivation of access to the investigation report. Regretfully however, the Supreme Court confirmed the judgement by the court of appeal on November 11.

While this criminal case was going on, another case regarding the redevelopment plan in the area of Yongsan was filed before the administrative court. According to the information, in 2006 the association of the area of Yongsan the fourth zone hold general assembly and decided the management and disposal plan for redevelopment in the area on December 2007 and got an approval from the then head of Yongsan-Gu administration in May 2008. After the death of six persons in the area, the Seoul High Court ruled on November 4 that there had found defects both in the procedure and the contents of the management and disposal plan of the association therefore the authorisation of the local administration was found illegal.

This judgement is not yet final but it gives a serious alert to the South Koran government that the then head of local administration which has the authority of authorisation over the management and disposal plan for redevelopment in Yongsan area approved it without thorough review over the plan. If the plan was thoroughly checked by the local administration, such human loss might have not been taken place. After all, the eviction of residents in Yongsan area was preceded with depriving any space for the residents to speak about and inaction of local administration which is now found that authorisation by the local administration is illegal.

Noting that the government of the South Korea is a state party to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ICESCR) as well as the member to the UN Human Rights Council, the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) reminds the government of South Korea of its obligation in particular the right to life and the right to adequate housing under the ICESCR as well as commitment to the Council. In addition, once forced eviction is done, its effect is irreparable. Therefore if the administration's decision is found illegal by the court later, there are no other means to recover the damages that imposed on those forcibly evicted.

According to the Act on the Maintenance and Improvement of Urban Area and Dwelling Conditions for Residents, the heads of local administrations (Si/Gun/Gu) have authorisation of the management and disposal plan submitted by planners and at the same time, have responsibility to supervise and monitor whether the residents are evicted without appropriate compensation for relocation or for loss of their business. However, in this case, the then head of local administration failed to thoroughly look into this matter. The case of Gocheok <
market that the AHRC has documented shows the limited or inaction of the heads of local administration in similar cases.

Since no place exists where the affected persons or groups from the redevelopments can get genuine consultation with local administrations, the AHRC calls upon the government of the need for an independent body to check and monitor whether or not the authorisation of the management and disposal plan was made in accordance with the law and by any involvement of illegal act including bribes or influence by or from any person.

The AHRC also urges that the head of local administrations (Si/Gun/Gu) shall take immediate measures to protect those persons and households, in genuine consultation with affected persons and groups who are facing eviction regardless of the type of tenure. The local administration should thoroughly monitor from the very beginning of establishment of the association and whether or not the residents in such place are exposed violence by the security business operators hired by development companies.

Without appropriate action in the matter of redevelopment, the affected persons and/or the vulnerable group will continued to suffer from the lack of administrative and legislative action by the Korean government and it may only invite another casualties in the place of development like deaths of six persons in Yongsan.

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About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation monitoring and lobbying human rights issues in Asia. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.


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