NGOs launched fact finding mission in Seoul to access human rights situation
1 August 2008 3:04 am

beef_seoul.jpgTwo Asian organisations have launched a joint inquiry into alleged human rights violations by riot police during protests against U.S. beef imports. The on-the-ground survey team – comprised of four members from the FORUM-ASIA and Asian Human Rights Commission – began its five-day inquiry on 21 July.

Their inquiry followed the unprecedented two-week research here by Amnesty International.

The purpose of the fact-finding mission is to investigate concerns of rights infringement in South Korea as a result of on-going protests by civic groups, such as FORUM-ASIA's member in Seoul, People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, said the team in a statement issued to the press on 22 July.

The survey team focussed on gathering testimonies and evidence from citizens, civic groups and government agencies regarding the allegations that activists here were stymied in their efforts to enhance and protect human rights, the statement added.

"It will also assess the nation's laws pertaining to the protection of freedom of expression in the online and offline press. Should concerns of human rights violations be confirmed through objective evidence, the team will notify the U.N. Human Rights Council and urge the Seoul government to rectify the situation, "the group said.

FORUM-ASIA comprised of 41 human rights groups from 16 Asian nations. Under the banner of Asian Solidarity and Human Rights for All, the Bangkok-based group's mission is to enhance networking among civic groups to ameliorate human rights situations.

The Hong Kong-based AHRC has also served to improve human rights situations in Asia primarily through its monitoring and research activities in cases of abuse in Asian nations.

Thousands of protesters have taken to the streets each night since late April, calling for the government to scrap or completely renegotiate the beef import deal struck with the United States on April 18.

They have launched campaigns against the Lee Myung-bak government, berating it for ignoring public concern about food safety and cutting the deal without public consensus. Riot police used various dispersal measures, including water cannons, fire extinguishers, clubs and metal shields during the two-month-long protests, which have subsided only recently.

Protesters also used violent means, such as steel pipes, stones and water bottles. Police have claimed a total of 464 officers were injured during the protests, including 95 in critical condition.

The number of injured protesters is also believed to be in the hundreds, but the exact figure was not officially available.

*The original report was prepared by Song Sang-ho (sshluck@heraldm.com). The article has been edited for brevity.