UN Special Rapporteur Faced 'Ironic Korea' IT Power but Freedom of Opinion and Expression Oppressed

Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur on the Promotion and Protection of the Right to Freedom of Opinion and Expression visited South Korea for attending international symposium on 'Freedom of Opinion and Expression in Cyber Space' and workshop on 'Situation of Freedom of Expression in South Korea and the Use of UN Special Procedures' between October 12 and October 15. These symposiums were held by the Korean Network for International Human Rights, a network of human rights and civil organizations in Korea, and Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development(Forum-Asia), a regional human rights organization, to identify the situation and challenges on the freedom of expression and opinion in East Asia and to discuss common strategies to work out problems.

The reason that the international symposiums on freedom of opinion and expression in cyberspace in East Asia were held in South Korea is that South Korea is a leading power in the development of information and communication technology(ICT) as well as a economic power while the Internet is one of the crucial communication means to enjoy the right to freedom of opinion and expression.

Mr. Martyn See, a film maker who attended the international symposiums to present a Singaporean case, said that any governments say 'it is a democratic country', but large number of governments actually restrict the right to freedom of opinion and expression in cyberspace and movie. He also said that the symposiums were meaningful for sharing information about means and policies  restricting the right from each country.

Mr. Frank La Rue, UN Special Rapporteur met various social groups of South Korea such as the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, National Human Right Commission of Korea, the trade union of YTN(broadcasting company), Minbyun(Lawyers for a Democratic Society), and so on. Mr. Frank had opportunities to have dialogues about the situation of severe oppression of freedom of opinion and expression by the Lee Myung-bak government in South Korea. On the last day of his visit, Mr. Frank held a press dialogue to present his reflection on the visit.

UN Special Rapporteur Frank put a limitation on his comments on the situation of freedom of expression and human rights of South Korea as his visit was not an official visit but an academic visit. Nevertheless, he emphasized that his visit was to contribute to reach an agreement to and establishment of the principles for protection and promotion of the right to freedom of opinion and expression. He emphasised that it is crucial to protect and promote the right to freedom of opinion and expression in cyberspace paralleling with technological advancement as mentioning that information and communication technology is well developed and majority of people enjoy the technological advancement in South Korea.

South Korea as a IT power and Symbol of Freedom of Expression, Is it Still Valid Now?

The Special Rapporteur identified two positive aspects of globalisation of communication while there were both positive and negative aspects. According to him, globalisation of communication has contributed to the world-wide agreement to human rights and understanding on the concept of justice resulting in establishment of the International Court of Justice and the International Criminal Court. It has also contributed to more active forms of enjoyment of the right to freedom of opinion and expression and democratic participation by citizens as communication and access to information are accompanied with development of new communication technologies.

Consequently, as Mr. Frank argued, state obligations also change. Freedom of opinion and expression has been used to be understood before as the non-intervention of the state, as the lack of censorship, or as the protection of the journalists. But now, it has to be understood, like all human rights, that the state has a proactive obligation, that the state has to guarantee every single person to enjoy the full exercise of freedom of expression and access to information in a proactive way.

Accordingly, in terms of civil and political rights, freedom of opinion and expression should be fully guaranteed by the state and the restriction on the freedom, if necessary, should be very deliberate and limited even thought the purpose of restriction is preventing crimes or keeping national security. Of course, freedom of opinion and expression never be restricted in order to avoid criticisms on government policies. Defamation of the state or public officials cannot be also justified. The state and public official deserve public scrutiny which links to public criticism. The transparency of the state and public officials can be obtained from criticism. Therefore, defamation of the state or public official cannot make sense.

Mr. Frank argued that the right to freedom of opinion and expression is an economic, social and cultural right as well as a civil and political right. Access to information as a part of the right to freedom of opinion and expression also belongs to the right to development. That is, citizens can fully enjoy and participate in social and economic development only if the right to access to information and communication is guaranteed. He argued the right to access to information and communication should be included into the UN Millenium Development Goals.

Lastly, the Special Rapporteur commented about the false reports of the Conservative, right-wing and oligopolistic daily newspapers, Choun Ilbo and Dona-A Ilbo, saying that UN Special Rapporteur is exposed to distorted human rights situation of South Korea as meeting only left-biased organizations and figures while refusing to meet the Ministry of Justice. Mr. Frank argued that he was invited by Forum-Asia, a regional human rights organization and he was open to anyone and willing to meet as many people as possible. He mentioned his meetings with scholars of Korea University, Mistry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, National Human Right Commission of Korea and so on. He expressed his profounded sorry because they had not contacted him to check facts before writing such distorted articles.

PSPD hopes that visit to South Korea was a crucial opportunity for Mr. Frank as a Special Rapporteur to be acquainted with oppression of freedom of opinion and expression by the Lee Myung-bak government last 2 years. Especially, the false reports by Chosun Ilbo and Dong-A Ilbo gave him very impressive experience for understanding the contemporary situation of South Korea.

New means of oppression of freedom of opinion and expression such as e-mail seizure and search by prosecutors and deleting articles on the Internet, which contain criticisms on government, are mobilized under the Lee Myung-bak government. When Mr. Frank was asked to comment on such violations, he was unable to figure out what they are since these are new types of oppression means as communication technologies develop. He was shocked with such manipulative means.

Mr. Frank said he would consider his official visit to South Korea since it is a symbolic country for issues of freedom of opinion and expression and access to information. He said four-days visit provided him a lot of information, but it was yet not sufficient to full picture for understanding the situation of South Korea regarding his mandates.

A UN special rapporteur needs a official state invitation to hold an official visit. It is ironic that the Lee government extended "standing invitation" last year, meaning it is welcoming and open to official visit. However, it needs to see what is the response of the Lee government when a special rapporteur asks an official invitation.

During the symposiums, all of participants emphasized that freedom of opinion and expression is a measure for democracy. PSPD urges that the Lee government protect and guarantee human rights and freedom of opinion and expression if it wants to be called a democratic country, and accept the UN Special Rapporteur on protection and promotion on the right to freedom of opinion and expression if it is asked to invite. 

See Frank La Rue's speech at http://blog.peoplepower21.org/English/20874

<p><a href="http://blog.peoplepower21.org/English/20876" title="http://blog.peoplepower21.org/English/20876">http://blog.peoplepower21.org/English/20876</a></p>


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