[Photo] Citizens gathered at Seoul Railway Station on January 23th and urging the government to protect the victims of forced eviction and punish those responsible for the incident.

<Urgent Appeal for immediate action>

In South Korea, 5 people died while protesting against an imminent forced eviction

1. Summary of the Incidence

At 6 a.m. on 20th January, people who were asking for solutions to avoid eviction in February in Youngsan-Gu, Seoul lost their lives as a consequence of violent oppression from the police. A 1500 strong police force was dispatched to disperse about 50 protesters. The police actions taken toward these protesters were similar to those taken in times war. Less than a day after those facing eviction started protesting and without further conversations or an effort to discuss the issues, the government dispatched a special police force and staged an anti-terror operation. After the police entered the building where the protesters were, a fire broke out and the circumstances became dangerous. However, without taking any safety measures, the police proceeded with the operation which resulted in the death of 5 protesters and 1 police officer.

Dispatching a special police force for an anti-terror operation in less than 24 hours is a rare case even in South Korea. Since the Conservatives took power however, the police have often cracked down on protesters in a violent way. This incidence also happened under this context.

A place to pray for the dead was set up at the spot of the incident. Despite of it being the Korean New Year holiday, visits from people continue. A fact finding committee composed of civilian organizations is carrying out investigations whilst the government is trying to close the case as soon as possible.

2. Background and Characteristics

It is well known that there are many problems coupled to rapid re-development projects in South Korea. Existing solutions (such as compensations, providing temporary place to stay etc) are neither realistic nor properly implemented. It is especially worrisome that forced eviction, which is prohibited under international human rights law, is being pursued under the auspices of the government.

South Korea, who is a signatory to the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights, was requested twice by the Committee on the Economic, Social and Cultural Rights to provide protection to victims of forced evictions. However, as shown in this case, the South Korea government violated its obligation to respect the right to an adequate housing and to not being forcibly evicted. It also violated its obligation to protect the safety and the life of victims of forced evictions.

For over a year, lodgers in the re-development project area demanded the Yongsan-Gu Office for appropriate protection. The Yongsan-Gu Office provided no opportunity for talk or negotiation. Local lodgers went to the Youngsan-Gu Office to file an appeal but got rejected. During this appeal process, private security officers hired by the construction company threatened the lodgers and sexually harassed them. However, the police did not take any action against the private security officer
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