Weekly Brief: Sept. 26th – Oct. 2nd

News

Baek Nam-gi’s struggle continues in death

The government’s handling of Baek Nam-gi’s death has begun to attract international attention. Despite strong opposition from Baek’s family, civic groups, associations of doctors and lawyers, and even a joint statement from four major international NGOs and IGOs, the courts granted police warrants to seize Baek’s medical records and conduct an autopsy.

Baek slipped into a coma after being sprayed with water and tear gas from a police water cannon on 14 November 2015 at an anti-government rally. He died last week, on 25 September.

Those opposing the government’s move argue that the police are looking to deflect blame by finding a pre-existing medical condition that they can point to as an alternative cause of death. Calls for a full investigation into the police actions that caused Baek’s injuries have increased, including a statement from the NHRCK and a press release issued by Maina Kiai, a UN human rights envoy.

Baek’s obituary reveals a man who had a long history of involvement with the democracy movement, including being jailed, tortured and expelled from university for opposing the Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan regimes.

Sunken Sewol commission

The Sewol commission’s activities ended on Friday after the government pulled its funding, staff and equipment. The commission’s attempts to investigate were often hampered or outright blocked by government resistance, and commission’s most important task of investigating the ferry wreckage remains incomplete as the ship itself is still at the bottom of the sea.

Kim Young-ran law takes effect

The sweeping anti-corruption law known as the Kim Young-ran Act came into effect on Wednesday. The law’s goal is to remove the favoritism and nepotism present in interactions with government employees, such as applying for a business license or being investigated by the police. The specific situations banned by the law give a sense of how far-reaching the practice of giving expensive gifts to those in positions of authority is. For instance, hospital patients are now prohibited from requesting that their treatment be pushed forward, parents cannot bring gifts to meetings with their children’s teachers, and graduate students cannot give their advisers “transportation expenses” for reviewing their thesis.

Environmentally clean, ethically dubious

Cobalt mined in appalling conditions and by child labor in the Democratic Republic of Congo may be ending up in the lithium-ion batteries used to power electric cars, with South Korean companies LG Chem and Samsung SDI being part of the supply chain. Amnesty International issued a report revealing how cobalt from these mines makes its way to the two SK battery manufacturers that then supply the five largest electric cars producers.

The working, elderly poor

While the percentage of households in the country that are single-person has doubled over the last 20 years to 27.2% (and set to continue increasing), the relative poverty rate for such households is quite high 47.6% (compared to 12.8% for multi-person households). Poverty among retirement age individuals who then need to continue working to earn basic living expenses is already well known, but a Statistics Korea report shows a large increase in the number of people in their 40’s and 50’s who are living in single-person households. Given that many of these middle-aged individuals are in the relative poverty group and unable to save for their retirement, the expectation is most will join the ranks of the elderly poor who are unable to retire.

In brief

  • Rates of HIV infections are on the rise in South Korea, despite an overall global decline. As discussed two weeks ago, prejudice and a poor understanding of the disease among the general public aren’t helping the matter.
  • In the years leading up to the Gyeongju earthquake, the Disaster Management Office’s requested budget for earthquake preparation had been completely denied by the government.
  • A Seoul court upheld a ruling in favor of an individual with gender dysphoria seeking exemption from military service, despite the person not having undergone surgery or hormone therapy.
  • Data from 2015 show that air pollution targets for PM10, PM2.5, and ozone were met in just 10% or fewer of government air pollution monitoring sites.
  • Greenpeace praised the government’s move to phase out microbeads from cosmetics beginning in July 2017.
  • The number of people diagnosed with a sleeping disorder is on the rise, along with expenditures on related medication.

And that’s what happened in the country last week. For your reading pleasure, all of the articles linked are in English (unless explicitly stated otherwise). We value your feedback. Send any questions, comments, errors, or omissions to weeklybrief@8d2.359.myftpupload.com.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation (KHRF / 한국인권재단). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of KHRF.

Daniel Corks is Korea Exposé's human rights editor and a research fellow at Korea Human Rights Foundation.