Sunday, July 31, 2011

People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD): Watch Dog against Abuse of Power

@Photo PSPD Website

When the military dictatorship was fully terminated through various movements and the civilian government was elected in 1993, there was a need to institutionalized civil participation in democracy, state power and socio-economic reform. With a great realization and support of activists, scholars and lawyers, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) was founded in 1994 as a “civil” organization to promote justice and human rights in Korean society through the participation of the people. Since then, it has been able to operate with the help of its 12,450 members paying monthly fee which includes 68.7% of 180 million won of its total income as of 31 December 2010. 

           One of the successes of PSPD is that it believes on “people power” to influence the government through various campaigns and actions. The main activities of PSPD are issuing policy reports for alternative and reform, lobbying NA for enactment or legislation and publicizing campaign including press conference, symposiums and demonstration like street campaign. “Most of the time group demonstration are prohibited by the government and demonstrations are restricted but still we continue”, says director of PSPD, Park Jung Eun. The movements includes from reducing the phone rates to blacklisting corrupted candidates in the 2000 general election. The defeating campaign not vote for corrupted candidates 2000 has been done by hundreds of NGOs including PSPD. The movement encouraged people to abstain vote for corrupted leaders and disobedience movement against the elections law with unconstitutional provisions. It is said that this movement targeted 86 political leaders and about 70% candidate failed to elect just because of this movement. Although it was a risky campaign, this is one of the most popular and successful campaign run by PSPD, added director.

Still there are many campaigns lead by PSPD such as Campaign against Korea- US FTA, Campaign for lowering education fee, housing, medical service; campaign for the disclosure of investigation on the sunken Cheonan warship and verification of the National assembly, Judicial reform and protection for socio-economic rights of citizens. PSPD has also been involved actively to stop the construction of Naval Base at Gangjeong in Jeju Island. Park says that Ministry of Defense and the Navy of South Korea are constructing a naval base to destroy the local communities. According to the park the people’s opinion has been neglected and distorted in Jeju Island.  

This is our last field trip for this semester. All of these field trips have been very fruitful. Visiting various CSOs, civic organizations and NGOs have helped us to network and learn about their struggles towards achieving  human rights and democracy in the country. We also get to know how civic organizations or a civil society organizations have struggled since their formation in South Korea, despiites of various restrictions from the government. There are many things that activists, concern actors and CSOs from South East Asia especially Nepal (my origin country) has to learn from the work and activities of CSOs in Korea.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Former Torture Center Transform to Home of the Victims of Human Rights Violations

“The Counter Espionage Department” a former police station that was used as a torture center especially to suppress democratic activities and carried investigation with torture by secret police officer from 2 October 1976 until 21 July 2005 transformed into the home of the victims of human rights violations known as National Policy Agency Human Rights Protection Center to heal old wounds, “reborn” police to protect people’s human rights and a memorial for those who died while involving in pro-democratic activities.

Photo: kdemocracy.or (Park photo and the building)
During 1980s, many pro-democratic activities were banned and activists were tortured and were forced to make false confessions on spying for North Korea. As a result, a student, Park Jong-chul at Seoul National University was killed by the secret police in room 509 from extreme tortured with water and electricity shocks, while interrogation during the military regime in 14 January 1987.

“This was not a first case of human rights violation in the South Korea since military regimes. There were many activists, students and civilians who died, but death from torture was the most horrific one” says the director of human rights protection center, Mr. Jang, Sin-Joong.

However, the secret police report says that the student died accidently when the officer hit on a desk in an investigation room. “People were laughing and it was totally unbelievable” says Professor Hyo-Je CHO who was accompanying with us during our field trip to the center. “How a person can die just hitting on a desk by an officer” he added with a surprising face. Later the authentic result was published with the help of NGOs and CSOs.

All of these incidents within 30 years forced to transform the tortured center to human rights protection center in 22 February 2005. The main purpose of the center is to protect and promote human rights education among police. “Despites of any changes including the change of government, we want to open intrusive human rights in the country although it’s very challenging” respond superintendent, Sohn Chang-Hyon to the participant’s questions.
In doing so, the center has published a book for police, conference to police where one police who worked to protect human rights are awarded (A female police was awarded recently), human rights training for riot police, compulsory human rights training for all police, systematically collect the tortured record of 30 years and published them so that the police won’t repeat the torture in the future. Recently, the center lobby the government to protect human rights including freedom of speech and movement in Bhusan but “we failed and this is our limitation” respond by both the director and the superintendent of the agency.

Interestingly, the building also contain a meeting room where civilians can hire the room in advance with free of charge for educational purpose such as a class for human rights educations, meeting related with Human rights and so on.
Photo: Sajee (MAINS Students with Director and Superintendent of the center)
Personally, I am very amazed and inspired by the work of the center which has only 8 staff in the center. It clearly shows that the size really does not matter while you are working for positive change what matter is the work you conduct in the name of People or for people. I hope to have this center in the country like Nepal and many more where human rights have been violated during the restoration of democracy.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Multicultural Support Centre for Asian Women: A Shelter for Migrant Wives in South Korea

@photo from the organization Website

Yesterday I went to Asian Multi-Cultural Migrant Women’s Organization as a part of my field trip with our (MAINS) Director Professor Hyo-Je Cho located at Bupyeong-Gu, Incheon, South Korea. Previously the organization used to be called the Incheon Women’s Hotline, which works to protect women’s rights and develop the women’s welfare. Sometime people get confused with Hotline but it is a small part says the president Kim Seung Mi Gyeong. Therefore in 2003, the hotline replaced its name to “Multi-Cultural Migrant Women’s Organization” and has started focusing on counseling and training for women to eradicate gender based domestic violence including the sexual harassment. 
@photo from the Organization

There were several cases of migrant women killed by their spouse and their family members. For instance, A 19 year’s old Vietnamese girl was married to 47 years Korean man in 2007 but she was murder by her spouse who was just married for two month. Her death body was found only two weeks after her death. Similarly, the law to protect migrant wives is discriminatory. Under the current law, Migrant wives only get chance to apply for citizenship after 2 years with husband’s consent, which is totally unfair for migrant wives. What if the husband marries another Korean woman before two years? Is there any other way to take legal action by the migrant wife? Of course not!! Furthermore, many Korean families do not allow their daughter in law to be in touch with migrated workers from their respected countries, which forced some of the migrated wives not to even care their own sisters in Korea. Therefore there was the need of special program from migrant wives and the organization has started focusing on it.
@photos from the Organization

Every Saturday, the organization provides Korean language to foreigners especially from Vietnam, Philippines and China. “It was because majority groups in migrant wives are from these three countries and they form an autonomous group and join us" says the president of the organization. But there are also various interest groups such as home fashion, dancing club and media group related with the organizations. 
 The organization was mostly run by women with the support of men. I was very much impressed as soon as I entered to the organization. Two ladies from Thailand were learning Korean from two Korean ladies. We were warmly welcomed and then introduced each other, with a brief outline of the program. In 2007, more than 500 people including 127 migrant women and their husband’s and a small number of Korean women from 17 different countries use the organization to protect and promote their rights.
The other projects carried out by the organization are acting program for migrant wives’ husband, Asian women community project, shelter program and programs for sex trafficking.
No matter how much the Migrant women and the organization related with them like the organization I have mentioned above do well, until and unless the family accept and treat migrant wives as their native, there is a probability that violence against women will continue which have been foster by deep rooted patriarchy system in Korea.

To know more about  the organization, please visit the link  Multicultural Support Centre for Asian Women and Multicultural Support Centre for Asian Women in Blog

Sunday, July 03, 2011

Book Review: Corporate Warriors- The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry

Corporate Warriors-The Rise of the Privatized Military Industry, 2003. P.W. Singer. 340 pages. Ithaca and London: Cornell University Press.

After Singer researched the post-war situation in Bosnia supported by UN in 1996, he interviewed regional specialists, government officials, local military analysts and peacekeeper and soon discovered that some of them were the employees of a small private company based in Virginia called Military Professional Resources Incorporated (MPRI), but were performing tasks inherently military. It was very difficult to find what/who they work for? That is the reason the author, went to DR Congo, Sierra Leone and Angola to study about the role of private military firm and has written this book on the basis of interviews, observations and secondary data.

This book is mainly targeted three different audiences such as academic world, world of policy (individual working in the field of foreign affairs and defense matters) and general readers. The words used in this book are simple and easy to understand. The present book under review has divided the content into three different types with 14 different topics. Let me first briefly outline the contents of the book. The first part discloses the rise of privatized military including the history of the industry. The Second part many focused on the organization, classification, and operation of privatized military forces. And, the third part emphasizes on the implications and morality of the firm.

In chapter two explained the history of the industry; the end of cold war demanded and emerged the private military force. When the Berlin wall fell and the global order collapsed, there was a security gap and the private market rushed to fill the gap. I was very much surprised and shocked to read the availability of massive arms stock (in case of Nepal) in open market in chapter 4. For instance, in Uganda, Ak-47 is similar with the price of chicken and which was also a price of goat in Kenya (p.54). Although the question is how many people can afford chicken or goat in these countries and what quantity of chicken and goat the author is referring, but still the fear remains what will be the future of the world if the availability of sophisticated weapons are common. The author also talks about the various factors that have contributed to make these weapons common. In one interview, Singh said that, "A ten-year-old can learn how to use an AK-47 in under thirty minutes, which means another addition to the demand side in terms of the threats produced. "

The new privatized military industry encompasses hundreds of companies, thousands of employees, and billions of dollars in revenue. Thus, the Military Consulting firm, MPRI chapter mainly raises the two questions. First, Is MPRI just a private extension of the US Army? Second, is it a mechanism for rewarding former US officers after their retirement? This is because another chapter disclose about the industry employee pool and the value of ex where PMF tend to hire former personnel of national and multinational militaries. However, there is a contractual dilemma from both weak and strong states. Weak states are inadequate and insufficient and have no alternative other than hiring the private military. For instance, in Sierra Leone, the government requested the private firm to saves the state. Similarly, Strong states are no longer trained to involve in fight. If a state is no longer able to provide security to its citizens, does the state hold any legitimacy to control its citizens?

The book also describes the similarities in terms of structure between private and government military force. But the question, where does the corporate military firm get legitimacy still remains unanswered.The title protrays a holistic continental scenario while the content is strategic.The author highlighted balancing proper civilian control with the military professionals needs for autonomy because the legitimacy of the PMF still remains questionable and debatable. There have been the cases of human rights abuses of the law and lack of accountability and immunity from the PMF. In 2003, the media was flooded with torture of prisoners held in Abu Ghraib prison in Iraq, but none of them have been charged with a crime. The US military police and CIA also recruited two PMSCs, which was even accepted by CACI investigation. The author describes about the morality of PMF and found international law as inapplicable to the PMF. There is no law for PMF industry and accountability become diffused and more difficult to track.

The author argues that if the public protection hired employees through private firms, the security becomes private goods not collective. Thus, the rationale for citizen loyalty is weakened and the regime’s legitimacy is contested. The questions that are hanging on the air are; whether PMF should be involved in the name of protecting the assets of states or their citizens or the both?

 Final Comment:
Overall, the book provides the clear understanding about the development of private military after the failed of public military force. The book opens up many questions, myths of sovereign country and the power of capitalism. The book has only included certain powerful countries like USA and Certain African Countries. The author should also take into consideration of developing countries especially Asia, which is lacking in the book. As one of my World Pulse friend says, " the tittle portrays a holistic continental scenario while the content is strategic."There are many serious problems of state and for alternative safety; both the weak and the strong states have used private military force, but the huge mega military has lacked public trust and has the crises of legitimacy. It was my first book to read about the private military force and find it worth reading.