South Korea: Use of force against beef protestors should be investigated thoroughly
“The government should demonstrate its commitment to the rule of law by ensuring accountability for any police officers who used excessive force and providing due process for protesters who face criminal charges,” said Norma Kang Muico, Amnesty International Researcher.
“Generally, both the protesters and the police showed remarkable organization and constraint. These protests, and the response to them, generally show the strength of South Korea’s civil society as well as its legal institutions, but we have documented several instances of human rights violations.”
Since early May, tens of thousands of protesters have demonstrated against the renewal of US beef imports over fears of BSE or mad cow disease. The protests, often involving crowds as large as 10,000, were largely peaceful, but there were incidents of violence as riot police sought to control surging crowds and some protesters attacked and vandalized police vehicles.
During candlelight vigils held on 31 May and 1 June, police used fire extinguishers and water cannons fired at close range against largely peaceful demonstrators, causing serious injuries such as blindness, broken bones and concussions.
Amnesty International’s investigation indicated that:
- In some instances, police used excessive force and abused non-lethal riot control devices such as water cannons and fire extinguishers;
- Police engaged in arbitrary arrests of protesters and onlookers;
- Some detainees were subjected to cruel, inhumane or degrading treatment or punishment, including a lack of adequate medical care;
- The Korean government has not yet carried out adequate investigations of these claims.
Another case involved a 14-year-old boy who participated in the vigils with his mother, fellow classmates and teachers. When the police surged into the crowd, they ran onto the pavement for safety. A police officer hit the boy with a shield in the back of his head while the boy was running away. He fainted and his head was bleeding heavily. He was taken to the Yonsei Severance Hospital where doctors stitched his cut.
"These protests involved citizens making their point strongly but in large part peacefully. What they were met with, however, was excessive force by their own government, and that deserves a more thorough investigation," said Norma Kang Muico.