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U.N. rapporteur urges S. Korea to stop violent crackdown on protesters

All News 19:34 January 29, 2016

SEOUL, Jan. 29 (Yonhap) -- South Korea should stop the excessive use of force by police at rallies, the U.N. special rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and association said Friday.

Sharing the preliminary findings and recommendations at the end of his first official visit to the country, Maina Kiai said the use of water cannons and bus barricades cannot help but raise tensions between the protesters and police, urging local authorities to restrain from using them.

In November, tens of thousands of demonstrators took to the streets in downtown Seoul to protest the government's decision to adopt state history textbooks for secondary students and push for labor reforms.

The rally turned violent as some protesters brandished metal pipes and police fired water cannons at them. A farmer is still in a critical condition after being knocked down by a water cannon.

"The fact that a few people are violent in an assembly does not make the assembly violent under international law," he said.

"A fundamental problem is the fact that assemblies are deemed to be 'unlawful' unless organizers notify the authorities in advance," Kiai said in a press conference held in central Seoul, wrapping up his 10-day visit. "However, they (the laws on assembly and demonstration act) are equally clear that organizers' failure to notify does not make an assembly illegal, except in very limited circumstances."

The South Korean government should not use public inconvenience and security threats from the North as excuses to restrict the people's rights, he added.

"I sense a trend of gradual regression on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association," he said. "Even the courts which should always interpret laws in favor of rights have recently been moving towards restricting rights rather than expanding them."

Kiai also expressed concern over the recent revocation of the legal status of a South Korean teachers' union.

Last week, an appeals court upheld a lower court's ruling that the Korean Teachers and Education Workers Union (KTU) is not a legitimate labor group because its members include fired teachers.

"International human rights law is clear that the dissolution of a trade union should only occur in extremely serious cases, as a measure of last resort," he said. "I do not consider that the case of KTU met this high threshold."

Kiai will present a final report of his visit to the U.N. Human Rights Council in June 2016.


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