Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1985

President Chun Doo Hwan dominates the political scene in the
Republic of Korea. The elected legislature has limited power
but considerable influence on public opinion. President Chun,
a former army general, assumed power with military support in
1980, at which time martial law was declared and civil
disturbances in Kwangju were harshly confronted. The
Constitution was adopted by referendum in October 1980 under
strict martial law conditions, leading many Koreans to question
the referendum's fairness. At the time of the next
presidential election, in late 1987 or early 1988, President
Chun has promised to step down to provide for a peaceful and
constitutional change of power.
Korea's traditional sociopolitical ideology, Confucianism,
emphasizes order and conformity, as well as a subordinate role
for women. This thinking retains great strength, coexisting
uneasily with Western democratic ideals.
Citing this tradition and faced with a heavily armed Communist
North Korea that once invaded the South and that remains
extremely hostile to it, successive South Korean governments
have given top priority to maintaining external and internal
security, implemented in part by the large and well-organized
security forces. Many Koreans have charged throughout the
years that the very real threat from the North was also used as
a pretext to suppress internal opposition politics, despite the
democratic ideals professed by all South Korean leaders.
Koreans enjoy considerable personal freedom, including economic
and religious freedom and broad rights to pursue private
interests. Although the Constitution guarantees freedom of
speech and press, in practice both are abridged.
During the past 20 years, Korea's export-oriented, mixed
economy has achieved one of the world's highest growth rates
and a twentyfold increase in per capita gross national product
(GNP) . The population is urbanized and well educated. Abject
poverty has been largely eliminated. The rapid growth of the
economy has created a growing middle class with increasing
access to education and wealth. They have joined with other
groups to become a strong voice for fuller political
participation and greater freedom to express political views.
Human rights issues as well as "democratization" issues were
the focus of greater public discussion and debate than in
recent years. There was some progress in the human rights
field in the early months of 1985, continuing the trend of
1984. The National Assembly election held on February 12 was
widely regarded as among the most democratic in the Republic's
history, with candidates freely criticizing the Government at
large rallies. Press coverage was frank and lively. The
election resulted in a new party, supported by leading
opposition politicians, becoming the largest opposition party
in the Assembly since the Republic's founding.
In March a statutory political ban originally applied to 567
politicians was lifted on the remaining 14 persons affected,
including prominent dissident leaders Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae
Jung. (The political activities of Kim Dae Jung and some other
politicians remained restricted, however, by other legal
provisions.) At the same time, Kim Dae Jung was freed from the
house arrest imposed on him on his return to Korea one month
earlier. Nine political prisoners were released in an amnesty
on May 27. Under the Government's "campus autonomy" policy.
the formation of independent student councils was permitted and
police stayed off campus as students began the most active
semester of student protest since 1980.
The Government soon responded heavily to the newly assertive
opposition and the increased student activism, initiating a new
wave of repression of dissent. Political tension remained high
throughout the remainder of the year. On several occasions
journalists were detained for writing politically sensitive
articles. There were credible reports of torture or physical
intimidation of several journalists and dissidents. After the
May 23-26 student sit-in at the U.S. Information Service
library in Seoul, the Government returned to its pre-1984
practice of arresting and trying student protest leaders, and
police entered campuses readily to stop demonstrations. During
the fall semester, student protests became increasingly
violent. The Government reacted by arresting some or all of
those involved in the more violent protests, raising the number
of students in prison at the end of the year to over 400, the
largest number since 1980. The Government announced that it
was considering a plan to send activist students to
6-month-long ideological reeducation centers, but it backed off
because of widespread opposition.
Section 1 Respect for the Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
a. Political Killing
There were no reports of politically motivated killings in 1985.
b. Disappearance
There were no reports of disappearances in 1985.
c. Torture and Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or
Reports of torture or cruel treatment in 1985 increased
significantly over 1984. The Constitution prohibits torture,
and the Government insists that it has issued injunctions
against it and that these are strictly enforced and violations
sternly punished. Nonetheless, there were credible reports of
torture, such as that of an antigovernment youth activist who
was subjected to torture while under police detention in
September, and reliable reports of three senior Korean
journalists who were detained and beaten by security officials
for breaking a government embargo on a news story. Korean
human rights groups and political opposition leaders also made
plausible charges that a number of students and other prisoners
in politically related cases were subjected to various degrees
of physical maltreatment including beatings, sleep and food
deprivation, electric shock, and forced water intake during
police interrogations in the latter half of 1985. The
Government publicly denied that any of these prisoners had been
On February 26, 1985, the Supreme Court upheld a lower court's
acquittal of a woman whose conviction for murder had been based
on a confession which she later said had been made as a result
of police torture. She was awarded the equivalent of about
$29,500 in compensation from the State. Court sources say some
cases were prosecuted in 1985 under a law adopted by the
National Assembly in 1983 increasing sentences for those
convicted of killing or injuring through torture.
The use of excessive force by the police has proven to be a
pervasive and ingrained problem, despite some high-level
efforts to reduce or eliminate it. Rioters have been beaten on
apprehension, often by plainclothes police. Charges of police
beatings in nonpolitical cases occur fairly frequently and are
sometimes reported in the press. There were reports in 1985
that police were using a stronger form of tear gas to break up
student and other unauthorized demonstrations which caused skin
blisters on those who came into direct contact with it.
Conditions in Korean correctional institutions are austere,
especially in winter as cells are not heated. Discipline is
strict. Under normal circumstances, convicts are not subjected
to physical punishment, but prisoners who break rules or
protest conditions are sometimes beaten. There were reports
that 19 political prisoners transferred to Taegu Prison in July
were beaten severely when they protested overcrowded conditions.
Prisoners may receive visits only from their lawyers and
immediate families. Their mail is monitored and sometimes
censored. There does not seem to be a difference between the
treatment of political and non-political prisoners.
d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Arrest warrants are required by law but are sometimes not
produced at the time of arrest in politically related cases.
In 1985 the Supreme Court ruled that police may not detain
persons for more than 48 hours without arrest warrants. An
indictment must be issued within 30 days after arrest. Within
40 days after making an arrest, the police must notify an
arrested person's family of his detention and whereabouts. The
police normally wait at least several days, and occasionally
more than 40 days, before making notification. The
Constitution guarantees the right of prompt legal assistance
and the right to request court review in case of arrest.
Habeas corpus, not traditional in Korean law, was introduced
after World War II, abolished in the 1970's, and reintroduced
in 1980. It does not apply to those charged with violations of
the National Security Act or laws punishable by at least 5
years' imprisonment, which includes most politically related
offenses. There is a system of bail, but it does not apply to
offenses punishable by 10 or more years' imprisonment. In 1985
the Government adopted a new policy to compensate persons held
for questioning but who are subsequently found to be innocent
by prosecutors .
Dissidents who openly criticize the Government are sometimes
picked up and detained for short periods and then released.
There were several instances in 1985 of journalists who had
written politically sensitive articles being detained for short
periods, usually overnight, by security forces.
From time to time, the security services have not only detained
persons accused of violating laws on political dissent but have
also increased surveillance of, or put under various forms of
house arrest, those they think intend to violate the laws. In
the longest continuous application of such restrictions in
1985, opposition politician Kim Dae Jung was not permitted to
leave his home for about 1 month after his return to Korea from
the United States in February 1985. Kim and others were also
confined to their homes on several other occasions for briefer
periods. In the latter half of 1985 the Government arrested
and charged with National Security Law violations about 80
students and other Koreans associated with student and youth
organizations the Government characterized as pro-Communist
and/or pro-North Korean; about 60 of these had been convicted
or remained under detention awaiting trial at the end of 1985.
Government critics claim that, in many of these cases, the
National Security Law was misused to suppress domestic,
particularly student, dissent.
For persons deemed "socially dangerous," the law allows
preventive detention under provisions of the Social Protection
and Social Stability Laws. Neither provision affords the
accused the benefit of legal counsel or appeal. Under the
Social Protection Law, a judicial panel may order preventive
detention for a fixed term of 2 years, which can be extended by
the panel for additional 2-year periods. The Social Stability
Law allows for a preventive detention term of 7 to 10 years.
In the city of Chongju there exists a "preventive custody
center" where prisoners judged to be insufficiently repentant
are held following the completion of their original prison
sentences. Soh Joon Shik, whose original 7-year sentence ran
out in 1978, is one of two political prisoners believed to be
held in this facility. The Government has not released figures
on the total number of persons under preventive detention.
There were no reports in 1985 of forced labor as defined by the
International Labor Organization (ILO).
e. Denial of Fair Public Trial
The Constitution guarantees many rights to defendants: The
right to presumption of innocence, the right against
self-incrimination, freedom from ex-post facto laws and double
jeopardy, the right to a speedy trial, and the right to legal
counsel. These rights are generally observed. Trials, with
some exceptions, must be held within 6 months of arrest. In
Seoul, trials usually begin within a month after indictment.
The President appoints the members of the Supreme Court, whose
Chief Justice in turn appoints lower-level judges. The Chief
Justice serves a 5-year term. The judiciary is considered
independent in ordinary criminal and civil cases but much less
so in politically sensitive cases. In 1985 the Chief Justice
was criticized in opposition and legal circles for transferring
several judges to less desirable positions, allegedly because
they had ruled in favor of defendants in cases involving
student protesters or had complained about the treatment of
their colleagues who were accused of being too lenient toward
student defendants. The Korean Bar Association called for the
Chief Justice's resignation; an impeachment sponsored by the
opposition was voted down in the National Assembly.
In several politically sensitive trials in 1985, as in the
trial of students who seized the U.S. Information Service
(USIS) Library in May, public attendance was limited, and the
defendants sometimes were removed from the courtroom for
attempting to disrupt the proceedings by shouting slogans and
singing. Judges generally allowed great scope for examination
of witnesses by both prosecution and defense, but they often
denied defense requests to call witnesses to discuss the
political or ideological leanings of the defendants, even when
the prosecution had introduced evidence on such topics.
Trials are usually open to the public, but trial documents are
not part of the public record. Charges against defendants in
the courts are clearly stated, with the exception that, in
lengthy and complex indictments, the relationship between
specific acts alleged and violations of specific sections of
the penal code may not always be clearly drawn. In cases
involving a mixture of political and criminal charges this can
bring into question the fairness of the proceedings.
The same courts try political and ordinary criminal cases. The
military courts do not try civilians. Defendants have the
right of appeal in felony cases, a right which is often
exercised and frequently results in substantial reductions in
sentences. Death sentences are automatically appealed. The
list of political prisoners maintained by the Human Rights
Committee (HRC) of the National Council of Churches hovered
around 100 names throughout the first 5 months of 1985. The
list grew to around 700 names by November as the Government
continued its crackdown on activist students begun in the
aftermath of the USIS Library seizure, but the number had
dropped to around 600 by the end of December. The HRC includes
on its list persons indicted but not yet tried for
politically-related offenses as well as those already
convicted; this list contains the names of some persons who
have advocated or used violence. The Minister of Justice
reported to the National Assembly in October 1985 that there
are no prisoners of conscience in the Republic of Korea.
Of the 600 names on the HRC list, more than 400 are university
students. About 30 people on the HRC ' s list were charged with
illegal labor actions; several were farmers charged with
illegal assembly and demonstration. The list also includes 40
or so persons, many of whom were Korean residents in Japan,
accused of espionage for North Korea.
Not included in the HRC political prisoner list are students
and others briefly detained but not indicted in connection with
student and labor demonstrations during 1985. According to
government statistics, between May and October police referred
over 1,000 students to summary court where they were charged
with minor offenses^ and sentenced to a maximum of 29 days '
detention. Some students receiving summary judgments chose to
exercise their right to formal trials.
f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or
Many political and religious dissidents are subjected to
surveillance by the security forces. During politically
sensitive periods, this surveillance by one or more security
agencies may increase or a form of house arrest may be
imposed. There have also been charges of telephone tapping and
opening or interception of correspondence. Koreans who meet
with foreigners, particularly with journalists and foreign
diplomats, are sometimes questioned afterwards. In the
aftermath of the seizure by students of the USIS library in
May, police tried to stop relatives of the students involved
and others from meeting U.S. Embassy officials.
While the Constitution requires a warrant issued by a judge
upon request of prosecutor for search and seizure in a
residence, the police at times force their way into private
homes without warrants. During politically sensitive periods,
the police and security force presence in city centers and near
university campuses is very heavy. Citizens, particularly
students, are frequently stopped, questioned, and searched.
Traditional Korean police practice requires police commanders
to know a good deal about the personal and business affairs of
all residents in their jurisdictions. This system is effective
in crime control, and urban residents generally credit it with
keeping their streets safe. By contrast, the presence of
police informer networks on college campuses with the primary
purpose of keeping track of political activities has been a key
complaint among students, including those who are hot
politically active.
In most other respects the Government honors the right of
personal privacy and the integrity of the home and family.
Parental rights to educate children are broad, and restrictions
on study in foreign-administered schools (whether in Korea or
overseas), originally imposed to force wealthy Koreans to
involve themselves in the nation's social and educational
development, have been relaxed in recent years. The State
rarely seeks to intervene in such inherently personal decisions
as marriage, choice of vocation, and formation of social and
familial ties. However, persons thought to have politically
suspect backgrounds are denied some forms of employment and
advancement, particularly in government, press, and education.
In 1985, Korean newspapers reported that a number of teachers
and college graduates had been denied jobs in public schools
solely because of their past involvement in student protest
activities .
Section 2 Respect for Civil Rights, Including:
a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although freedom of speech and press are guaranteed by the
Constitution, in practice the expression of opposition
viewpoints is limited, sometimes severely. Government critics
say that laws such as the Basic Press Law, under which media
organizations are licensed and permitted to operate, and
criminal code provisions against the spreading of "rumors which
eventually disturb peace and order" and "defiling the state"
are used to muzzle and punish dissident views. Opposition
political parties have called for the repeal or reform of the
Basic Press Law.
During the February 1985 National Assembly election campaign,
opposition candidates made speeches before large crowds in
which they were highly critical of the Government. Most Korean
and foreign observers alike agreed the campaign was
characterized by the most outspoken political debate permitted
in the Republic of Korea in many years. Print media coverage
was extensive, although television reporting reflected much
more government influence. When the new National Assembly was
inaugurated, it continued to be characterized by a breaking of
old taboos on speaking out on sensitive political topics,
including thinly-veiled challenges to the Government's
legitimacy stemming from the serious civil disturbance in
Kwangju in 1980, policy toward South-North Korean dialogue, and
constitutional revision, all of which received print media
coverage. The government party, concerned about increasingly
sharp opposition criticism, sought with limited success to
precensor opposition politicians' remarks. After several
opposition politicians complained of government intimidation
when they or their aides were summoned for questioning about
critical remarks made on the Assembly floor, the Government
promised it would respect Assemblymen's rights to free speech.
Details of the most critical speeches were generally not
reported in the press, and government party speeches received
heavier coverage. Nonetheless, newspapers did report in
greater detail than in many years about opposition views on
previously taboo political subjects.
The domestic media engage in self-censorship, according to
verbal or written guidelines the Government regularly gives to
editors. Journalists who object to or ignore these guidelines
or criticize the guidance system have been picked up for
questioning and on occasion dismissed or sent out of the
country on assignment; in one case in 1985 journalists were
beaten. Nonetheless, the domestic media, notably newspapers
and magazines, became noticeably more outspoken during and in
the aftermath of the February National Assembly election. An
edition of a prestigious monthly magazine carrying an article
on the 1980 civil disturbances in Kwangju was confiscated by
the Government shortly after its publication, and the article's
author was interrogated by security officials. In late 1985
about 30 reporters, mostly from provincial papers, were fired
for corruption on orders from the Ministry of Culture and
Information. There were reports that at least some were in
fact fired for holding views critical of the Government. In
December a visiting U.S. Washington Times journalist was
ordered out of the country temporarily, reportedly for writing
an article on an alleged meeting between North and South Korean
leaders .
The early months of 1985 saw the publication of an increasing
number of books and magazines by dissident religious,
political, and cultural figures. In May police confiscated
books they considered dangerous on the grounds of being
"leftist" or "encouraging revolution." According to the
Minister of Culture and Information, in October 11,000 copies
of 395 books were confiscated.
Twenty teachers who contributed to a magazine criticizing the
Government's education policy were arrested or fired, and the
magazine's publishing company was closed under the Basic Press
Law. The Basic Press Law was also used against a student
charged with editing a "seditious" publication; at least seven
other students were charged with National Security Law
violations in connection with publications said to be
"sympathetic to Communism and serving the interests of the
enemy." In July police raided an art exhibition and jailed
five artists for a week, saying the paintings and prints there
were objectionable on ideological grounds. A Christian youth
activist received a suspended sentence for "defiling the state"
by distributing dissident leaflets to foreign journalists.
Academic freedom is subject to some political limitations. In
fall 1985 a group of professors who signed a petition opposing
the proposed campus stabilization law came under official
pressure to retract their views.
b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
A number of specified categories of assembly, including those
considered likely to undermine public order or cause social
unrest, are prohibited by the Law on Assembly and
Demonstrations. The law also requires that demonstrations of
all types and outdoor political assemblies be reported in
advance to the police. Violation of the law carries a maximum
sentence of 7 years' imprisonment or a fine of about $3,750.
Under this law, police have at times intervened and broken up
meetings. Most peaceful nonpolitical assemblies take place
entirely without official supervision or restriction. However,
meetings of dissidents are monitored and sometimes prevented,
often by placing the scheduled speaker under some form of house
arrest .
The Law on Assembly and Demonstrations was most often used in
1985 against student demonstrators. According to a government
report submitted to the National Assembly in late October, a
total of 1,923 students had been taken to police stations for
involvement in demonstrations on and off campus since the May
USIS Library seizure. Of that number, 309 were charged with
violating the Law on Assembly and Demonstrations and/or laws
punishing violent acts. Another 104 were booked without
physical detention. About 1,000 were summarily tried on minor
charges, and the remainder were released with warnings.
In September two opposition National Assemblymen and several
other oppositionists were indicted under the Law on Assembly
and Demonstration after they were stopped by police for
shouting protest slogans against the Government at the gates of
a Seoul campus on the day of a scheduled protest meeting. In
October the lawyers for some of the students charged under the
Law on Assembly and Demonstration requested a review by the
Constitution Committee of the legitimacy part of the law,
asserting that the vagueness of one clause rendered it
unconstitutional. The Supreme Court ruled against the claim,
stating that the right to assembly and protest is limited.
Under the Constitution, workers are guaranteed the right to
independent association, to bargain collectively, and to
collective action. These rights are circumscribed by law and
practice and do not extend to workers employed by the
Government, public utilities, defense-related industries, or
firms "that exercise great influence on the national economy."
In the past the last category has applied primarily to heavy
The single national labor federation, the Federation of Korean
Trade Unions (FKTU) , and its 16 national affiliate unions are
not controlled by the Government, but their activities are
limited by law and subject to government interference. In
1985, five ranking FKTU officials were forced to resign under
government pressure, reportedly because they were either held
responsible for or did not agree with the Government's tough
policy on recent labor disputes. Labor organizations are
forbidden by law to support politicians or political parties,
though the FKTU does lobby National Assemblymen, and
Assemblymen often attend labor gatherings.
According to the FKTU, after an increase in 1984, dues-paying
union membership in 1985 remained at about 800,000 workers,
about 10 percent of the full-time work force. Ministry of
Labor figures, based on reports submitted by individual unions,
place total union membership at slightly over 1 million.
Some FKTU-supported revisions to labor regulations, approved in
1985, permitted a larger role for the Federation in local
affairs. The FKTU continued to press for broader revision of
the labor law, as did the main opposition party.
The FKTU is affiliated with the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions, and its constituent unions are affiliated
with recognized international trade union federations. The
Republic of Korea has observer status at the International
Labor Organization.
All local unions must be organized within individual
enterprises, creating a structure of thousands of individual
unions, most of them small and weak. Direct participation in
local unions' bargaining activities by outside agencies is
forbidden. The FKTU and its constituent national unions can
and sometimes do bargain on behalf of the locals and conduct
education programs, but only with government and employer
approval. Religious labor ministries such as the Catholic
Young Christian Workers and the Protestant Urban Industrial
Mission are also severely limited in the assistance which they
can provide the unions. Under these circumstances, government
and employer influence has greatly exceeded that of unions in
setting wages and resolving other major labor issues.
Collective actions and strikes, though technically legal, are
strongly discouraged. The Government used the Law on Assembly
and Demonstration on a number of occasions in connection with
workers' and farmers' rallies. Despite the legal restrictions
and other obstacles, collective actions by workers, including
strikes, increased in 1985. The Government charged radical
student involvement in many of the disputes, saying it had
identified at least 277 "disguised workers" through the end of
September who had hidden their university credentials in order
to "infiltrate" the workforce and "instigate" the workers to
strike. Of these, 160 were fired by their employers, 97
"voluntarily" guit their jobs, and 20 are still working. In a
few strikes, groups of nonstriking workers wielded pipes and
stormed their workplaces to end worker sit-in's forcibly. They
were not prevented by police from doing so, and many Koreans
charged that the attacks were government-sponsored.
According to government statistics, the government committee
charged with investigating unfair labor practices heard 227
cases in the first eight months of 1985, 205 of which involved
problems with union organization and alleged employer
obstructionism. The committee decided in favor of the workers
in 64 cases.
c. Freedom of Religion
There is no state-favored religion in Korea. There is
generally complete freedom of proselytizing, doctrinal
teaching, and conversion. Korea both sends and receives
missionaries of various faiths. Many religious groups in Korea
maintain active links with coreligionists in other countries.
Minority sects are not discriminated against, and adherence to
a faith confers neither advantages nor disadvantages in civil,
military, or official life. Churches and religious groups are
subject to many of the restrictions on political activity and
criticism of the Government that apply to all other
institutions. On those occasions where pastors are harassed by
the authorities, it is usually for religiously motivated social
or political activism. One Protestant minister active in human
rights issues has made plausible charges that a government
security agency has sponsored efforts to disrupt his church
services; other ministers have joined with him to protest what
they term government infringement on religious freedom. The
Government denied the charges and says the church's troubles
are an internal problem. Conscientious objectors are subject
to arrest.
d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign
Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There is almost universal freedom of movement and freedom to
change employment in Korea. Because Korea is one of the most
densely populated countries in the world, the Government does
not discourage emigration or discriminate against prospective
emigrants. Most people can obtain passports, except for
criminals and some persons considered politically suspect. A
number of dissidents, former political prisoners, and persons
banned from political activity have been allowed to travel
abroad. The Government limits the number of passports issued
to tourists and prospective students, citing foreign exchange
considerations and the problem of unqualified students going
abroad. Passports, when issued, are typically limited to 1
year, although there are exceptions in which passports are
issued up to the legally maximum 5-year period of validity.
A small continuing influx of Vietnamese boat refugees is
admitted to first asylum in Korea. They are cared for at a
camp in Pusan by the Korean Red Cross until they can be
resettled abroad. Over 700 displaced persons from Vietnam have
passed through Korea in the last several years. Very few have
been permanently resettled in Korea.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
Korea's Constitution and statutes, as well as its traditions,
concentrate political power in the President, a concentration
further intensified by the support the President enjoys from
the military. The President and the members of the National
Assembly are the only elected officials in Korea. Under the
1980 Presidential Election Law, the President is chosen by a
popularly elected electoral college of at least 5,000 members.
By law, presidential campaigns are brief and candidates
severely restricted in campaigning, including the amount they
may spend, the number of speeches they may deliver, and the
number of publications they may distribute. In the 1981
presidential election these restrictions, together with the
authorities' screening of electoral college candidates,
resulted in the absence of effective opposition to incumbent
President Chun Doo Hwan, who won nearly unanimously. In the
1985 National Assembly election, two of the most prominent
opposition politicians, Kim Dae Jung and Kim Young Sam, were
not allowed to participate.
The Constitution limits the President to a single 7-year term
and may not be amended to allow the incumbent president to run
for another term. The next presidential election will be held
in late 1987 or early 1988. President Chun continued to
reaffirm throughout 1985 that he intends to step down in 1988
to provide for a peaceful and constitutional transfer of
power. His party, the Democratic Justice Party (DJP), has
announced that it will convene in early 1987 to choose a
presidential candidate. However, the main opposition party and
most dissident groups are calling for a revision of the
Constitution to allow for direct popular election of the
president, contending that it would be less susceptible to
-government manipulation than the current system.
The National Assembly, although institutionally weak, acquired
new importance in 1985 with the holding of elections and the
emergence of a new, more outspoken opposition party. Members
are directly elected and serve a 4-year term. The election law
passed in 1981 provides for a proportional representation
system that reserves 92 of the Assembly's 276 seats for members
designated by the parties, with two-thirds of those seats
awarded to the party gaining a plurality of the popular vote.
The government party faced a strong challenge in the February
1985 Assembly election from a new opposition party, the New
Korea Democratic Party (NKDP), formed only weeks before the
election and led largely by politicians recently freed from the
political ban. The government party, the Democratic Justice
Party (DJP), garnered a plurality of 35.3 percent and, with its
proportional representation seats, maintained a comfortable
majority of 148 out of 276 Assembly seats. However, the NKDP
obtained a surprising 29.2 percent of the popular vote. The
former main opposition party, the Democratic Korea Party (DKP),
received only 19.5 percent. Almost all of its members defected
to the NKDP after the elections, boosting the NKDP ' s Assembly
seats to 102 and making it the largest opposition party in the
Republic's parliamentary history in terms of Assembly seats
held. The campaign included outspoken criticism of the
Government and its leaders by the opposition at large rallies
and calls for constitutional revision to allow for direct
presidential elections. Voter turnout was 84 percent, the
highest since 1958. Press coverage was extensive, television
less so.
In the aftermath of the election, the DJP pledged to practice
the politics of "dialogue" and to "reflect the people's wishes
as expressed in the election." The NKDP took a more aggressive
stance than that adopted by other opposition parties since
1980, taking the Government to task on sensitive issues
including the handling of the 1980 civil disturbances in
Kwangju and constitutional reform.
On March 6, 1985, the Government lifted the political ban on
the 14 people still affected by it. However, several persons,
including prominent opposition figure Kim Dae Jung, although
freed from the political ban, were still prohibited from
joining a political party or running for office because they
were under suspended sentences from prior convictions.
Women are free to vote, become government officials, and run
for the National Assembly. Women hold seven Assembly seats,
all but two appointed by their parties. In practice, however,
the power structure remains male-dominated, and in many
significant respects the legal system and social custom
strongly discriminate against women. There is some pressure to
address women's rights; in recognition of this, the ruling
party has formed an ad hoc committee to study the issue.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and
Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations
of Human Rights
The Republic of Korea does not belong to any international
human rights bodies and usually does not welcome outside
involvement in the human rights area, although government
officials have allowed the visits of and met with
representatives of international human rights bodies, including
Amnesty International and Asia Watch. Prison authorities
rebuffed attempts by human rights groups and opposition
politicians to investigate conditions in prisons.
There are no government agencies charged with the protection of
human rights, although political parties and the National
Assembly have committees which are concerned with oversight of
some aspects of the issue. In March 1985 opposition party
leaders held up the convening of the National Assembly to
negotiate the release of prisoners convicted on political and
security charges. While the negotiations did not result in the
release of many prisoners, they did represent the most open
discussion of the issue in several years and received extensive
press coverage in Korea. The autumn session of the National
Assembly saw opposition interpellation of government ministers
on human rights issues including torture and arbitrary arrest.
Although the Government rejected calls for a special Assembly
committee to investigate human rights abuses, especially
torture, the opposition party and other opposition groups
dispatched investigative teams, held press conferences, formed
special committees, and provided legal defense in connection
with numerous human rights issues.
A number of politically nonaffiliated private organizations
have long been active in human rights, chiefly the Human Rights
Committee of the Korean National Council of Churches, the
Catholic Justice and Peace Committee, and the Korea Legal Aid
Center in Seoul. The Committees and other human rights
organizations submit petitions to the Government and make their
views known both inside and outside Korea. People working with
these groups are frequently questioned and sometimes detained
by the security services, though apparently none have been
arrested in the past several years.
Amnesty International temporarily closed its office in Seoul in
1985, over the objections of its Korean chapter, on the grounds
that the group's independent activities were not possible under
present conditions. In its 1985 Report, Amnesty International
remained concerned about the imprisonment of people for
peaceful expression of their views. While it welcomed the
release in the early part of 1984 of over 200 students, it was
concerned about an increase in the use of short-term detention
for people participating in public protests and about several
well-known critics of the Government being placed under house
arrest. It noted that it had received fewer reports of torture
during interrogation, but that there were numerous reports of
police violence against demonstrators both before and after
arrest. Freedom House rated South Korea "partly free."
The Republic of Korea's population in 1985 was 42.6 million.
Over the last 20 years the population growth rate has decreased
from 2.6 to 1.5 percent, due in part to concerted efforts by
the Government to encourage voluntary family planning. During
the past 20 years, Korea's export-oriented, mixed economy has
achieved one of the highest growth rates in the world, with per
capita GNP rising from $100 in 1965 to $2,010 in 1983. A
notable feature of this rapid growth has been the relative
evenness of income distribution, though many Koreans
characterize the gap between rich and poor as worsening. The
percentage of the population below absolute poverty was
estimated to be 18 percent in urban areas and 11 percent in
rural areas. There is no economic discrimination based on race
or religion. The right to own property, both alone and in
association with others, is recognized in law and practice.
Improved health care and nutrition have increased life
expectancy to 68.2 years, while infant mortality has declined
to 29.6 per 1,000 live births. In 1980, an estimated 78
percent of the population had access to safe drinking water,
and caloric supply per person was 126 percent of minimum
nutritional requirements.
Education is highly valued in Korean society. Ninety-six
percent of the population was estimated to be literate in
1980-82. Primary school education is universal for both sexes,
and over 90 percent of elementary school students enter
secondary school. About 34 percent of all high school
graduates pass competitive entrance exams and enter college.
There is great social mobility based on merit in education and
employment .
Chapter V of the Labor Standards Law governs the employment of
minor and female workers. Under this provision, minors under
age 13 must have a special permit issued by the Ministry of
Labor to be employed. Minors under age 18 must have a parent's
or guardian's written approval in order to work, and they are
prohibited from night work without special permission from the
Ministry of Labor. The law requires that employers of 30 or
more minors provide educational facilities or arrange
scholarship funds for them. Employment of minors is
widespread, particularly in family-operated enterprises and in
some labor-intensive industries, and abuses of legal
protections are common.
The Constitution states that the Government "shall endeavor to
promote the employment of workers and to guarantee optimum
wages through social and economic means." Standards of working
conditions are to be "determined by law in such a way as to
guarantee human dignity." The Labor Standards Law provides for
a maximum workweek of 60 hours with mutual consent of employer
and employee, a paid day of rest during the workweek,
compensation for overtime and holiday work, paid holidays, and
annual leave. There are no exceptions to working conditions
standards for industries established in export-processing
zones. Recent statistics indicate that the average full-time
worker spends 54.4 hours per week on the job. Korea has no
minimum wage system, but the Government has pledged to
institute one as part of the 5-year economic plan beginning in
1987. Meanwhile, the Government is attempting to persuade the
employers of the 300,000 workers earning less than 100,000 won
($112) per month to raise wages. The Government announced in
late 1985 that its efforts had resulted in a decrease of
112,000 workers in the below 100,000 won per month category.
Responding to a series of labor disputes highlighting criticism
of its labor policy, the Government promised in 1985 to use
stronger measures, including fines and imprisonment, to curb
employer abuses such as delayed wage payments, illegal firings,
and violations of regulations on working conditions. The
Minister of Labor reported in late 1985 that 24 employers were
arrested in the first half of 1985 for failure to pay wages and
for physical abuse of employees. During that period, the
Government reported uncovering 16,000 cases of employer
wrongdoing, including nearly 2,500 cases of non-payment of
wages, about 150 cases of unfair dismissal, and 40 violations
of safety and health standards.
In the first half of 1985, 685 job-related deaths and 64,000
injuries were reported by government sources. In 1984 there
were 1,667 deaths and 156,133 injuries reported in connection
with industrial accidents. A government study cited lack of
adequate safety precautions as a major cause of industrial
casualties in about 10 percent of all cases. The Government
has mandated insurance to cover industrial accidents at places
of business employing 10 or more workers. The 1981 revision of
the Industrial Accident Compensation Law covers job-related
medical costs, sick leave benefits, disability benefits, and
other costs.
Women's rights constitute a problem area. Some progress has
been made — the family law was revised in 1960 and 1979 — but
critics contend that the law is still inconsistent with Korean
constitutional guarantees of sexual equality. Women do not
have equal rights with men in passing nationality to their
children, nor do they have equal rights with regard to child
custody in divorce cases. Women's rights groups are
campaigning for changes in these and some other points of the
family law.

Women do enjoy full access to educational opportunities. They
are increasingly represented, though still largely at entry
levels, in the military, the police, and in private industry.
Other areas are more problematic. As of 1985, only 24 women
had ever passed the bar examination. Five had passed the
National Administration Examination, given for higher level
civil service jobs. In general, women are not protected
against discrimination in hiring, pay, or advancement. Some
members of the National Assembly, however, are trying to focus
more attention on women's rights.