Country Report on Human Rights Practices for 1988

The South Korean Government describes the Republic of Korea
(ROK) as a liberal democracy and, in fact, there were dramatic
political changes in 1988. In February Roh Tae Woo became the
first President directly elected by the people since 1971. At
his inauguration, Roh proclaimed that his administration would
be committed to democratic reform and political liberalization.
In April National Assembly elections were held, and the
opposition parties won control of the Assembly. The previous
Chun Doo Hwan administration had come to power in a military
coup in 1979 followed by an election held under strict martial
law conditions and, many Koreans believe, maintained itself in
power by strictly suppressing legitimate political dissent.
As a result, the Chun regime suffered from a chronic lack of
legitimacy in the eyes of most Koreans.
Determined to influence government policies, the current
opposition-dominated Assembly played a much more independent
role in domestic politics than had previous National
Assemblies. In the fall, the Assembly held unprecedented
televised hearings into alleged corruption and misdeeds of the
former Chun Doo Hwan administration. Eventually, political
pressure forced Chun to make a public apology on nationwide
television, relinquish his wealth, and retire to the
countryside. On November 26 President Roh asked the nation
for leniency for Chun, promised to release political prisoners
and restore their civil rights, compensate victims of past
injustices, and amend the national security laws.
The security services have, for the first time in years, come
under public criticism, and the opposition demanded that
changes be made in their operations. However, in spite of
some marginal changes--agents of the National Security
Planning Agency (formerly the Korean CIA) were evicted from
their offices in the National Assembly--the Korean security
forces remain pervasive. Police are generally well trained
and disciplined. While there are still credible reports of
the excessive use of force by the police, they appear to be
more restrained than in the past.
Korea's political evolution has been buoyed by its dynamic,
expanding economy. In the first half of 1988, real gross
national product growth registered almost 12 percent. Korea
has become the 10th largest trading nation in the world.
Labor disputes leading to negotiations have resulted in
sizable wage increases over the last 2 years, with per capita
income rising in 1988 to about $3,100 from $2,300 in 1986.
Although rapid economic growth has eliminated abject poverty,
it also has created a number of social dislocations, including
a rapid rise in land prices and a severe shortage of housing
in the big cities. The Government has recently begun to
address some of the major social welfare issues.
Following up on progress made during the last half of 1987,
the overall human rights situation continued to improve. The
press enjoyed much greater freedom, and articles criticizing
the Government appeared frequently. No major cases of torture
or politically related killings came to light during the
year. The major remaining human rights problem is political
prisoners. The Roh Government has shown itself willing to
release political prisoners in small groups. However,
continued arrests resulted in a stable or slightly increased
number of prisoners during much of the year. The Government
carried out a major release of prisoners on December 21 and at
the same time restored civil rights to a number of former
political detainees. In spite of the growing spread of
Western-style, liberal democratic thought, Korean society
still places great emphasis on the Confucian ideals of order
and conformity. While the pace of positive political change
is accelerating and the Roh Government's commitment to
democratization seems firm, the evolution of South Korea's
democracy is not yet complete.
Section 1 Respect for Integrity of the Person, Including
Freedom from:
      a. Political Killing
In contrast to 1987, when one student was tortured to death
and one died from wounds suffered when he was hit in the head
by shrapnel from a teargas grenade, there were no reported
cases of politically related deaths in 1988.
      b. Disappearance
In 1988 there were a number of reports of union organizers
disappearing temporarily. In most cases these activists were
held for a short time by people hired by a company to
intimidate, bribe, or sometimes beat them into halting their
organizing activities. There is no indication that the
Government sponsors these kidnapings. In the most widely
publicized case, the June kidnaping of a union activist at
Hyundai construction company, the men who carried out the
kidnaping and the company executives who ordered it were all
arrested. Two executives were indicted and are awaiting
trial. The chairman of the company was also charged with
complicity in the case, and he too is awaiting trial.
      c. Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman, or Degrading Treatment or Punishment
There were no reports of physical torture in 1988. During the
summer a policeman convicted of sexually abusing a female
detainee during a 1987 interrogation was sentenced to 5 years
in prison. At times the Korean police still use excessive
force, particularly when breaking up demonstrations. Police
violence was particularly evident in mid-August when radical
students attempted to organize a march to Panraunjom to meet
with students from North Korea. However, students have been
increasingly escalating the level of violence during their
demonstrations, throwing Molotov cocktails and using various
kinds of clubs. As a matter of policy, the police refrained
from using tear gas on student demonstrators (except on one
occasion) during the Olympics. Riot police do not carry
firearms and rarely conduct baton charges.
Harsh treatment of prisoners still prevails. Many human
rights activists report that political prisoners are sometimes
deprived of sleep and that prison authorities frequently
attempt to intimidate prisoners through severe psychological
Late in the year the Government announced a prison reform
measure. If fully implemented, this reform would allow
inmates greater access to books, newspapers, and television as
well as allowing them to correspond with and receive visits
from anyone they wish.
      d. Arbitrary Arrest, Detention, or Exile
Although Koreans are freer to criticize the Government than in
the past, Korea's sweeping National Security Law is still used
against people who express views the Government considers
dangerous. Arrests of students and dissidents under the
security laws continued throughout 1988, although apparently
in lesser numbers than in years past. Human rights activists
put the number of new political arrests at about 400 for the
period February through August. According to the Government,
211 "security-related" arrests were recorded during the first
6 months of the year, 48 fewer arrests than for the same
period in 1987. This total number includes 46 arrests under
the National Security Law, which was 40 fewer than for the
same period last year.
Large numbers of students were detained during demonstrations
in June and August calling for South/North student talks.
Most of the detainees were quickly released, but a number of
"ringleaders" were charged with various violations of the
National Security Law. Although the Government tentatively
began to increase access to materials originating from North
Korea, a number of people were still arrested for spreading
North Korean propaganda. Among them were the authors of
articles on North Korea's Juche philosophy which appeared in
various university newspapers in the fall. Some of the
students arrested in these cases were freed without trial,
while others were tried and given suspended sentences.
Warrants are required by law, but in many cases they are not
presented at the time of arrest. Many people are still
detained for more than 48 hours without being formally
arrested, in spite of a 1985 Supreme Court decision requiring
police either to charge or release suspects within that period
of time. In such cases police sometimes justify holding
people more than 48 hours by claiming that suspects held in
police offices--but not in cells--were not actually under
detention. Police are also required to notify a suspect's
family or lawyer of his or her detention and whereabouts
within 3 days of making a formal arrest. By law an indictment
must be handed down within 30 days of arrest. However, these
requirements are not always observed.
Korean law provides for the right to representation by an
attorney. However, not all people are aware of their right to
counsel nor are all people able to afford counsel. There is a
functioning bail system in Korea, but it does not apply to
violators of the security laws. Likewise, habeas corpus,
which is not traditional in Korean law and was introduced only
after World War II and then abolished for several years during
the 1970's, does not apply to those charged with violating the
National Security Law.
Korea's "Social Stability Act" gives the Government authority
to detain those deemed "socially dangerous" even after they
have served their court-ordered term in prison. Under the
Act, a judicial panel can order preventive detention for a
renewable period of 2 years. The Government maintains that
this provision is applied mainly against security-related
offenders such as North Korean spies. A similar law, the "Act
for the Protection of Society," allows for preventive
detention for periods of either 7 or 10 years. The Government
says the Act is designed for habitual criminals, the mentally
ill, and drug addicts.
Two of the better known prisoners held under the Social
Stability Act, Soh Joon Shik and Kang Jong Kon, were released
in 1988. Mr. Soh's original prison term had run out in 1978;
Mr. Kang's in 1981. The Government refuses on security
grounds to reveal the number of people held under the Social
Stability Act. However, members of the National Assembly who
visited the Preventive Detention Center in Chongju in October
said that 42 people are being held there, including North
Korean "espionage agents" and "spontaneous Communists." The
average age of the prisoners is around 64, and most have been
in jail for at least 30 years. In 1988 the Government stopped
using preventive house arrest against political opponents as
it had commonly done in the past. Summary exile did not occur
in 1988. In November President Roh promised to revise the
nondemocratic provisions of the National Security Law, the
Social Stability Law, and the Social Protection Law. The
Government and opposition parties have submitted competing
draft bills to the National Assembly.
With regard to forced or compulsory labor, see Section 6.c.
e. Denial of a Fair Public Trial
The Constitution (as amended in 1987) provides for many rights
to defendants, including a presumption of innocence, protection
against self-incrimination, freedom from ex-post facto laws
and double jeopardy, and the right to a speedy trial. These
rights are generally observed. With some exceptions, trials
must be held within 6 months of arrest.
The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court is appointed by the
President with the consent of the National Assembly. Other
Supreme Court Justices are appointed by the President on the
advice of the Chief Justice. Lower Court Justices are
appointed by the Chief Justice. In the spring of 1988, a
revolt by younger lawyers led to the resignation of the
incumbent Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. In July the
National Assembly rejected the President's first nominee for
the position before agreeing on a compromise candidate.
There have been a number of indications of increased judicial
independence since the new Chief Justice was approved by the
National Assembly in July. For the first time in the ROK's
history, the Chief Justice gave the President no alternate
names in submitting a list of nominees for the Supreme Court,
and the President approved the list with no changes. The
Constitutional Court, established under the 1987 Constitution,
began its operations in September 1988 and agreed to rule on
the constitutionality of several controversial security-related
laws by raid-1989. Appellate courts, responding to suits by
two torture victims, have forced the Government to try police
officers on torture charges. One case resulted in the
conviction of a police officer in 1988. However, there are
still questions about the judiciary's independence in
politically sensitive cases, such as those involving the
relatives of former President Chun Doo Hwan.
Most trials are open to the public, but attendance is
occasionally restricted, particularly at political trials. In
some cases most of the passes to the courtroom are issued to
the police, leaving no room for other interested parties,
although families are normally allowed into the courtroom.
Judges generally allow considerable scope for examination of
witnesses by both the prosecution and defense counsel, but
sometimes deny defense requests to call expert witnesses to
discuss the political or ideological leanings of the
defendants. The right to an attorney is respected in
political cases, although the attorney is sometimes denied
permission to meet with defendants until after they are
referred to prosecutors by the police or one of the
security/investigative agencies.
In lengthy and complex indictments, the relationship between
alleged specific acts and violations of particular sections of
the penal code is not always clearly drawn. In cases
involving both political and criminal charges, this lack of
clarity can bring into question the fairness of the
proceedings. Political and criminal cases are tried by the
same courts; military courts do not try civilians. Defendants
have the right of appeal in felony cases, and appeals
frequently result in reduced sentences. Death sentences are
automatically appealed.
From the inauguration of the Sixth Republic in February
through early October, the Government proclaimed a series of
amnesties and paroles resulting in the release of over 400
prisoners. In the fall, human rights sources said that a like
number of new arrests were made, and the number of political
prisoners in Korea still hovered around the 500 to 600 mark.
On November 26, President Roh Tae Woo announced a major
release of political prisoners. In early December, the
Government freed a number of people under detention but not
yet charged with politically related crimes. Then on December
21, the Government released 281 political prisoners, including
such well-known dissidents as Chang Ki Pyo, Mun Pu Sik, and
Kim Hyon Jang. The Government also restored civil rights to a
number of former political detainees and called off police
manhunts for those on the wanted list for political offenses.
      f. Arbitrary Interference with Privacy, Family, Home, or Correspondence
Many political, religious, and other dissidents are subjected
to varying degrees of surveillance by government agents.
Telephone tapping and the opening or interception of
correspondence are believed to be prevalent. Responding to
questions from the opposition during the National Assembly
audit, the Government gave details about some of these
activities for the first time. For example, the Minister of
Communications admitted that 472 officials work at intercepting
and reading letters of people targeted by the National
Security Planning Agency (NSPA) . The opposition responded
with promises to enact a law to forbid wiretapping except in
bona fide cases of espionage. The ruling party has said that
it has no objections to such a law.
Listening to North Korean radio broadcasts is strictly
prohibited by law, in spite of the fact that the Government in
September relaxed restrictions on access to certain North
Korean newspapers and publications. Reading or purveying
books or other literature considered subversive, pro-Communist,
or pro-North Korea is also illegal. As in previous years,
several people--mainly students--were arrested under the
National Security Law for these kinds of offenses.
The Constitution requires a warrant issued by a judge upon
request of a prosecutor for search and seizure in a residence.
Nonetheless, the police at times force their way into a
private home or office without a warrant.
The security presence in city centers, near university
campuses, government and ruling party offices, and media
outlets is heavy. Citizens, particularly students and young
people, are sometimes stopped, questioned, and searched.
Government informants are known to be posted on and around
university campuses. This presence is designed to keep track
of political activities on campus, and has been a key
complaint of students as well as of many faculty members and
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. Persons
thought to have politically suspect backgrounds, however, are
still denied some forms of employment and advancement,
particularly in government, media, and education. Many human
rights activists say that the Government no longer maintains a
blacklist, but that the big corporations still retain an
informal blacklist system of their own.
Section 2 Respect for Civil Liberties, Including:
      a. Freedom of Speech and Press
Although freedom of speech is provided for in the Constitution
the expression of ideas which the Government considers to be
Communist or pro-North Korean is severely restricted. The
expression of less radical opposition points of view is far
less restricted than in the past. Articles on previously
taboo subjects, such as criticism of the President and his
family, now appear with some regularity. The Government has
promised to allow greater media coverage of North Korea, while
at the same time issuing guidelines for media reporting on it.
Freedom of speech is provided for in the Constitution. In
1988 the Government less rigorously enforced laws restricting
the expression of ideas considered to be Communist or
pro-North Korean, and has announced that it will amend such
laws. Government control over the media, especially the print
media, has decreased dramatically. Some institutions remain
basically inaccessible to journalists, however, including the
military, the National Security Planning Agency, and other
government organizations which handle North Korean or
Communist affairs.
Under new laws that replaced the basic press law, the
Hankyoreh Shinmun, an antigovernment , antiestablishment daily
newspaper was launched in May. Staffed by dissident
journalists, many of whom had been "purged" under previous
governments, the newspaper has a circulation estimated at more
than 300,000. Despite the paper's highly critical editorials
and provocative reporting, the Government apparently has not
attempted to interfere with its operations or its content.
Several new magazines were also introduced in 1988, and as
many as 20 new newspapers appeared nationwide by the end of
the year, including 10 in Seoul alone. The new law governing
the registration of publications, however, serves to prohibit
the mushrooming of a number of small publications by setting
minimum standards for printing capacity that would-be
publishers must meet.
The year 1988 also saw the rise of unions in Korean newspaper
and broadcasting organizations. Young journalists in
particular see the movement toward unionization as a way to
institutionalize the principles of fair news coverage and
independence from both government and management. All major
newspapers and broadcasting corporations in Seoul now have
labor unions with the exception of the Chosun Ilbo.
The Korean broadcasting industry has not undergone the same
degree of change as has the press. Although various proposals
to restructure broadcasting organizations have been put
forward, no consensus has been reached. Throughout much of
the year the Government's influence on most aspects of radio
and television remained strong. However, by the end of the
year even television programming was freer. A number of panel
discussions were broadcast in which participants were critical
of government policy. Conservatives have even begun to
complain that the pendulum has swung back too far.
In early August, Oh Hong Kun, City Desk Editor of the Joongang
Economic Daily, was beaten and stabbed in the leg. Under
pressure from the public and the media, an investigation
revealed that the perpetrators were members of a military
intelligence unit acting under orders from general officers.
The attack was apparently intended to intimidate journalists
such as Oh, who had written an article highly critical of the
Korean military's history of involvement in politics. Many
Koreans felt the entire incident revealed much about the
country's new state of affairs. The very publication of such
an article was a good demonstration of the greater degree of
press freedom since the summer of 1987. The attack confirmed
to many that old patterns of repression remained. Although
the court decided to suspend the sentences against the
perpetrators, the Government's actions against the military
personnel involved in the affair demonstrated its newfound
sensitivity to public opinion.
The Government continues to use the National Security Law
against publishers, printers, and distributors for producing
or selling "subversive, ideological" literature. In September
a number of students were arrested for writing articles on
North Korean "Juche" philosophy in their college newspapers.
Most of these students were later released outright or given
suspended sentences. These cases came at the same time the
Government was beginning to allow carefully controlled access
to North Korean newspapers.
Academic freedom continues to be subject to political
limitations enforced directly or indirectly by the
Government. Professors and university administrators are
expected to play an active role in preventing campus
demonstrations, a task many find objectionable. There is
rising sentiment for greater university autonomy. In the
spring, the rector of Seoul National University threatened to
resign after police came on campus without his permission to
arrest students occupying his office. There is also a threat
to academic freedom from radical leftist students who
physically attack the person or property of professors whose
lectures or writings contradict these students* ideology.
      b. Freedom of Peaceful Assembly and Association
The law on assemblies and demonstrations prohibits assemblies
considered likely to "undermine" public order. The law also
requires that demonstrations of all types, including political
assemblies, be reported in advance to the police. Violation
of the law carries a maximum sentence of 7 years' imprisonment
or a fine. However, most peaceful nonpolitical assemblies
take place entirely without official supervision or
restriction. In 1988 the Government began to permit a small
number of political demonstrations, such as a 2-hour march
through Seoul by between 1,000 and 2,000 people on the 35th
anniversary of the Korean War Armistice.
However, the Government continues to block many gatherings
organized by dissidents and particularly students, arguing
that they might incite "social unrest" and are therefore
illegal. Student rallies and demonstrations limited to
university campuses are generally not blocked, but police
usually prevent the students from taking to the streets, and
confrontations frequently ensue. These clashes sometimes
involve violence on both sides.
For a discussion of freedom of association as it applies to
labor unions, see Section 6. a.
      c. Freedom of Religion
There is no state-favored religion in Korea. Generally
complete freedom prevails for proselytizing, doctrinal
teaching, and conversion. Korea both sends and receives
missionaries of various faiths, and many religious groups in
Korea maintain active links with members of similar faiths in
other countries. The Government and Koreans in general do not
discriminate against minority sects. Adherence to a particular
faith confers neither advantages nor disadvantages in civil,
military, or official life.
Churches and religious groups are subject to most of the
restrictions on political activities that apply to other
institutions. Many of the most vocal and well-organized
critics of the Government are religious in nature; these
include Catholic, Protestant, and Buddhist groups. Police
continue to enter church property on occasion, either during
services or when church property is being used by political or
labor activists. Church buildings and grounds are sometimes
used as refuge by student activists during clashes with the
police, and the police generally respect the principle of
sanctuary in those cases.
      d. Freedom of Movement Within the Country, Foreign Travel, Emigration, and Repatriation
There is universal freedom of movement and freedom to change
employment within Korea. Throughout 1988 there was an age
limit on overseas tourist travel that prevented such travel
for most young and middle-aged people. According to the
Government, this policy was designed to save scarce hard
currency. In July the Government announced that the dramatic
improvement in Korea's economic situation would allow them to
lower the minimum age limit. It is expected that the age
limit will be dropped completely on January 1, 1989.
A small number of Indochinese refugees continues to be
admitted to temporary first asylum in Korea. The refugees are
cared for at a camp in Pusan by the Korean Red Cross until
they can be resettled abroad.
Section 3 Respect for Political Rights: The Right of Citizens
to Change Their Government
The previous Korean regime—the Fifth Republic, which ended on
February 25, 1988—came to power in a military coup followed
by an election held under strict martial law conditions. As a
result, the regime suffered from a chronic lack of legitimacy
in the eyes of most Koreans. The Sixth Republic came into
being in February 1988 following a direct presidential
election in December 1987 in which the ruling Democratic
Justice Party (DJP) candidate, Roh Tae Woo, defeated three
opposition candidates with a plurality of 36 percent of the
Political power in Korea has traditionally been centered in
the person of the President, strongly supported by the
military and security agencies. With the election of the
opposition-dominated 13th National Assembly in April 1988,
however, the legislature began to play a much greater role
than it did in the past.
As amended in 1987, the Constitution provides for direct
election of the President and for a mixed system of both
direct and proportional election of national assemblymen.
There is as yet no local autonomy in Korea. The President and
the Assembly--a total of 294 men and 6 women--are the only
elected officials in the country. The Government and the
Assembly have vowed to make progress on legislation to
increase local autonomy.
The President serves a 5-year term and cannot be reelected.
The Assembly's term is 4 years, and under the new Constitution
the President has been stripped of his power to dissolve it.
Following his election in December 1987, Roh Tae Woo was
inaugurated as President on February 25, 1988, marking the
beginning of the Sixth Republic.
The April legislative elections were contested by four major
and a host of minor parties. As was the case in the
presidential election, voting was on the basis of universal
suffrage and secret balloting. During the presidential
election, there were widespread charges that soldiers in many
military units were not allowed to cast their absentee ballots
in secret. This does not generally seem to have been the case
during the legislative election.
Coming into the April elections, the ruling DJP was confident
of victory against a split opposition. However, the ruling
party suffered a major defeat when the voters failed to return
a DJP majority. At present the three main opposition parties
are a majority in the Assembly, although they do not always
work together. The minor parties which put up candidates for
the legislature were all dissolved after failing to get the
minimum required vote.
Since the new Assembly was inaugurated in late spring, it has
played a much more independent role than any previous
Assembly. Following the spring resignation of the Chief
Justice of the Supreme Court, the Assembly refused to confirm
the President's first nominee for the position. The Assembly
also passed laws on parliamentary inspection of the Government
and on the Assembly's right to subpoena witnesses over the
opposition of the Government. Following a presidential veto,
compromise versions of both bills were worked out. In October
the Assembly took a major step towards asserting its position
vis-a-vis the Executive, carrying out its first audit of the
Government in over 16 years. In November the Assembly began
televised hearings on corruption during the Fifth Republic and
the Kwangju incident of 1980. These hearings have drawn
remarkable public interest, and many credit them with vastly
increasing public consciousness of the constitutional process
and political issues.
Section 4 Governmental Attitude Regarding International and Nongovernmental Investigation of Alleged Violations of Human Rights
The Republic of Korea does not welcome outside involvement
with respect to human rights. Nevertheless, government and
ruling party officials have generally been willing to meet
with international human rights groups such as Amnesty
International, the International Human Rights Law Group, and
Asia Watch. The Government also allowed the Kennedy
Foundation in May to present its human rights award to
prominent dissident Kim Keun Tae (in absentia) and his wife in
a ceremony in Seoul. (Kim Keun Tae was later released on June
30.) The Government also did not interfere with human
rights-related activities of the international PEN
organization during its August conference in Seoul nor with
the foreign observers at the hotly contested December 1987
Presidential election.
According to the Government, public prosecutors and the Human
Rights Division of the Ministry of Justice are responsible for
protecting human rights and investigating violations. The
Government has admitted that some human rights problems
remain, but argues that it has taken steps to address these
problems and that the situation has improved greatly since
The National Assembly and the major political parties all have
committees concerned with various aspects of human rights.
The issue of the release of political prisoners continued to
be a focus of intraparty debate in 1988.
Several politically nonaffiliated private organizations are
active in promoting human rights. Chief among these groups
are the Human Rights Committee of the Korean National Council
of Churches; the Catholic Justice and Peace Committee; the
Family Members Movement for the Realization of Democracy
(Mingahyop) ; the Korean Federal Bar Association, and the Korea
Legal Aid Center in Seoul. These groups publish reports on
the human rights situation in Korea and make their views known
both inside and outside the country.
Section 5 Discrimination Based on Race, Sex, Religion, Language, or Social Status
The Republic of Korea is a densely populated and racially
homogeneous country. There are no ethnic minorities of
significant size. Nonetheless, regional rivalries exist in
Korea. Many Koreans believe that persons from the
southwestern region (North and South Cholla provinces) have
traditionally faced some discrimination, and that successive
governments led predominantly by figures from southeast Korea
(North and South Kyongsang provinces) and other areas have
neglected the economic development of the Cholla provinces.
In his August 31 meeting with Kim Dae Jung, leader of the
largest opposition party in the assembly—a party which has
its major base of support in the Cholla region—President Roh
Tae Woo promised to make particular efforts to encourage the
development of the Cholla region, including an ambitious
project for the development of Korea's west coast ports.
In Korea, with its conservative Confucian tradition, women are
subordinate to men socially, economically, and legally. Some
progress has been made: women can vote, become government
officials, and hold elected office. All female candidates for
the National Assembly lost their races, but six women were
able to join the Assembly via the proportional party lists.
Women enjoy full access to educational opportunities, and they
are being increasingly represented, although still largely at
lower levels, in the Government and private sector. In the
workplace, women are exposed to discrimination in hiring, pay,
and advancement. They are commonly expected to resign when
they marry or become pregnant.
Despite a constitutional guarantee of equal rights for men and
women, traditional social customs are still reflected in the
law, particularly in family law. Although family law has been
amended to take out some forms of discrimination, others still
remain. Women are legally prohibited from becoming head of
household in Korea, although they can hold property in their
own name. Should a woman be widowed, her oldest son or
grandson becomes head of the household, regardless of age.
Within the family, the father has final parental rights over
children in a case of disagreement with the mother. Women
also do not have equal status in child custody in case of
divorce. Women's rights groups are actively campaigning for
changes in family law.
In 1988 the National Assembly enacted the Equal Employment
Opportunity Law. This sets out the principle of no sex-based
discrimination in hiring and wages. It also calls for greater
protection for women in terms of conditions of work (e.g., no
night work and limits on overtime). However, the law contains
no enforcement provisions and has had no practical effect so
Section 6 Worker Rights
      a. The Right of Association
Although the Constitution provides for workers to have the
rights to independent association, collective bargaining, and
collective action, in practice this has often not been the
case. Strikes are prohibited in government agencies, state or
public-run enterprises, defense industries, and certain other
enterprises "which have a serious impact on the national
economy." During 1988, however, the Government has generally
been unwilling to enforce these prohibitions as well as many
other provisions of the labor law. Labor laws include
complicated notification procedures and 15-day "cooling-off
periods" before a strike can be called legally. Only one
union is allowed at each place of work. As there is no
minimum number of members required to form a union, this
facilitates the formation of small, company-controlled
unions. Once such a union is formed, it is difficult to
replace it with a more representative union.
All unions in Korea must be certified by the Government.
However, during a wave of labor unrest in the fall of 1987, a
large number of unions were formed and began negotiations with
employers before being formally certified. As long as
certification was completed eventually, the Government did not
attempt to decertify these unions. This marked a complete
reversal of past practice. In the fall of 1988, the Government
registered the first union federation not associated with the
conservative Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU) , thus
breaking the FKTU's monopoly. Up until that time, the FKTU
had virtual veto power over union registration. Whether the
registration of this new federation is a break with the past
or simply a single-case exception is unclear.
The FKTU is affiliated with the International Confederation of
Free Trade Unions. Most of its constituent unions maintain
affiliations with international trade secretariats.
There is no independent system of labor courts in Korea. The
Central and Local Labor Committees form a semiautonomous
agency of the Ministry of Labor that adjudicates disputes in
accordance with the Labor Dispute Adjustment Law. Each labor
committee is composed of equal representation from labor,
management, and "the public interest." The Local Labor
Committees are empowered to decide on remedial measures in
cases involving unfair labor practices and to mediate and
arbitrate labor disputes. Most disputes are resolved at the
tiOcal Labor Committee level.
in 1988 the Government generally stayed out of labor
disputes. One exception was a strike by railroad engineets.
The Government moved decisively to break this strike, which
was illegal under Korean law.
      b. The Right to Organize and Bargain Collectively
The Constitution provides for independent association,
collective bargaining, and collective action. In practice,
however, this has often not been the case. Korea's system of
labor laws does not extend the right to bargain collectively
to government employees and employees of state or public-run
enterprises, defense industries, and certain other key
industries. A 1985 law provides that worker rights are not to
be handled differently in export processing zones (EPZ's). In
practice, equal treatment in EPZ's has been the norm only
since the summer of 1987.
Many of Korea's major employers are strongly antiunion. "Save
the Company Squads" are employed to beat up union organizers
and intimidate workers. Labor activists say they have
documentary evidence of at least 30 instances of attacks on
union organizers by company-hired strong-arm men. As
mentioned in the section on disappearances, there are still
cases of labor organizers being kidnaped. While uncommon,
there have been cases of violence against property by workers,
sometimes resulting in a good deal of property damage.
      c. Prohibition of Forced or Compulsory Labor
Forced or compulsory labor is not practiced by the
Government. A 1987 scandal involving a government-subsidized
welfare center for the destitute in Pusan revealed that many
inmates were being held against their will and made to engage
in forced labor. However, a subsequent investigation
indicated that the Government was not directly involved,
although there was gross negligence on the part of local
      d. Minimum Age for Employment of Children
The Korean Labor Standards Law prohibits the employment of
persons under the age of 13 without a special employment
certificate from the Ministry of Labor. However, because
there is compulsory education until the age of 13, few special
employment certificates are issued for full time employment.
Some children are allowed to do part-time jobs such as selling
newspapers. In order to gain employment, children under 18
must have written approval from parents or guardian. Minors
may be required to work only a limited amount of overtime and
are prohibited from working at night without special permission
from the Ministry of Labor. Nevertheless, employers often
treat those under 18 as "regular" workers, and do not accord
them the legal protections to which they are entitled. A
large proportion of production line workers in labor-intensive
industries such as textiles, apparel, footwear, and electronics
are girls in their midteens. These girls work often in small,
cramped and sometimes dangerous workplaces.
      e. Acceptable Conditions of Work
Korea implemented a minimum wage law in 1988. There is a
two-tiered minimum wage system, and minimum wage levels are to
be reviewed annually. The minimum wage for some industries
like textiles is $150 per month, for other industries it is
$158 per month. In many small establishments, below-minimum
wages are still paid.
A survey conducted by a team from Seoul National University on
commission from the Federation of Korean Trade Unions (FKTU)
concludes that a single, urban industrial worker requires a
minimum salary of $187 per month and a couple about $354 per
month, well above the minimum wage level. However, the
Ministry of Labor (MOL) asserts that the average Korean bluecollar
worker takes home quite a bit more money than his basic
salary. According to MOL, basic pay accounts for only about
65 percent of a worker's total remuneration, with the rest
consisting of overtime and bonuses. Current Bank of Korea
statistics report that the average monthly wage for industrial
workers in the third quarter of 1988 was $481.
Income distribution in Korea is quite good when compared to
other countries at similar levels of economic development. In
1985, the top 20 percent of all households earned 43.7 percent
of national income, while the lowest 40 percent of all
households earned 17.7 percent of national income. Korea's
Economic Planning Board estimates that the 1988 average
monthly earnings for workers in industrial establishments
employing 10 or more persons were $578 per month, up $108 over
the previous year. Pockets of urban poverty still remain, but
the abject poverty common to many developing countries has
largely been eliminated. According to a 1986 government
estimate, 6.8 percent of the population lived below the
absolute poverty line.
The Labor Standards Law and the Industrial Safety and Health
Law provide for a maximum 60-hour workweek, paid overtime,
holidays and vacation, and a safe working environment.
According to the Government, the average Korean worker works
51.9 hours a week. The Labor Ministry is studying ways to
reduce the average workweek to 44-48 hours