[View point]Stop worshipping Amnesty

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[View point]Stop worshipping Amnesty

Recently, Amnesty International announced the results of its investigation into the anti-U.S. beef candlelight vigils. Amnesty reported that human rights had been infringed on in the course of police handling of the demonstrations.

There are a number of different opinions on the report. Some suggest accepting the results and learning from them, while others raise doubts about the impartiality of the investigation. The media are advocating their own views and politicians are stepping forward to offer their thoughts on the issue.

Amnesty International is an international nongovernmental organization working with the goal of creating a world where every person on earth enjoys the human rights that they deserve. It is not an official group under the United Nations, but Amnesty’s reports are given close attention both domestically and internationally because of the group’s efforts to improve human rights conditions around the world for over four decades.

Koreans also have faith in the role of Amnesty’s local branch, as it has made great contributions to the country in the course of the democratization and human rights movements when Korea was controlled by authoritarian regimes.

In fact, Amnesty International was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1977 and the United Nations Human Rights Prize in 1978. It has expressed constant interest in the poor level of human rights in North Korea, despite the fact that the South Korean government has thus far been reluctant to speak up on the issue for various reasons.

However, this time, the investigation result could be exploited politically, and we cannot say that the investigation itself, nor the results that it reached, have been entirely impartial. There is a concern that Koreans might lose their trust in the organization that had accumulated over a long period.

The candlelight vigils of late have very often turned violent, with protesters damaging police cars and assaulting officers. Amnesty International, however, reduced such violence to the acts of a few protesters. On the other hand, the report went into detail in criticizing the way the police blocked protesters from marching to the Blue House. There also has been a mistranslation in a section of the report that criticized the police. Furthermore, in spite of an explanation by the police, the report included a claim that they used excessive force and infringed on the human rights of the demonstrators.

There are signs that some progressive civic groups are attempting to use the Amnesty report as an opportunity to relight the flickering candlelight protests that have lost the support of citizens. The report might also be exploited in the investigation or trial of the protest leaders who have either already been arrested or are wanted by police. Such behavior is an insult to the country’s citizens.

While some considered the prolonged, large-scale candlelight vigils in the middle of the capital to be a political festival, such rallies are obviously unlawful nighttime demonstrations that violate the laws of assembly and demonstrations. The merchants around Gwanghwamun have filed a lawsuit seeking compensation for lost income caused by the protests. Those who live or work in the vicinity are also preparing lawsuits.

Amnesty International’s report must be based on the idea that lawful police action to suppress illegal and violent demonstrations is an infringement of human rights. Either that, or the report is biased and neglects the rights of merchants affected by the protests.

Amnesty International should apply impartial and universal standards in investigating the human rights conditions surrounding the candlelight vigils and in analyzing and presenting the report. It must mention the fact that the rallies presented direct cause for the police to get involved, as well as the infringement on the basic rights of the merchants and residents in the neighborhood.

If not, the report is saying that all protests should be allowed unconditionally, regardless of the laws and potential damage, and that the government must not try to restrict the demonstrations.

Korea is no longer an underdeveloped nation with inferior human rights conditions. The idol-worship of Amnesty International from the days of authoritarian government needs exist here no longer. It does not suit the status of Korea today if we unconditionally accept Amnesty International’s position or become overly attached to the report. The government needs to accept appropriate, deserved criticism, but also must respond with confidence to those points that Amnesty got wrong.

*The writer is acting president and secretary general of Lawyers for Citizens. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.

by Lee Heon
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