Minister BAN Ki-moon's election to be the next UN
October 12, 2006
A minister of the Korean Government is likeliest to be elected as
the next UN Secretary-General. The Minister of Foreign Affairs and Trade of
Republic of Korea, Mr. BAN Ki-moon, is preparing for his acceptance speech at
the UN General Assembly on Friday.
The Korean Government has made great efforts to win his seat. Now
his election is regarded in the Korean media as the biggest outcome of Korean
diplomacy. The minister himself stated, "It's a huge honor for Korea."
The UN is supposed to aim at contributing to "peace and security,
development and human rights", according to Mr. BAN's speech on the decision of
UN Security Council on October 9, and the UN Secretary-General is expected to
play a critical role in realising such aims.
However, the Korean Government's attitude and policies that it has
shown since Korea joined the
UN and its agencies, especially the ILO, cause deep concern, in that Mr. BAN, a
minister of Republic of Korea, is likely to take over the office
of the next UN Secretary-General - a position that requires responsibility,
integrity and reliability.
has never fulfilled its obligations as a member country of the UN and the ILO, a
UN specialised agency, and has implemented the recommendations from neither the
ILO nor UN human rights related bodies.
The latest recommendation from the ILO in March 2006 states, "The
Korean Government should fully guarantee government employees' trade union
rights and refrain from any act of interference in the activities of the KGEU."
In 2001, the Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights of UN Economic
and Social Council recommended, "The right of teachers and other civil servants
to form and join trade unions, to engage in collective bargaining and to strike
should be guaranteed in law and in practice."
Nevertheless, the Korean Government has failed to implement such
Instead, the Government legislated a special act that severely
limits government employees' basic labour rights and trade union activities,
even without any consultation with government employees unions concerned.
Opinion from trade unions and many NGOs criticising and opposing such
legislation were totally ignored. According to the act, the right to associate
is granted only to a limited category of government employees, and the right to
collective bargaining is rendered substantially meaningless because collective
agreements on critical issues related to working conditions are not legally
bound. Needless to say, the right to collective activities is totally denied.
When the ILO adopted a recommendation on government employees'
trade union rights in March, the Korean Government issued a directive aiming at
destroying the KGEU. The "Directive to Promote the Transformation of Illegal
Organisations into Legal Trade Unions (Voluntary Withdrawal of Membership)"
identified the KGEU, the largest trade union in civil service representing
around 140,000 government employees, as an illegal organisation on the basis
that it hasn't submitted notice of establishment pursuant to the special act.
Furthermore, the Government indicated, "No dialogue and collective bargaining
will be permitted for the KGEU" because of its 'illegal' status. The Government
even instructed local governments to threaten KGEU members that there would be
disciplinary action for failure to comply with orders. In order to enforce this
"transformation", the directive proposed "individual contacts", "home visits",
and "telephone calls" to "persuade" the KGEU members and their family members.
The government even had the nerve to forcefully close down one of
KGEU local offices on August 30 at the same time the ILO Asia Regional Meeting
was taking place in Busan,
On September 21, 2006 at the UN General Assembly, Mr. BAN said,
"The protection of human rights is not a matter of choice. It is a solemn duty
of all responsible members of the international community. Without respect for
human rights, particularly for the most vulnerable members of society, peace and
development have little meaning". However, from the very next day, September 22
until now, KGEU local offices were attacked nation wide by riot police and
specially hired thugs armed with fire extinguishers, fire-fighting dust,
hammers, claw hammers, hammer drills and power saws to forcefully close offices
down. 125 KGEU offices have been shut down and in many cases doors and walls of
union offices were broken through while doors to union offices were sealed off,
in some cases even welded, with iron plates or bars. The KGEU members inside the
offices were violently pulled out. More than a hundred of KGEU members and
solidarity organization members were arrested and some of them were seriously
The Korean Government should pay attention to voices from the
international community, which has repeatedly raised concerns and protests about
labour repression in Korea. It should realise that the
continuing disregard for international human rights standards makes a
laughingstock out of the Korean Government when it boasts of its promise for
"contribution to the international community in resolving conflicts, assisting
developing countries, and strengthening human rights and democracy around the
the Korean Government sincerely wants one of its ministers to become the UN
Secretary-General, and if it truly thinks of Mr. BAN's election as "a huge honor
for Korea", then it should first of all implement ILO and UN recommendations, or
at least come up with concrete plans to take necessary steps - the first of
which should be stopping repression on the KGEU and instead recognising and
beginning talks with the union.