Republic of Korea: UN rights expert calls for probe in death of 69-year old protester

28 September 2016

Expressing dismay over the death of a protestor who was injured by the police use of a water cannon on a peaceful rally last year in the country, a United Nations human rights expert has called for a full investigation into the incident and to ensure that such a “tragedy” is never repeated.

“I call for a full and independent investigation into the police’s use of water cannon during the rally of November 2015 that unambiguously led to Mr. Baek [Nam-gi]’s death according to video footage available,” United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association Maina Kiai said in a news release issued by the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).

“The perpetrators should be held accountable and the family of Mr. Baek receive appropriate compensation; in addition, adequate measures must be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future,” he added.

On 14 November 2015, Mr. Baek, a 69-year-old farmer, was injured by the use of water cannon while taking part in a peaceful rally in the country’s capital, Seoul, and remained in a coma until his passing on 25 September this year.

The Special Rapporteur also reiterated his recommendation made to the authorities in his country report of June this year to “review tactics used for the management of assemblies –including the use of water cannons and bus barricades – to ensure that they are not applied indiscriminately or against peaceful protestors, they do not result in escalation of tensions, and are directed at facilitating rather than preventing the exercise of assembly rights.”

He also echoed similar recommendations made in his joint report with the former Special Rapporteur on the extrajudicial, summary or arbitrary executions, Christof Heyns, on the proper management of public assemblies presented to the UN Human Rights Council in March this year.

In the news release, the UN rights expert expressed his condolences to the relatives and friends of Mr. Baek, and called on the authorities respect the will of the family not to have the body of Mr. Baek taken for autopsy.

According to OHCHR, the police and the Prosecutor’s Office had requested a warrant from the Seoul Central District Court to proceed with an autopsy as the cause of death is allegedly not clear, but it was denied by the court. They have reportedly filed another request.

Mr. Kiai’s call has been endorsed by the Special Rapporteur on the situation of human rights defenders, Mr. Michel Forst; the Special Rapporteur on torture and other cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment or punishment, Mr. Juan Mendez; and the Special Rapporteur on the implications for human rights of the environmentally sound management and disposal of hazardous substances and wastes, Mr. Baskut Tuncak.

Independent Experts and Special Rapporteurs, are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

 

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