The Global Digest

Interview Story

Korean civil society MANNAM to convene a World Peace Initiative

Aug 10, 2012

Independence Day Festival at War Memorial Museum

The World Peace Initiative global launching event will be held on September 16, 2012 ( rally in South Korea. A Korean based international volunteer organization MANNAM Volunteer Association is organizing the event with cooperation with Peace One Day.

MANNAM is the largest volunteer organization in South Korea with international branches across the globe. MANNAM efforts to a more peaceful world around the globe by volunteering through young people, senior people, professional, businessman, religious leaders and all kind of people from different background with their time, talent and passion to raise awareness of UN’s efforts to improve the lives of billions.

The MANNAM was started in just 2008, but it has tremendous popular and raised members approximately 70,000 in South Korea and 20,000 in around the world, such as from those countries, US,South Africa and UK ,said Paul Jung and Michelle Kim. Actually, it is an international organization.

According to Paul Jung, MANNAM has over 80 thousand volunteers from about 90 different countries, and is proud to launch this upcoming festival of the World Peace Initiative (WPI) which is to be held in Seoul ,Republic of Korea on September 16th. The WPI festival aims to hold as the largest peace festival and its expected attendees are around 100,000 people including various extinguished visitors, famous performers, diplomats and influential individuals from around the world.

Moreover, the World Peace Initiative (WPI) is an ongoing project operating on an international scale, currently in collaboration with representatives of various countries around the world. MANNAM is also a coalition partner with “Peace One Day”, founded by Jeremy Gilley from the U.K. and MANNAM is working in collaboration for the Global Truce 2012 (working towards a day of ceasefire and non-violence).

Honorary Chairman Mr. Man Hee Lee was a veteran and has a strong patriotic mind. He also wants Korean peninsula unification peacefully, not by political means. We want to demonstrate to the world that world peace can be a reality, not a vague dream. Peace may be hard to grasp at first, but through your support will be able to make a difference and bring world’s attention to this unforeseen global peace event, said Paul Jung.

The MANNAM had the largest event, a celebration for Veteran, with 15,000 participants in Sejong Culture Centre in downtown Seoul City on June 16, 2010.

The MANNAM services are producing many volunteers for volunteer activities, such as relief food and clothes, cleansing, free hair cut, interpretation, free language classes of Korean, Spanish, Russian and English, sport program such as Judo, Taekwondo and soccer, especially for foreign community in South Korea.

The upcoming September 16 great event is expected hundred thousands of people will attended from around the world, where the organization will give away MANNAM’s clothes, foods and transportation to the participants. As well as, the event will sophisticated with concert such as sports competition, culture booths and international parade to be held.

See you in September!

Contact: Tel: (+82) 2–512-6719 – Office / (+82)10-6486-8264 – Steve Kim (mobile)

Interview with Layne Hartsell, Seoul Global Study Group

Jun 15, 2012

Prof. Layne Hartsell, holding a kid of restaurant staff

Global Digest: What is the group called ‘Action Against MBC racist reporting’?
Layne Hartsell: It’s an online group that grew very rapidly after an MBC video depicting ‘mixed’ relationships. The group, or I should say the admins, were certainly overwhelmed with the response. They are decent people, trying to get the information out in the public. So, it’s a protest. In my case, two of their leaders misled their members, but that issue you have already published in long form. I would add that many, many Koreans were just shocked at the video. Still are. Universal and generalized human rights are easily recognized by what I think is some kind of innate, moral ability for synthesis. It works no matter what country you come from, like innate language structures. We can choose to not use that ability, but that is a choice.

GD: What is the main issue about someone contacting an employer?
LH: There is a logic here, understood widely: 1. If anyone will go and cause trouble at an employer for someone, then that action is a threat to everyone. [if there is something criminal, then go to the police not the employer]. In the current case, I contacted a lawyer, not the individual's employer; he contacted and complained to the employer] Actually, we both work at the same place. This is the primary reason why many teachers are horrified because of contacting my employer.

GD: Why didn't you say you worked at the same university and had a prior conflict with the individual who went to your employer?
LH: I had to check with legal advisor to see if it was ok. This person who went to my employer was characterized as a: 'vendetta the Action Against MBC page administrator had against Hartsell’ quoting a recent media commentary. I revealed that information once I had better information, including the fact that he didn't call the office, but went to our office. The owner of their page threatened to call my employer, after an exchange of angry emails between us. I have about as much information as most people reading my posts. I have not been privy to further inside information. Let me explain:
LH: By the same logic, if someone threatens to call an employer, they that threat could go towards anyone. This is the other problem in the current dispute with the online group. The owner of the group threatened to call my employer. Whether he did or not, I do not know. I have not heard yes or no from authorities here. Calling, contacting or walking into an employee’s place of work and complaining is usually interpreted as causing trouble and trying to get them fired. Doesn’t matter who they are. The response of many in the community shows that the implication is understood.

GD: What about private websites and pages and the public?
LH: This is a major debate today e.g. if a person 'owns' a site and there is public debate on the page and he/she begins to censor things people doesn't like, he will claim it is his right to do so. It seems at the moment, that this is true. However, the public needs to be educated on media literacy, and demand that sites be open and transparent with a code of ethics. There are some good codes out there, like on Al Jazeera. There also should be a process by which members can complain if a certain post is deleted. This means there should be an administrative team. All of the above allows for peer review. Thus, we have to use pages and sites with this knowledge in mind. People who become members need to be notified by who/whom the page is monitored and what are the rules. If we see a site without such moderation, then it is definitely ‘use at your own risk.’

GD: Let me ask you about some of the attacks on you.
LH: Sure….

GD: I interviewed you in your office last year so I know where you work and that you are a professor. Some are saying you aren’t a professor? Are you a professor:
LH: That may be a compliment, depending. At school, I ask my students to just call me Layne, following the examples of philosophers Daniel Dennett and Thomas Pogge. The reason is to give an informal environment for shared learning together. Anyway, everyone knows I want to be a farmer.

GD: You have been attacked, about you, about your work. There has been online criticism of your publications and where they are published?
LH: That criticism is just denigration, it’s not coming from peer review, but some folks online who have not identified themselves, so it can be dismissed. I suppose they could write a piece to challenge my premises and conclusions in those papers, and submit their work to the IEEE etc. Then, I would be able to change or update untenable arguments. This is how the process works. But I don’t think those hecklers are serious.
Actually, I haven’t really done that much academic publication, a lot of my work has been in activism or service. Probably what you are talking about, or anyway the best I have done to this point in academics is publishing with: London School of Economics and IEEE (Int'l Engineering society) which are large academies, with a number of different journals and publications. Yes, I have co-authored papers on a number of topics mostly philosophy of science. There are some strictly biomedical publications as well. But in these fields you have to produce a body of works to develop a theory and so on.

GD: Let me ask some important social questions.
LH: Sure…

GD: You have said that the foreigner online group has a weak human rights argument, Why?
LH: quote was to say that in many cases the westerner argument is weaker, not weak, because there are other arguments out there. The primary directive is to do no harm. The second, is to make repayment when we have done harm. And, then finally to help others. If one is significantly participating in a harmful system, but then tries to do good works, there will be contradiction in that. Thus, it is important to check first on the primary duties, before moving on to doing good works and protest (which are much needed as well).

GD: What are your views on Human Rights –
LH: If we accept human rights for ourselves and honor the struggles and sacrifices that went into securing them, then we have a duty to the principle of human rights. Therefore, inactivity is not an option. This is the fundamental basis, however, many feel they can enjoy their comforts without protecting essential rights and access for all people to needs. It's an elementary moral principle. Westerners living in Asia, while it can be difficult, are in a far more privileged position than, for example, those signified by the concept of migrant worker. There is a lot of work to be done for teachers but certainly there is a large difference in the current case. Incidentally, I didn't see one migrant worker on the Action Against MBC page, unless migrant workers were using aliases, which were western names, and had impeccable English. I think that by and large, the westerners have not reached out to them, which is a moral hazard, though I do know some who have devoted a lot of their time to providing medical care, clothing and so on. It’s a good way to spend free time and any extra money one might have to donate. We should applaud those folks.

GD: What are your views on culture?
LH: It’s important, such as language, artifacts and so on. Take for example, the real estate in Seoul is very expensive, astronomical; there is a lot of money to be made there. So, why preserve the beautiful old courts and palaces, and the gates like Dongdaemun? There is a reason, maybe not mathematical; it’s because they have deep cultural meaning. Life is not all economics. There are some major debates on multiculturalism at the moment, but no time to go into it here. Culture is important to people, it’s a root, a reference.

GD: How to do respond to the criticism that westerners come to Korea and have comfortable lives, spending their time partying and do little of anything else?
LH: Well, it's a somewhat clear picture, but it’s a generalization, not a very dangerous one. I mentioned this before. It's largely true and perhaps it upsets many Korean and foreign people alike. In my view, anytime we go to live, or even visit, a foreign country, it is good to move with those people, learn the language as best you doesn't take much, and can be very enjoyable. In the case of the MBC video, it clearly points to the partying atmosphere where certain non-normal public behaviors can occur and push even the limits of law. There is a strong selfish element there, but it should be noted that human rights are inviolable, inalienable, so whatever we think of such behavior; to target anyone is a serious issue. In the video there is a disclaimer, in fact, I measured the time the disclaimer was in the video. It went, "...only a small few [of foreigners]..." This was 5 secs out of an ~300 second video or 0.01% of the time. Not much time to reveal their ‘benevolent’ intent to expose a social ill, and it probably was missed by many viewers.

GD: What do you think about MBC, corporation?
LH: Don’t know much about them. You mean in this case…well, I think they have made a serious moral error. I don’t know what they really intend, various arguments I have heard are that MBC could be racist or trying to make money, or need a story because of some current problem and so on. All of these I have heard. My guess is that they probably aren’t over the top racist, but if they are, the Korean society is not going to tolerate it. I have mostly heard of disgust from many Koreans.

GD: What are your activities with the poor?
LH: There was a release by several intellectuals and friends, and of course international social media. So, most of that is out there. I suppose the most interesting is building village seed banks.

GD: There is talk on websites that Koreans are racist?
LH: That’s a dangerous generalization, and would also be to characterize foreigners in such a way. I don’t recall seeing any of that on the page for ‘Action Against MBC.’ I do think it should be important to talk and act on racist elements, especially in systems and structures.

GD: You have had some very serious attacks on you, some potentially physical. How do you hold up?
LH: I really don’t know. Like anyone, I try to get as much information which is available and then make decisions. A lot of it just comes with the territory of working out various ethics in society.

GD: A little about you. What do you like to do? Do you work all of the time?
LH: Ha ha, you asked this question a couple years ago…well in academics or activism there is always something pressing and so there is always plenty of work. Applied ethics…media literacy…critical thinking are important. The idea is to learn to focus and be efficient.

GD: What do you do in your free time?
LH: Well, I think the work is to advocate for ideas and practical solutions, to let the ideas and evidence stand for themselves. But, a little… I listen to and play a little classical guitar, listen to Paco de Lucia, Miguel Espinoza, Pablo Milanes, Silvio Rodriquez. Beethoven, Mozart. I like gardening, trail running in the tradition of the Tarahumar Indians of Northern Mexico, and the great American athlete, the late Micah True. I don’t run so far though. Anyway, the ideas I explore in my work, anyone can put forth and personal likes and dislikes, successes or failures are not so important. Thanks for asking.

GD: Your view on the current economic situation?
LH: It’s a mess, a disaster. At this point, it needs some kind of Keynesian response, but I am plagiarizing here from Thomas Pogge, Ha Joon Chang, Amartya Sen, Steiglitz. I can only tell you what they say.

GD: Thank you for your time
LH: Anytime 

South Korea

Congresswoman Hye Seong Kim on minority Multicultural Society in South Korea

By John S Thang
Apr. 8, 2012

Congresswoman Hye Seong Kim(R)

At her book inauguration ceremony in the National Assembly Library hall, Congresswoman Hye Seong Kim said "I'll commit myself to the office of congresswoman and study hard for it."

She decided to focus on special issues during her term as congresswoman; one of them being minority “Multicultural” affairs. After she settled on this issue she organized the Multicultural Family Policy Forum, and assumed the role of forum chairwoman. At the same time as this, she was visiting multicultural families and immigrant workers all around the country to get a sense of the struggle that they go through as minorities in South Korean society. Furthermore, she held a series of conferences and policy seminars on “Multicultural Policy” to improve the welfare network for multicultural people in South Korea.

She declared that "every single person was born equal". But, she said, the reality does not always reflect this. In Korean society, multicultural people are social minorities in the country and they suffer from discrimination. These multicultural people and social minorities include refugees, marriage immigrants, migrant workers and North Korean refugees.

Congresswoman Kim asked the government and Korean people to address the problem of discrimination against multicultural groups and minorities in the society before it's too late. She went on to add that “we have to embrace them as one of us, members of our own society.”

As a representative of the "Multicultural Family Policy Forum," she has met a lot of Multicultural people in person. She understands that their problems include migrant marriage issues, job problems, the language barrier, and so on.

She warned “if our generation procrastinates in fulfilling the obligation of addressing the issue of discrimination on multicultural diversity, it will be the generation of our children who should pay for the cost followed by it.” Therefore, she called for building policy and legislative works to help out those "Multicultural“ people. She stated it is "now and at this moment" that South Korean people need to act.

Congresswoman Hye Seong Kim graduated from Yonsei University Graduate School with Ph.D and M.A in Business Administration, and B.B.A from Sookmyung Women's University. She is a Member of the 18th National Assembly, Strategy and Finance Committee & Gender Equality and Family Committee, Chairwoman of the Multicultural Family Policy Forum (2009-2012), and a Manager of the Gender Equality, Central Secretariat, Pro-Park Coalition and Vice-Director of the Institute for Development of Future Strategy, Pro-Park Coalition (2008 - 2009), and a Member of the Planning Committee, Strategy Planning Headquarters, Grand National Party (2006 - 2008), and Director of the Next Office, Presidential Secretary's Office 3rd Degree (1993 - 1998), and a Manager of Policy and Plan in Gender Equality, Central Secretariat, Democratic Liberal Party (1990 - 1993), and a Manager of the Gender Equality, Central Secretariat, New Democratic Republican Party (1987 - 1990). She used to be a Lecturer at The University of Seoul, Soongsil University, and Sookmyung Women's University (1984 - 1997).

The Global Digest editor Barry Welsh edited to this story.

North Korea

The Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights

By Barry Welsh
Staff Writer & Editor
Feb. 27, 2012

Staff members of North Korean Human Rights

2011 was a significant year for Seoul based NGO, the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights (NKHR). Not only did they publish two new briefing reports, they also celebrated their 15th anniversary campaigning for Human Rights in North Korea. The Global Digest met NKHR Program Officer, Eun Young Kim, to learn about the work carried out by the NGO:

“We celebrated our 15th anniversary last year. When NKHR started in 1996 it was one of the first civil organisations related to North Korean human rights issues. Mainly we have been doing three things. The first is raising awareness about North Korean Human Rights issues amongst the international community because, although right now things have changed, in the late 90s into 2000 there was not much interest in these issues. So we started raising voices, especially with the international community.

Every year we organise an international conference on North Korean Human Rights and refugees. Last November we had our 11th international conference in Geneva. Our 2010 conference was in Toronto. Every year we have a different location because the purpose is that we want to raise the issues of North Korean Human Rights with specific countries’ governments, civil societies and people. So the conference has been held in Japan, Poland, Norway, England, Toronto, Australia: several different places.

One of the other things we are doing is organising lobbying activities toward the UN. The Resolution on North Korean Human Rights was accepted in 2003 and before it was accepted we did a lot of lobbying to the UN and other government officials.”

The April 15th, 2003 support for the United Nations Resolution on North Korea by the Commission on Human Rights was viewed by some as a watershed moment in international recognition of the human rights abuses taking place in North Korea. However, it quickly became apparent that the passing of the resolution was merely a gesture that condemned North Korea’s track record of human rights failures and urged the international community to intervene. It seemed the UN lacked the resources or the inclination to take more direct steps to engage with the problems they identified. The resolution is thought by many to have been largely ineffective. Its credibility was further damaged by the fact that South Korea abstained from voting.

Since this initial resolution several more, increasingly critical, resolutions have been passed that were sponsored by South Korea as well as over 50 other nations. These resolutions level severe criticisms at the North Korean government for the “persistence of continuing reports of systematic, widespread and grave violations of civil, political, economic, social and cultural rights” inside the country. The resolutions are summarily dismissed by North Korean diplomats and spokes people. Internationally, however, there has been a gradual increase in the level of support for the resolutions. This increase may partly be creditable to the lobbying work of NGOs like the NKHR. The 65th United Nations General Assembly passed the Resolution on Human Rights in North Korea with 106 ayes, 21 nays, and 55 abstentions; the number of ‘ayes’ having risen from 94 in 2008 and 99 in 2009. Eun Young Kim explains that lobbying for support of the resolution is a large part of the work undertaken by the NKHR:

“That is what we were doing in Geneva last year; trying to encourage more countries to bring permanent missions to our international conference and urging them to support the resolutions. We need to have more support on the resolutions. Every year the voting rate is changing, more countries are favouring the resolutions, but there are still many African countries, South East Asian countries and places in the Middle East that either abstain or vote ‘no’. The biggest factor in abstaining seems to be the relationship with China and other countries. The typical countries all say ‘no’ and trying to persuade a country that says ‘no’ to vote ‘yes’ is very difficult. So we try to persuade the countries who are abstaining. Right now we are more focussed on individual lobbying, on targeting specific countries like Indonesia and South Africa. South Africa abstains. Surprisingly they have been abstaining for a long time, so we visited the South African embassy last month and talked with them about the situation. That is what we have been doing: focussing on more strategic individual countries.

The resolution makes specific mention of child rights, women issues and food issues. North Korea has joined four different international laws so it also says that since they joined international laws they have to follow the rules. It can be very difficult to monitor, for example, institutional violence toward women. It’s very difficult to hear from the other side, but there are more than 20,000 North Koreans living in South Korea so we can listen to what they say, their testimonies. That’s one way to hear about what’s going on in North Korea.” Some of the most egregious human rights abuses are suffered by North Korean women forcibly repatriated from China back to North Korea. There have been reports of forced abortions performed on women who became pregnant to Chinese men.

“It is really awful. That is why we are trying to raise these issues, but China is really hard to talk to. So we just try to raise these issues internationally. We held a foreign press conference last year. We tried to raise the particular issue of forced repatriation. This issue arose in Toronto and in all the previous conferences. We try to let people know what is going to happen to the refugees after they are repatriated.”

As a part of their mission to raise international awareness, NKHR has been producing a series of briefing reports on different areas of Human Rights interest. The briefing reports published in 2011 are the 5th and 6th such reports the NGO has compiled in the last three years. The 6th report, ‘The Battered Wheel of the Revolution’, builds on the work of their fourth report from 2009: ‘Flowers, Guns and Women on Bikes’. Both are specifically concerned with the situation of women’s rights in North Korea. The earlier report argues that:

“The fundamental problem in North Korea Is the institutionalization since the 1960s of a discriminatory caste system based on one’s family background, perceived political loyalty, etc. Those policies affect in particular girls and women’s educational opportunities, occupation choices, in addition to leading to discrimination in wages and food rationing. Women living outside of Pyongyang are especially affected by this open discrimination. As Pyongyang citizenship is highly restricted, women from the provincial areas, even those with a positive family record, have limited access both to university level education and to jobs in government ministries or parliament. The Law on Equality of Sexes enacted in 1946 has little impact on the lives of women whose family record is viewed as negative.”

The reports detail cultural determinants and taboos that have shaped both the image and role of women in North Korean society. Using testimonies and information culled from a series of interviews with North Korean defectors, the sexual harassment and domestic violence women are subjected to is laid bare. Nearly all those interviewed suggested that violence against women is a common factor of North Korean social life. This abuse encompasses verbal, physical and sexual harassment or assault. Likewise, most of the interviewees claimed that there are no internal laws protecting women from violence; neither are there any shelters or support networks for women who have been assaulted, whilst domestic violence and workplace harassment in general are rarely, if ever, reported to the authorities. That these assaults go unreported is indicative of the associated shame and stigmatisation that exists in the culture, arguably because of a lack of education on the issue. 72% of interviewees answered that assaults against women went unreported because “no help will be offered anyway”. ‘Flowers, Guns and Women on Bikes’ also highlights the often unsatisfactory economic and educational rights, family and health issues affecting women in North Korea.

The 2011 report, ‘The Battered Wheel of the Revolution’, contains an even more extensive and damning analysis of violence against North Korean women: “violence against women is ubiquitous in North Korea, and is one example of the many Human Rights violations that pervade North Korean society.” The damaging effects of a prohibitively patriarchal family and social structure are again highlighted. In particular, several testimonies reveal the family unit to be where violence against women is most commonly practiced:

“In North Korea, men punch their wives right away when they get upset. We don’t have domestic violence centres that women can report to. There is no centre that solves and manages public quarrels; it is not surprising that there is no system that handles domestic fights. Even the victims think domestic violence is not a matter that can be solved by others or social centres. When the door to China opened, battered women were the first ones to consider leaving North Korea as a means to get away from their abusive husbands. When it was impossible to defect to China, women just stayed with their abusive husbands and got beaten up. When husbands abuse them, women usually run away from their husbands for a while and return home when their husbands are in a better mood. There were no laws that could solve or improve situations for women. If women report to the police, husbands go to the police station, write a letter of self-criticism and get reprimanded by the police officers. That’s all. Nothing gets better.” It is perhaps this view that informs the political as well as economic disenfranchisement experienced by women in North Korea; North Korean women are objectified and denied autonomy in a system that expects them to be obedient and passive.

Just as violence toward women of one kind or another is largely accepted in regular family life, it is also common throughout most areas of North Korean society. In recent years the underground black market has exposed more women to potential physical or sexual abuse. Partly as a result of the famine North Korea experienced in the 90s, due to a combination of devastating weather and changing international economic circumstances, more women have become involved in selling goods on the market. This often necessitates rail travel. As the activity they are engaging in is illegal they risk being exploited by the rail guards, public safety agents or the police. Although, at the moment it is thought the markets have been clamped down on, as Eun Young Kim explains:

“Because we are a human rights organisation we don’t really talk about political issues but since Kim Jong-Il died we think that the human rights situation might be getting worse; because the North Korea Chinese border was really closed down. Extra security was put there and anyone crossing the border was killed or faced very heavy punishment. And the secret market in North Korea, the black market, was closed too. This affects women because more women are selling on the black market. That was the only way for them, for normal North Koreans, to earn money nowadays because the food distribution was stopped a long time ago. So every day they sell a little stuff and get some money and that’s their life, everyday, but right now it’s all closed because of the government. It’s already an illegal market but it used to be going on secretly. They bribe the policemen and guards, for example, so that they can stay in the market but right now it is all closed which means more people are having a really difficult time finding food to eat every day. We think the human rights situation is not getting any better.” The extreme poverty and hunger that facilitated the rise of the black market are also amongst the main reasons for pushing North Korean citizens to try and escape the country. Most such attempts are made along the North Korea Chinese border.

There are huge risks involved in such attempts and potential escapees who have been caught are often sent to the notorious Political Prison Camps or even executed. For those that make it into China there are further, substantial difficulties. China does not regard escaped North Koreans as defectors or political refugees, instead viewing them as illegal economic migrants. Therefore, in the event of capture the defectors are forcibly repatriated to North Korea where they potentially face execution. Female defectors are particularly vulnerable to exploitation in China and extreme forms of physical and psychological violence upon repatriation. Many North Korean women are trafficked into China where they are sold into the sex trade by brokers. Prices are often set according to the age of the women in question and even minors are exposed to a litany of abuses including “sexual violence, forced marriage, unwanted pregnancies, abortions, physical violence, forced labour, prostitution.” The testimony of Hee Han describes one such experience:

“After selling stuff at markets, I went to China to make money. I was arrested several times. In October 2002, I was sold to a Chinese man. There were ten North Korean women in one house. The youngest one was 19 and some were in their 40s. When a Chinese man selects us, we just have to go to them. I said I didn’t want to go, but the brokers said they were going to send me back to North Korea if I didn’t obey so I followed them. I lived in Liaoning Province. My husband didn’t hit me a lot, but he always kept his eyes on me. I fought with my mother-in-law every day when I lived there. I gave birth to a baby and I got repatriated in 2005. I came back to China and lived there for a while and then got sent back to North Korea again. I decided not to go back to the same family. I decided that it would be better if I were sold to another family in Hwabook Province.” A significant part of the mission and work of the Citizen’s Alliance for North Korean Human Rights is to try and help those vulnerable North Koreans in China or other countries come to South Korea. Eun Young Kim stated:

“We try to assist North Korean refugees in China. We cannot possibly bring everybody in China because there are too many. It is very hard to estimate how many because they are all hiding. But people say there is a minimum of 30,000, up to 100,000. So whenever we receive any funds we try to focus on women and children in China. We do campaigns to raise funds. Once we gather enough funds we try to bring people into South Korea. So far we have saved around 360 people and last year alone we saved 26, almost all of them are women and children. The tribulations of North Korean defectors do not necessarily end immediately after entering South Korea. For whilst the South Korean government does accept North Korean refugees they are still subject to potentially several months of interrogation, followed by several more months of compulsory life skills training:

“South Korea accepts any North Korean refugees as long as they pass the interrogation process. As soon as they come to South Korea they are put into the interrogation centre and they need to stay there up to six months for investigations. They need to check everything over there - hometown, their name, their educational background, because in rare cases there are some spy issues. As long as they pass the investigation process they can be South Korean citizens. After the investigation process there is another mandatory process: they need to stay in Hanawon for three months for training in South Korean society. Here they teach basic stuff about the culture, history, policy rules, computer, English, and things like that. Unfortunately not many of the North Korean defectors are happy about Hanawon.”

Despite arguably having one of the best programs in the world for refugees the government run Hanawon Resettlement Centre is frequently unpopular with the North Koreans resettling in the South. The NKHR report, ‘Homecoming Kinsmen or Indigenous Foreigners?’ published last year reveals their dissatisfaction; 56.8% of respondents claimed not to use the information taught in the Hanawon centres and the overwhelming majority, 87.5%, felt that the duration of Hanawon training should not be extended. Furthermore, the respondents were generally unenthusiastic about the quality of education they received. Finally, the report reveals that the Hanawon Centres are the least trusted institution amongst North Korean re-settlers. Eun Young Kim explains:

“I think there are several reasons why. One could be the program itself is not very interesting to them. Think about it, they came from a completely different world and they don’t know anything, not much about South Korean society, and then they cross the border and then hiding for several months and then they come into South Korea and are taught all this different stuff. It can be very hard for them to focus on those issues because they don’t know what this means to them yet. I don’t think teaching them everything like this is very efficient for them.

It is intensive, and a different thing that they mention is that they prefer the Hana centres. [Drop in centres available to North Korean re-settlers after they are released into South Korean society]. They prefer if they can train at some different time after first settling down in a community. They prefer having training in those times once they get into the society and can see what is going on. If they can have more training then it might be more useful than just training everything in the Hanawon period.

Then, a lot of people have mental problems. What they have been through is kind of unimaginable and they also need to worry about their families back home. Things like that. So many things are going on in their mind and then for three months they need to stay in one place and have all these different kinds of education. It can be very stressful for them.”

The stress involved in this kind of accelerated acculturation process is an important factor in the lives of newly arrived North Korean re-settlers. Upon arrival in South Korea they have to adjust to life in a vastly different environment. There is a significant disparity between the society and culture of North Korea and that of South Korea. The former is a totalitarian country whose populace are cut off from the wider world in many ways. North Korean education is heavily influenced by official propaganda that primarily delivers the regime’s distorted world view. The majority of the country’s population reportedly receive little education about the history or nature of large parts of the rest of the world. South Korea, on the other hand, is a capitalist, democratic and increasingly multicultural society.

“I think we as South Korean people usually think that even though they were poor and the way they think is a bit different, they are Korean as well. For them being in a democratic country is completely different because it is a completely different system. Everything for them is shocking, even just little things like, right now, the streets signs in South Korea are combined with foreign languages. So we think it is very minor, every South Korean knows about this even if they don’t recognise what it means. I think in cultural issues language is a very big thing; they cannot really have proper relationships with other people because of the language barrier, especially because the foreign language is English.

When they first come to South Korea most people have never heard about Christmas, they have never heard about McDonalds or Burger King, common fast food shops. They have never heard about these things so whilst we take them for granted they really don’t know, so we have to explain all the basic things like this. The NKHR’s education team takes South Korean volunteers every Saturday to a Hanawon as a voluntary activity. They go there and meet kids and teach English and mathematics in the morning and then in the afternoon they have some fun time. Last Christmas, since the kids they don’t really know what Christmas is, the volunteers went to Hanawon and they made Christmas cards together and decorated cup cakes. This is the first time for them to have these strange experiences. They are junior high kids, 14 to 20 years old, and they need to be taught what Christmas is, what it’s about and other things like that, really basic culture.”

Helping school and college age North Korean defectors is one of the main areas the NKHR is engaged in. The ‘Homecoming Kinsmen or Indigenous Foreigners?' report suggests that “this is a particularly important group to focus on” and “the greatest efforts of South Korean society should be directed to this group.” It is believed that the younger North Korean defectors can more readily assimilate to their new environment, their youth allowing them to establish firmer foundations in the new society than perhaps older defectors can. The young North Korean defectors who continue their education in South Korea may potentially play significant roles in the future relations of the two countries. The NKHR has established several programs to help integrate them into South Korean society:

“We try to help North Korean defectors adjust to living in South Korea. Right now there are more than 20,000 North Korean defectors living in South Korea so it’s quite a huge group. We cannot possibly cover everybody so we focus on North Korean youth defectors, junior high school and college students. The education team have various types of education programs. We have the ‘Becoming One’ program. The North Korean kids have a very difficult time adjusting to school life because of the language barrier, even though they speak Korean. Other kids pick up on their accents. And the culture is very different. In Korean society school is very competitive and the defectors have not really had a proper education, not even in North Korea, and when they cross the border into China - if they are lucky, they will only spend a few months there but usually they can spend 2, 3, 4 years there. The kids cannot have a proper education in China either. So even though they start going to school in South Korea they don’t really have basic knowledge so it’s very hard for them to adjust to school life. That’s why we wanted to help them a little bit.

Every year we organise a seasonal school, ‘Hangyoreh’, during winter and summer vacations for gatherings of North Korean kids, around 30 or 40 students. For two or three weeks we put them in one place and teach them basic stuff like mathematics and English because, usually, North Korean kids feel these are very difficult subjects. And this year we had history classes and a special curriculum with training on democratic issues.

The idea of the ‘Becoming One’ outings is to combine North Korean kids with South Korean kids. So once or twice every month they gather and join some activities together. Whilst they are doing the activities they can naturally make friends and talk about themselves, their pasts and their difficulties. Sometimes they go mountain climbing or visit museums or water rafting. At the end of the year the North Korean kids and the South Korean kids make presentations about what they learned and what they felt about each other. We had those presentations last December and the kids organised everything themselves.”

The research indicates this type of support is beneficial for North Korean students in adapting to the South Korean schooling system. However, there are still problems: the dropout rate for North Korean students is several times higher than that of South Korean students:

“They usually go to normal public high schools but some kids stay in a special education system only for North Korean kids. So if they drop out from the normal public high school they go to the schools only for North Korean kids. Either they stay there or they can have individual education; they can study by themselves and then try to pass the exams and then they have the right to apply for university or higher education.

I’ve been several times to our seasonal winter school and there are 30 to 35 people there usually from 15 to 22 years old. Usually the North Korean kids are very small because they couldn’t eat healthily. I saw one girl who looked to be elementary school level but it turned out she was 19 years old. She is now a middle school student. Usually North Korean kids who go to school are two, three years younger than their class mates. That’s one issue they can’t really adjust from because their fellow classmates are usually younger. And then they are usually small even though they are older, their physical body figure is much smaller. And then those kids don’t really have basic knowledge, especially English and mathematics so it’s kind of impossible for them to catch up with classmates. That’s the problem. They need to really have extra, extra support from outside, like social welfare centres or our organisation. But I will say those kids who can get involved with different kinds of activities are lucky because besides Seoul, in the provinces, there are not really many similar programs.”

One of the more uncomfortable truths presented by the ‘Homecoming Kinsmen or Indigenous Foreigners?’ report is the bias and discrimination North Koreans experience at the hands of South Koreans. The majority of North Korean re-settlers working in the South reported some form of discrimination or bias against them when they revealed they came from the North. These findings are reflected in the results of the ‘2010 Unification Consciousness Survey’ in which 57.5% of respondents answered that they “do not feel friendly” towards North Korea re-settlers. An NKHR survey found that less than half of the North Koreans interviewed felt welcome in South Korea, with many responding that they felt they were a “burden” on South Korean society. The physical division of the country seems to have extended into the minds of both North and South Koreans. The wider South Korean society often appears indifferent to the plight of their North Korean brothers on the other side of the DMZ. Less than 200 South Korean citizens participated in a recent protest organised in central Seoul and there are reportedly few examples of education programs in schools or universities. Many NGOs like NKHR actively call for increased education to help South Korean society understand the human rights abuses that happen in the North.

“That is what we are trying to do. We are trying to re-educate South Koreans. That’s why we organise programs for South Koreans as well. Our educational team organises several volunteer camps for targeting South Korean college students or just normal people who are interested in North Korean issues. Every year we gather 50, 60, 70 South Korean people and educate them about what’s been going on in North Korea, about the human rights situation, why the defectors had to cross the border, what’s their situation living in China, their difficulties living in South Korea. We try and educate them on all these issues so they can have a proper concept of the situation of the defectors.

The other activity aimed at South Koreans is the ‘Beautiful Dream’ concert. Every year we organise a concert to raise funds and to educate people who attend. Last year was quite successful. We gathered almost 1200 people and we showed two films we made; we interviewed three North Korean kids about their lives in North Korea, why they had to cross the border and what their life in China was like and in the second film they talked about their difficulties adjusting to South Korea and how they got through those difficulties. We showed those two films and the comments were very, very positive – “I didn’t really know what was going on in North Korea”, this kind of thing. Many South Korean people don’t really know or think about the situation so we are trying to change their opinions. They have stereotyped ideas of North Korean we want to change. Not many organisations are doing this kind of program or education so, alone, it is not very powerful. We want to do this kind of thing all over the country but because of a lack of resources we can only focus on the Seoul area.”

Recent events have underlined the vital importance of the work carried out by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights. Between the 7th and 14th of February around 30 North Korean defectors were arrested in China. The Chinese Public Security Ministry has been cracking down n defectors and those arrested will likely be repatriated very soon. In December last year Kim Jong-un stated that not only will all defectors be killed but three generations of their family will be also be executed. There is a very real possibility that many lives will be lost.

The dire plight of those arrested highlights the significance o the work done by the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights: North Korean defectors in China desperately need help to avoid capture; the South Korean public needs to be educated about what is happening to defectors; and the defectors who are lucky enough to reach South Korea need help to adjust.

On the 14th of February the Citizens’ Alliance for North Korean Human Rights was one of a number of NGOs who rallied together to protest outside the Chinese embassy in Seoul. There were around 100 people at the demonstration; many were visibly angry and emotional. Since then NKHR has arranged several more protests in an attempt to galvanise public, political and international support for the arrested defectors in China. On the 23rd of February a group of protestors including many activists and North Korean re-settlers gathered in Gwanghwamun Square. Together they marched to the Chinese embassy and staged another protest. As of today there has been no news about the status of the arrested North Korean defectors.

Seoul City’s new mayor, Park Won-soon, discusses his background in Human Rights and Civil Activism and reveals his plans for the city.

By John S Thang & Barry Welsh
Feb. 3, 2012

Mayor Park Won-soon(C) and the writers

In May 1975 Seoul City’s new mayor, 55 year old Park Won-soon, was arrested and imprisoned for four months after joining a demonstration against Park Chung-hee’s military dictatorship. He had just entered Seoul National University and was a freshman at the time of his arrest. Upon his release he was forbidden to go back to the university campus for several years. In an interview with the Global Digest on Monday 30th January he explained how his imprisonment shaped his commitment to Human Rights and civil activism. He described how his arrest began a journey that saw him win the most important non-national election in South Korea on October 26th last year; the Seoul city mayoral race:

“In 1980 I passed the exam of Korean Bar Association. So I trained to be a Human Rights lawyer, very naturally. I defended many political prisoners in the 1980s and the 1990s. At that time there were so many prisoners of conscience; usually they were politicians and labourers and students, even some artists. One day in 1987, around 1400 students were arrested in one night. This meant I was very prosperous in terms of business. Of course it was free service I offered to defend them. Anyway, as a lawyer I was very busy defending the students at that time.

In 1991 I decided to study more on Human Rights, especially international situations. I set about studying for a diploma on an international course at London School of Economics from 1991 to 1992. And I also spent over one year in Harvard Law School as a visiting fellow to Harvard’s Human Rights programs. Even before that I was participating in the establishment of Lawyers for a Democratic Society, and I was playing an important role. We, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, are called ‘Minbyun’ in Korean.

And then I established People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD). According to the changing situation I was trying to focus on the participation of people in the course of decision making of the parliament and the executive and the judiciary. This was contributing to and increasing how people could participate in the ordinary course of decision making. We had many departments, for example ‘watch for congress’, ‘watch for judiciary’, ‘watch for the administration’ and so on and we were especially campaigning against corruption. We introduced many packages to the legal system to encourage transparency and add to the struggle against corruption.

The Global Digest interviews Mayor Park Won-soon at his office

And then in 2000, I established another organisation, the Beautiful Foundation, a funding organisation for the civil society. Then in 2002 I established another organisation, the Beautiful Store, which is a second hand charity shop chain. And also in 2006 I established the Hope Institute which is a think tank from the perspective of civil society.”

The mayor laughs when he says that “as you can imagine I was always making a new organisation. And at last I left to run for Mayor of Seoul in 2011.” His background in Human Rights and civil activism seems to have played a decisive role in his election victory. Just two months before the election Mr. Park was regarded as an outsider. However, as an anti-establishment, independent figure he presented himself as the ‘citizens’ candidate’ and comfortably beat Na Kyung-won, the ruling conservative Grand National Party’s candidate. In the end the share of votes was 53% to 46%. The primary opposition, the Democratic Party, did not enter a candidate to run against Mr. Park. Park’s supporters claim his win is a victory for people power and reflects voters’ dissatisfaction with the current political establishment.

They argue his victory is an indication of growing disillusionment in the presidency of Lee Myung-bak which has been plagued with economic issues. Despite a healthy economy and a rising GDP there is a widening gap between the rich and the poor. Many feel the country’s economic gains are not being distributed fairly amongst the population. South Korea scores poorly in OECD measures of relative wealth; in 2011 the amount of South Korean households living below the poverty line exceeded 3 million for the first time and it has been reported that the country’s percentage of poor is double the OECD average. There are widespread concerns about rising living costs and declining job security; high university tuition fees and the rising cost of education; as well as youth unemployment.

Some supporters have called Mr. Park ‘Seoul’s first welfare mayor’ and he explained why social welfare is so important for the city:

“I think welfare can also be integrated as one of the Human Rights. As you can imagine Korea has been very successful in terms of economic development and as a result of rapid economic development Korea has become a member of the OECD; the sale of exports is becoming so big, and we are around the tenth greatest in the world. In that sense, economic sense, we have been very successful but, I think, the growth even in economic sense cannot be sustainable without the protection of Human Rights. It also means that in Korea social welfare was relatively dismissed and in terms of the Human Development Index (HDI), recorded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), Korea is still lower than other OECD countries and the welfare expenses in government expenditure are also the lowest among OECD members. In that sense I think it is very urgent for Korean society to emphasise the importance of social welfare."

"Before the election there was a debate on the issue of social welfare, especially the universality of Human Rights idea in social welfare issues. At the time the debate was free meals for elementary and middle school students. The ruling party and the mayor were arguing that the free meals cannot be supplied, but the opposition party and the grassroots civil society were opposing them, because the free meal is one of the basic rights of all students. This was one moment to change the Seoul Metropolitan Government and also the total society. Within only a short period the ruling party has changed their attitude because they had been defeated; they found public opinion also changing, so social welfare issues are really changing Korean society in general, I can say.”

The debate around free school meals was a controversial and emotional issue for many. Mr. Park’s predecessor, Oh Se-hoon, voluntarily resigned from the post of Seoul mayor in August after losing a referendum on the subject. Mayor Park will now serve out the remaining two years of the former mayor’s term.

Mr. Park explained that there has been a significant change in the Human Rights issues facing the country:

“I think the item of Human Rights is always changing according to the change and transformation of the society. In the 1970s and 1980s the main problems in Human Rights was torture and political rights abuse. It was carried out by government with a form of systematic abuse. But since the 1990s the forms of Human Rights abuse have become very diverse, including environmental rights, right to housing, discrimination, women, all taking weight in the list of Human Rights. Especially after the late 1990s when there were so many migrant workers coming to Korean society. Nowadays even the Human Rights of the migrant workers or the immigrant women who get married to Korean husbands are becoming very important. So in that sense, nowadays there is not only the one issue but so many issues becoming aroused surrounding Human Rights.”

He went on to express his regrets that Seoul and South Korea are not as multi-culturally open as they could be due to the mindset of Korean people:

“They say that Korea has become a multinational or culturally diverse society but in truth I think Korea is still far from being a multi-cultural society because the mentality of the people, of general people, cannot be changed. The policy makers in government are still thinking and they are trying to provide opportunities for the migrant workers or the newly arrived women who have got married to Korean husbands. I think to be a really multi-cultural society we should guarantee that newcomers can enjoy their own native culture and cultural background. So I think my opinion for the newcomers is to enjoy their own culture. And also that they can survive and be independent, even economically to begin to start their own business with their own cultural background, for example Vietnamese housewives, they can begin their own restaurant, Vietnamese restaurant, or they can start up their own travel agency for Koreans to enjoy trips to Vietnam. Something like that, one small idea. In that sense I will make some experiments to make the Korean society more open to newcomers."

He continues, "In the 21st Century I think the distinction between the foreigners and non-foreigners has become less important. So, they can say that the United States is the country of immigrants, but I think that it is not much different in European countries. In Asia also we are becoming international societies. So in that sense I’m trying to protect and guarantee newcomers from other countries that they can enjoy, can fulfil their capacity, their potential in Korean society, especially in Seoul.”

Finally the new mayor of Seoul city explained that the overarching goal of his term as mayor will be to develop a way of working that includes more people in the political life of the city:

“There can be many things to change but I think the most important is to change the philosophical ground. For example, one item can be strengthening good governance – we can guarantee to have more opportunities for people to be involved in the policy making process. So in that sense I’m always emphasising to public servants, saying that we cannot do everything alone but we should cooperate with the many citizens and grassroots organisations to make our society, to make our development more sustainable, through participation, governance, and self-regulation. This is one of the main things we should focus on.”

Special interview with German Counselor Alexander Nowak: Korean perspective on Germany

By John S. Thang
Jan. 28, 2012

German Counselor Alexander Nowak at his office

The Global Digest interviewed German Counselor Alexander Nowak about his career as a diplomat around the world and his present post in South Korea. As part of his diplomat role he is an advocate for German culture around the world, and during the interview he explained his vision and goals.

Mr. Nowak basically became a diplomat because of family tradition - his father was also a diplomat. He was also interested in foreign affairs and studied law at a German University (Master level or 1st state exam).

Mr. Nowak started his diplomatic career in 1986. Even before that he was an assistant of the deputy foreign minister in parliament from 1982, so he already had experience in the diplomatic field. His desire is to promote good relationships between Germany and other countries, and to create a better international understanding of German culture. He has had several different assignments and titles during his career, in both economic and cultural areas, and different posts in various regions - Eastern and Western Europe, Southeast Asia, Northeast Asia and North America.

When he talked about success in his diplomat career he said that successful international relations are not statistically measurably, the job never ends and the needs of different parties and people must always be met. One of his greatest achievements was at the end of the communist regime in Bulgaria in 1999, where he was diplomat and partially contributed for ending the communist regime. Another achievement was his close involvement in humanitarian service programs that participated in the crisis reaction team for the Tsunami disaster crisis in 2004, and humanitarian work for the Estonian ferry that sunk in the Baltic Sea in 1994.

Now, he is assigned to South Korea and he expressed his feelings about South Korea, how Korean people respond to European culture, and particularly German culture.

Generally, Koreans are open-minded and responsive to western culture including German culture, such as music and visual art, he said. For example, the German word “Hof” (beer shop) can found in Itaewon.

A German school in Seoul

Mr. Nowak praised a growing German school in South Korea. But, he was disappointed that most foreign language schools do not get support from the Korean government. He argued that it would be good for Korea to have branches of language schools. He feels that, in the mind of Koreans, they think English is the only international language. Actually, the world is bigger than Anglo-Saxon world; he wants and thinks that Korea should do a bit more.

Particularly, Korean law is limited in that foreign school is for foreigners only, it means Korean students are not allowed to attend, so, many Korean students cannot join. On the other hand, he thinks foreign students should also have a chance to find a suitable school in Korea. Moreover, he complained that not only foreigners are English speakers.

In addition, another difficulty of Korean law is that there are restrictions on who is able to run foreign schools. Similarly, according to a presidential decree in 2009, foreign schools may only open on premises for which they own the land, or on land they have been allocated by the authorities. Land is very expensive here, it is almost not possible to own, he complained.

Especially, small schools are not able to buy land or develop buildings at all. And the authorities don’t give premises to non-English schools at all. Therefore, Mr. Nowak thinks the government should make it easier by amending the law to allow renting and support all foreign schools. He expressed his wish that the Korea government should support foreign language schools.

At the moment, there are 200 children in German school. The German government doesn’t fund them, but does give a little finance support. The school is operated by a private group.

German language program in South Korea

There are German language classes in 11 high and middle schools across South Korea. The Germany embassy gives support for training, material, teaching, and quality control. Also open its the GOETHE institute that teaches German culture and language to young adults. There is also a German language center in Pusan. A German university scholarship program also contains elements of German language learning. In these various programs, the German language is promoted.

According to Mr. Nowak, in Korea, it is more difficult to develop the German language in schools rather than outside the school program, because, at the school, students just want to pass exams and tests. Korean students consider the German language especially difficult to get points for exams and tests. Another obstacle is that English is the only compulsory foreign language in South Korea. There is almost no second language.

Mr. Nowak called for the media to play an important role in informing the public about the rest of the world. As a part of globalization, it is important to know about other countries, he said.

His view on current international politics

When he talks about current international politics he says the German decision to never recognize the Iraq war was justified.

In the case of Afghanistan, as a NATO member Germany had a reason to be involved in attacking Taliban regime - because they were housing Al-Qaida terrorists and were a refuge for Osama bin laden after the 9/11 attack, and they didn’t want to close the terrorist camps.

In the case of Libya, “it was civil war, still it is ongoing conflict among who were against Gadahfi, so the situation is complex,” he commented. Germany didn’t get involved there; one of the reasons is because of their bad historical background in WWII.

Mr. Nowak has 3 children with a Thai wife. In his free time, he likes to go skiing and snowboarding, travel across Korea and aboard with his family members. His hobbies also include playing the piano, reading and horseback riding.

His diplomatic career is: 1998 – 1990 in Bulgaria, 1990 – 1993 in Brussels, 1993 – 1996 in Born, Germany, 1996 – 1998in Bosnia, 1998 – 2002 in Bangkok, 2002 – 2005 in Berlin, 2005 – 2008 in New York, 2008 – till now in S. Korea.

The Global Digest editor Barry Welsh edited to this story.

Interview with Myanmar’s activists: what the future holds for Burma?

By Barry Welsh
Staff writer and editor
Dec 26, 2011

Barry(L), Tom(C) and Thang(R) were in the protest infront of Myanmar embassy in Seoul

Over the course of a week in early July I met and interviewed three individuals involved in the struggle for democracy and human rights in Burma. The first, Nay Tun Naing, is the chairperson of the National League for Democracy (Liberated Area) Korea Branch. The second was John Smith Thang the executive director of the All Ethnic Democracy and Human rights network. And the third person was Tom Smith, a coordinator for the Asia Pacific Youth Network.

I meet Thang at the church he attends and also teaches a small bible study class at. After the service is finished he tells me about his life in Burma and as an activist in India, Thailand and currently Korea.

Thang is ethnic Chin, one of several ethnicities that call Burma home. In 1988 he was a high school student embroiled in the popular uprising. ‘Many high school students joined. There was no religious or human rights freedom. It was a common reason.’ He has hobby of reading news and distributed a pro-democracy magazine in the border town before he left Myanmar in 1998.

He was participated for democracy and human rights activities in India, Thailand and South Korea. In India, he studied computer science because ‘it was a popular subject and we needed to develop technology and communication in Burma.’ In the end he was there for several years. In 2006 he was invited by a professor to teach media technology subject to Burmese pro-democracy undergraduate students at the All Ethnic International Open University in Chiangmai based on the Thai Burma border. Around the same time he began studying for a master’s degree in human rights. And he was invited and came to South Korea to attend the Gwangju Asia Human Rights Folk School.

In 2007, the ‘Saffron revolution’ broke out in Burma. The protests were so named because of the colour of the monks robes who led the protests. Many of those involved, as well as external observers, who saw the footage recorded by citizen journalists, were hopeful this new uprising would instigate significant changes.

Thang was less optimistic:
‘I didn’t think it would immediately change anything but I hoped it would affect or pressure the military somehow. The military is only afraid of the international community. They are not afraid of their own people or the NLD party. They don’t care. They are ready to attack them. To kill them all. Even if there are 1000’s protesting they don’t care. They will not hesitate to attack them all and kill them. They are only afraid of international intervention.’ In the event there was a military crackdown and the protests were suppressed.

In South Korea, Thang went back to university and finished his master’s degree from Sahmyook University. He is now studying for a Ph.D in global affairs and international politics from Chung-Ang University.

His view of the current political situation in Burma after the new constitution of 2008, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and the election in 2010 is highly critical: It is still a military backed government. The Union Solidarity and Development Party won the election. They are a military run party. There was no transparency. There were no observers from the international community. How can we say this is democracy? There should at least be a regional observer or an international observer. Much corruption was reported in the election. It is purely a namesake democracy. It has nothing to do with freedom. Aung San Suu Kyi and the NLD are popular but she has no chance. She is not allowed to have a chance. Anyway, she cannot do everything by herself.

When I ask what the future holds for Burma he is despondent, cynical even: ‘The military will remain. The corrupt namesake democracy will remain for a decade. Unless the international political climate changes. Or the ethnic armed forces are strong. Then there will be change, but no other way. I don’t believe the NLD or any other group will bring change. We gave 20 years to the NLD but really nothing was done. Aung San Suu Kyi is popular in the rest of the world. There will only be change through the international community or though an ethnic uprising. We already gave 20 years to the NLD. 20 years for nothing. Aung San Suu Kyi was released but she is just a namesake. It is too late to stand by Aung San Suu Kyi. Our hope is now in the hands of the ethnic groups or the international community. The ethnic movement makes no concessions to the military whereas some in the NLD agree with military policy. And the NLD is not an arms group. So the military doesn’t care at all. The military are only afraid of guns. They don’t care about Aung San Suu Kyi’s non-violence method. After 20 years we already know this. The NLD has been in a leading role but they failed. Why have they failed? Why can’t they bring change? Should we let them lead the program for the next 20 years? We need to think about the next leading role.’

When I spoke to Nay Tun Naing he was optimistic Burma would see real change in three to four years. When I spoke with John Smith Thang he could only hope it would happen in 10 or 20 years. Tom falls somewhere in the middle, ‘Substantial change will take a long time. Hopefully the Asia Pacific Youth Network campaign will affect the international community.’ His advice for anyone outside Burma who wants to help is to ‘understand the amazing freedom that you have. Burmese people struggle to survive. People outside can help by flexing their freedom.’

This article is also published in Groove Korea magazine.

South Korea

Talking with a Korean Spider-man

By John S Thang
Oct. 24, 2011

A Korean Professor Moon Soon Im

A Korean Arachnology Scholar and Professor, Moon Soon Im, revealed interesting documentation regarding the story of spider species in Korean territory. Due to his expertise in spiders, people sometimes call him a spider-man.

Prof. Im explained the insect has three body parts - head, thorax and abdomen; the difference with spiders is that they only have two body parts, cephalo or thoral and abdomen. The spider is classified by legs; they have 8 legs, whilst other insects can have more or less.

Insects have millions of species, because they can fly a long distance and they have easy access to a lot of foods, so they accumulate spices. There are approximately 40,000 insect species in the world, Prof. Im said.

Generally, spiders only food is insects. Spiders never eat plants, dead insects or animals. They only eat living insects.

Furthermore spiders have no wings but they can fly. Spiders have even reached the top of Himalayan Mountains by using wind power, Prof. Im said. Also he found that mainland Korean spiders fly to Jeju Island and Japan. The speed at which they fly depends on the power the wind blows at and how they use their silk. The Spider's silk can be as long as 10 meters or more in length.

A former Prof. Im's student(C) and her Art school kids

Prof. Im wrote a book called "Speedy and little Miss Tigresses," which he explained took three generations to complete it.

Here he discovered that 99% of spiders live alone in their own houses. They live independent even after marriage and distribute their children. Moreover, spiders don’t have compound eyes and they can't see anything as they are blind but the Spider can smell and sense through their legs.

Sometime female spiders eat their male partners because female spiders need more nutrition for producing eggs. They can produce approximately 200 to 500 eggs.

Prof. Im argued spiders are a living agricultural chemical since they protect people and kill insects naturally. They are our friends.

However, novelists, artists and poets sometimes compose or make movies about spiders that show them in a negative light e.g. black widow novel or film.

Actually, Prof. Im explained that only a few spiders have poison, most spiders are not poisonous, they are people helpers. For example, the widow spider has poison but they usually stay in the forest, far from human civilization.

Another interesting spider is the water spider. Water spiders live under water, occasionally they come out of the water to breathe oxygen which they carry in their abdomen and then store in their air house which they build under the water. But they cannot stay in running water; they stay only in places such as ponds and lakes, but not in sea water.

Water spiders eat water insects, tadpoles, small shrimps and fish. Prof. Im used to collect Water spiders from the DMZ area.

Spiders also have a natural refrigerator. When they catch insects they preserve them by covering them with their silk so they are ready to be eaten at a later time.

Prof. Im has found that Korea has more than 680 spider species from around 4000 species in the world. In reality, many scholars believe the number could be more than three times this figure.

Former Prof. Im's student, Prof. Kim Seung Tae has a collection of more than 5000 spider sculptures. He is a professor at the Seoul National University.

Prof. Im has appeared in various Korean newspapers and magazines, such as the article title "spider is worm hunter" which appeared in the magazine of weekly Choson. And he himself has written three books about spiders, and has also written many books with other people. He received the First Award of Republic of Korea Science and Culture in 2000 for the book titled “the Spider World.” He retired as a professor from Keokuk University in 2000. He is now 77 and has 4 children and 7 grandchildren.

The Global Digest editor Barry Welsh edited to this story.

South Korea

Seoul Global Study Group (SG2) held a lively discussion on the World Organic Congress which is ongoing this week until October 5th

By John S Thang and Layne Hartsell
Oct. 1, 2011

A Japanese Professor Dr. Shuji Hisano

Members of SG2/Café Global Chat held a dinner on Wednesday in Insadong, which included citizens from around the globe. The invited speaker was Kyoto University Professor, Dr. Shuji Hisano, an agriculture and political economist who focuses on food in the context of globalization and localization. Sometimes this combination is called ‘glocal.’

The discussion opened with a dinner and general conversation between the 20 attendees. After dinner, Dr. Hisano gave a brief discussion of his work and then fielded questions from the group. The topics ranged from hunger in the world to genetically modified organisms (GMOs) to the necessities of organic farming as a local phenomenon.

Dr. Hisano reported that plantings of GMOs are widespread and that there are four or five major biotech crops: corn, soybean, cotton and canola. The US, Brazil and Canada have large investments and areas of cultivation of the ‘technology.’ In the U.S., biotechnology is heavily used in agriculture, where approximately 95% of soybeans, and 90% of corn, are genetically altered. He argued that biotechnology is efficient only for big farmers. For small farmers, such as in India, in many cases, GMOs have been devastating to villagers. Among a small number of companies, like the biotech giant, Monsanto, a large percentage of the world’s genetic material in seed form, is controlled.

Various trade pacts influence agriculture on the global level as well. U.S. allies, Japan and South Korea, depend on US food products. However, interestingly enough, soy beans originated from Asia; these are called ‘land races.’ Today, Japan and South Korea have to depend on imported soy beans from the U.S., a situation which is lamented by both Japanese and South Korean farmers because of the loss of food sovereignty and security.

Recent, significant price increases have led many to question food security, both in Asia and around the world. In poor countries, the price increase has been devastating. In Asia, although the U.S. has guaranteed food, in which, there is no need for East Asia to produce its own food, Dr. Hisano says he has less confidence in the U.S. vis-a-vis their bilateral relationship and conflict of interest, between the U.S. and Japan. At the moment, the U.S. is pressuring Japan to join the Trans-Pacific Strategic Economic Partnership Agreement (TPP). Once Japan joins the TPP, U.S. food products will flow into Japan, and Japanese agriculture will collapse, Dr. Hisano explained. The U.S. needs Japan in the agreement because of the clout of the Japanese economy as the two countries can heavily influence the rest of the Pacific region.

Members of SG2 at the dinner meeting

Overall, Dr. Hisano’s suggestion is that East Asian countries should withhold at least 50% of their own local foods for sustenance; while another option for food sustenance is to avoid wasting food. Most of the developed countries, the US, UK, Japan waste 30% of foods.

It also should be noted that a large part of grain crops are used for cattle feed rather than for humans. Concerning hunger and the use of grain crops and GMOs in the U.S., it is also of concern that the country has approximately 50 million people at risk of hunger. With massive plantings of GMOs and the world’s largest economy, many question the system of distribution in the U.S. and thus in the world.

Although, a large number of scientists claim that genetically modified crops are safe, Dr. Hisano objects on many points from science to hunger to economics. Considering agriculture today, Hisano believes, from a survey of the research, that organic policies and advanced organic agriculture which is embedded in a local economy, is the way of the future as citizens continue to exert pressure on the global food system.

The Seoul Global Study Group focuses on what it means to be globally aware as a member of global civil society. The group will have a special visit to the IFOAM World Congress on Sunday, October 7th. For more information please see:

On facebook:
On Meetup:



Arputham Ammal, the 65-year-old mother of one of the three on death row in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, opens her heart.

Special Report
By Muthamizh

Arputham Ammal

On 26 August, Vellore Central Prison in Tamil Nadu announced that Perarivalan, Santhan and Murugan, the three who are to hang in the Rajiv Gandhi assassination case, will be executed on 9 September. Arputham Ammal, 65-year-old mother of Perarivalan, received a letter from the jail authorities to come on 9 September to collect the body of her son. For the first time since her ordeal began 20 years ago, she felt utterly crushed. Arputham Ammal, who has been visiting her son in jail every Thursday for 20 years and who Justice VR Krishna Iyer calls the greatest mother he has ever seen in his life, opens her heart.

At midnight on 11 June 1991, 20 days after the assassination of Rajiv Gandhi, policemen barged into our house in Jolarpettai. A photograph of LTTE leader Prabhakaran sat on top of the TV. They examined it. From a set of letters, they picked a few sent by Bhagyanathan, brother of Nalini, one of the prime accused in the assassination case and now serving a life term. My husband wrote poems printed at Bhagyanathan’s press and the letters were about publishing. They said they were taking the letters with them. Just before they left, they asked where Arivu (as Perarivalan is known) was. He was in Chennai at the time, doing his diploma in electronics. We promised to produce him. They gave us the address of Malligai building in Adyar, which was the headquarters of the Special Investigation Team. The next day, I went to Chennai to bring Arivu.

He was staying in the office of the Dravida Kazhakam (DK) party and was surprised to hear about the raid. We were followers of Periyar, [EV Ramaswamy, called Thanthai Periyar (noble father), is the founder of the Dravidian movement in Tamil Nadu. Dravida Kazhakam, founded by him, is the mother party from which the DMK and AIADMK were born], and active in DK. People at the DK office suggested that Arivu present himself at the CBI office the next morning, and that they would get him released by the evening. We went out to buy something and when we returned to the office, the police were waiting along with my husband, who they had picked up from home. They took Arivu and promised to release him the next day. That was the last day I saw my son free. It has been 20 years now.

The next day, we went to the Malligai building but were not allowed to meet him. They said the interrogation was not over. His arrest was recorded on 18 June though he had been picked up on 11 June; he had been detained unlawfully for a week. As I waited outside, I had no idea my son was being tortured inside at that very moment. We went again the next day. The cops got furious and asked me to get a lawyer. I didn’t understand what wrong my son had done and why I needed a lawyer. After a week, we came to know from the newspapers that Arivu had been booked for the assassination of the former Prime Minister.

We didn’t know the first thing about what to do. The police, the law, the courts, all this was new to us. A lawyer, who was also a DK activist, told us that Arivu had been booked under TADA [the infamous Terrorist and Disruptive Activities (Prevention) Act], and that under this law, we had no rights at all. His confession statement was forced out of him through torture. He was produced in the TADA special court in Chengalpettu. When we went to see him, his face was masked like a criminal’s. I couldn’t bear to see that. I cried and burst out at the cops outside. They told me to go to the SIT headquarters the next day to meet him. We went and were finally allowed to enter. I saw my son. I touched his hands. I couldn’t ask anything, not a single word would come out of my mouth.

Till the day we handed over Arivu to the police, I was just like any other ordinary woman bound to her family. I was at home most of the time. I cooked food for my husband and children. I never went out alone and was always accompanied by my husband. Everything changed with his arrest. I started travelling for assistance. I hardly stayed at home. Most of the time, I was travelling to Chennai to meet lawyers. I went to Kerala all alone to meet Justice VR Krishna Iyer [a former stalwart judge of the Supreme Court of India, he is an active campaigner against capital punishment]. Everything became familiar to me—courts, police stations, jail, everything. My husband has ailments like diabetes and high blood pressure. Since I was always out, I couldn’t cook or take care of him. He shifted to my elder daughter’s place. I went to the TADA court every day of the trial, but I was not allowed to get in. I was informed that even my lawyer could be denied permission. That is what TADA means.

After that meeting in the SIT headquarters, the next time I saw my son was in Chengalpettu jail. It was after a very long time. During the trial itself, he was given the uniform of a convicted prisoner. I could not control my tears when I saw him in his white shirt and white shorts. It was changed only after my lawyer filed a petition. For each and every thing, I had to go to court. Initially, in the meeting room of the jail, there was a fibreglass partition between the prisoner and the visitor. We were provided with headphones to talk. It was inaudible.

I desperately wanted to touch his hands, but I could only touch the glass. I do not know whether you have a son or daughter. Only a mother will know this pain. We again approached the court to remove the glass partition. They made a small hole in it, a very small one. I could only touch the tip of his finger. We again filed a petition. It was granted and the glass removed.

I can’t explain my agony during the trial. For eight years, I could not see my son face to face. He was in solitary confinement. He was only allowed to talk to us through a small window at the top of his cell. I had to look up to see him but it was very difficult to see his face. Often I was denied permission to get in. I waited for hours and hours in front of the gate. Sometimes I cried loudly, sometimes I shouted at them. In the past 20 years, I have never asked my son while meeting him whether he has eaten anything. I wouldn’t dare. Each time I ate, my stomach burned thinking of what my son would be eating.

Arivu’s elder sister works in the rural development department and his younger sister is a lecturer in Annamalai University. Their salary was our only source of support while fighting the case. Each judgment—by the TADA court, later by the Supreme Court and the rejection of the mercy petition by the President—was to me like my own execution. After the President rejected the mercy petition, I couldn’t sleep or eat. I desperately wanted to save my son. I didn’t know how. But somehow I had this belief that he would not be executed.

The day the date of execution was announced, I was in Delhi attending the release of the Hindi translation of Arivu’s book, Thuooku Kotadieliranthu Oor Muriyeetu Madal (An Appeal from Death Row). By noon, I sensed something was wrong. People were going out of the hall and talking in hushed voices over the phone. They looked gloomy. They were hiding something. When I asked them what was wrong, they forced me to have lunch and to rest in the hotel room. Finally, an activist of the People’s Movement Against Death Penalty gave me the news. I was numb for a moment and then started shouting at them—what had they been doing till the [execution] date was announced? I rushed back to Chennai.

Though we have got a stay on the date of execution, I have to take this battle forward, till my son is able to walk out of the gate of Vellore jail. Isn’t living 11 years on death row enough punishment for the crime of handing over a battery?


Conversation with Vo Van Ai, President and Founder of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR)

Vo Van Ai(C) received award of the 9th Special Prize for Freedom

PARIS, 23 August 2011 (FIDH) - On June 24, 2011, Vo Van Ai, President and Founder of the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR), a member organization of the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH), was awarded the 9th Special Prize for Freedom by the Italian organisation Società Libera.

The Award was given to recognize Mr. Ai’s life-long work to promote greater respect for human rights and the rule of law in Vietnam. In an interview with Mr. Ai following the award, FIDH spoke with him on the state of human rights in Viet Nam.

There is a wide gulf between the rhetoric and reality in Vietnam as far as human rights is concerned, said Mr. Ai. Vietnam often presents a facade of compliance with international human rights law and standards, but the situation on the grounds speaks much to the contrary, as fundamental freedoms are routinely and grossly violated with impunity. There is no rule of law, but rule by law, as the authorities use restrictive and draconian laws and decrees to legalize repression of government critics. Universal human rights are trumped by the “interests of the State and the Party”.

In addition to discussing the human rights implications of Vietnam’s interaction with its neighbours such as Cambodia, Laos and China, Mr. Ai also analyzed the likelihood of a “Vietnam Spring”, the role of youth in Vietnamese society today, the important watchdog role of the UN human rights system, and the challenges facing the Vietnamese diaspora.

Interview of Mr Vo Van Ai, June 2011

FIDH : First of all, congratulations to you on being awarded the 2011 Special Prize for Freedom by the Società Libera in Italy. What did it mean to you and what was your main message when addressing the audience and the Italian public at the award ceremony on June 24?

Vo Van Ai : Thank you. I was very touched to receive the prize, because it comes at a time when the democratic community seems to have forgotten about Vietnam. The Western media sees Vietnam simply as a tourist haven and a lucrative business venue. There is rarely a word about the thousands of democracy activists and human rights defenders who put their safety on the line day after day to claim their legitimate rights. For me, the Freedom Prize was a very welcome sign of international recognition of this abysmal human rights situation. Indeed, when I accepted the prize, I concluded by asking Società Libera and the Italian people to allow me to dedicate the Freedom Prize to 86 million people who are deprived of their freedom in Vietnam today.

FIDH : Was there a reaction from the Vietnamese authorities to this award?

VVA : So far, there has been no official reaction. However, there have been scores of articles virulently attacking me in the “para-communist” media about the prize. By this I mean all the press and internet outlets inside and outside Vietnam that are financed and manipulated by Hanoi in order to spread disinformation and divide and undermine the Vietnamese democracy movement.

FIDH : In its national report on its human rights record to the Human Rights Council’s Universal Periodic Review process, Vietnam stated the nation’s successive Constitutions “have not only fully recognized and guaranteed human rights and the rights of citizens in compliance with international law, but also clearly affirmed that Vietnam is a rule of law State of the people, by the people and for the people, and is responsible for ensuring and promoting the mastership of the people in all areas.” Does this statement reflect the reality on the ground?

VVA : Not at all. Vietnam’s policies are like a coin with two sides, head and tails, and this is reflected in the language they use. “Heads” is what they show the international community – I often say it is “for export only” – which portrays Vietnam as an angel of democracy. “Tails” reflects the grim reality on the ground. Vietnam has indeed “recognized and guaranteed human rights” on paper, both in its Constitution and by ratifying international human rights treaties. But it does not implement them in practice. The fact that people all over the country are taking grave risks to denounce violations of freedom of religion, expression, opinion, worker rights, state corruption, power abuse and many other issues in Vietnam today amply disproves Vietnam’s claims that it is a “rule of law State”. For example, every week-end for the past eight weeks, since 5 June 2011, thousands of people have demonstrated in Hanoi and Saigon to protest China’s incursions on Vietnamese territorial waters and lands. These demonstrations are the initiative of young people and students, and they have brought together people from all walks of life, including former Communist party veterans, artists, intellectuals etc. – people bound by the common concern that their country is under threat. They are not marching against the government. Yet the Police disbanded these peaceful protests with unwarranted violence, especially on 17th July, during the seventh week of protests. It is the rule of the truncheon, not the rule of law, which reigns in the streets of Hanoi and Saigon today.

FIDH : All in all, what are the main challenges faced by the Vietnamese people, especially in regards to freedom of expression and freedom of religion?

VVA : Again, it is the gulf between rhetoric and reality. Take freedom of expression. In its report at the Universal Periodic Review in 2009, the Vietnamese delegation boasted that Vietnam has over 700 newspapers, hundreds of radio and TV stations and other media outlets. But they are all under communist party control – there is not one independent publication in Vietnam. Censorship is everywhere. You can read about the nation’s politics, Western movie stars, football icons, sex scandals and crime. But you cannot find a single paper with a debate of ideas or thought-provoking subjects outside the Communist Party’s dictates and doctrine. This is why people are turning to Blogs, which provide an exchange and discussion that is impossible in the mainstream press. So Vietnam is cracking down furiously on blogs, like all other forms of expression. The government’s methods range from arbitrary arrest and Police harassment to the adoption of restrictive legislation to stifle dissenting voices.

The same goes for freedom of religion. Whereas religious freedom is guaranteed in the Constitution, it is curbed in practice by an arsenal of restrictive legislation. After trying – and failing - to eradicate religions by force, the government has set up “state-sponsored” religious bodies controlled by the Communist Party and the Vietnam Fatherland Front. With the exception of the Roman Catholic Church, only these “state-sponsored” groups are recognized by the authorities. All others are banned. This is the case of Buddhism, Vietnam’s largest religion. Only the state-sponsored Vietnam Buddhist Church is recognized by the authorities, whereas the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) is banned and its leaders held under house arrest or close surveillance. UBCV leader Venerable Thich Quang Do, for example, is under house arrest at the Thanh Minh Monastery in Saigon after 30 years in detention. There is a cumbersome process of application for State ‘recognition”, but it is arbitrary and unfair. Rather than providing for greater religious freedom, it enables the state to place religions under tighter control.

FIDH : What is the role of intergovernmental bodies such as the UN and the EU in the promotion of human rights and rule of law in Vietnam? Three thematic UN Special Rapporteurs have recently conducted country visits to Vietnam —how significant are these country visits?

VVA : Very important. Vietnam is very attentive to its international image as it strives to play a more prominent role on the global stage. For this reason, it hates to lose face. This is a crucial point of leverage, and it is very important that the UN, the EU and other intergovernmental bodies speak out publicly on Vietnam’s human rights violations and keep pressure on Vietnam to make concrete improvements. For example, the EU is negotiating a new Cooperation and Partnership Agreement with Vietnam. The former 1995 Cooperation Agreement contained a statutory “human rights clause”, but this was purely lip-service and very ineffective. The European Parliament has urged the EU to include stronger human rights guarantees in the new agreement, such as mechanisms of monitoring and implementation, as well as sanctions for non-compliance. Since the EU is one of Vietnam’s largest trading partners, I believe this would be a very effective step.

The UN plays a crucial role in promoting human rights and the rule of law in Vietnam. Vietnam has acceded to several core human rights treaties, so it has a binding obligation to respect them. We must use these instruments as yardsticks to press for progress. The visits by three Special Rapporteurs last year, 2010, were most important because Vietnam had not invited any UN experts since 1998, when the Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Religion issued a very critical report on his visit to the country. Vietnam expected to get good marks from these three experts, whose mandates were connected to economic rather than political issues. On the contrary, however, they all stressed the need for progress in political rights. Ms. Magdalena Sepulveda, the UN expert on Human Rights and Extreme Poverty, said that “to effectively combat poverty, everyone in Vietnam must enjoy the full range of civil, cultural, political and civil rights”. In our statements to the UN Human Rights Council over many years, the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights and FIDH have repeatedly called on Vietnam to extend standing invitations to Special Rapporteurs, and we really hope for a visit by Mr. Frank La Rue, Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, as well as the Special Rapporteur on Human Rights Defenders. We also submit cases to the treaty bodies as regularly as possible, because UN scrutiny really helps. We are currently very concerned about blogger Nguyen Van Hai, alias Dieu Cay who may have suffered mistreatment in prison. The fact that the UN Working Group on Arbitrary Detention recognized him as a victim of arbitrary detention in 2009 will help to draw international attention to his plight.

FIDH : Vietnam has been growing economically over the past decade and the authorities often tout this as a human rights achievement in itself. Is this a legitimate argument?

VVA : It is a completely false argument. Economics is economics. Human Rights are human rights. I do not say that “never the twain shall meet”, but economic growth certainly does not guarantee human rights. In Vietnam, economic liberalization under the policy of “doi moi” (renovation) has raised the standard of living for a certain class of people in the big cities, but it has also caused alarming wealth disparity, with all the indignities and human rights abuses this entails. At one end of the scale, members of the ruling elite and their families wallow in unbelievable luxury, whilst at the other, especially in the rural areas, people struggle to survive on less than $US20 per month.

In fact, the current crisis shaking Vietnam’s economy is proof enough that the model of “free market economy with Socialist orientations” has failed. Even economically, Vietnam cannot deliver on its promises, and the economic miracle is on the verge of collapse. In July 2011, the inflation rate hit 22%, and strikes are breaking out in all sectors as workers try to cope with spiraling process of food, fuel and rent. The annual trade deficit is skyrocketing, and official corruption has reached proportions of a “national catastrophe” according to the state-run media. In this climate of instability, foreign companies are wary of investing in Vietnam. Economist Vuong Quan Hoang told AFP that Vietnam is facing one of its gravest economic crises.

On the question of evaluating human rights achievements, I should add that Vietnam’s Communist leaders have a very singular perception of human rights. For them, the most important right is that of self-determination. The Communist Party argues that by winning Vietnam’s independence and establishing the Socialist Republic of Vietnam, it has achieved human rights for the people. No other human rights are important. This is the main argument for the legitimacy of the Communist Party and its political monopoly today.

With this simplistic and false concept, Vietnam’s leaders are discarding a heritage of Vietnamese history and culture several thousand years old. In fact, human rights are an ancient feature of Vietnamese culture and philosophy, dating back to the times of Buddha and beyond. Under the Lê dynasty in the XV century, for example, Vietnam had a Penal Code (the Hong Duc or Lê Code) which codified modern concepts far in advance of contemporary European equivalents, and contained aspects of fairness and leniency which provided greater legal protection than many of the vaguely-defined provisions of Vietnam’s present-day Penal Code. So I do believe that Vietnam has an original perception of human rights, but it is not that advanced by Hanoi.

FIDH : What is the relation between Vietnam and China? To what extent do Vietnamese authorities take China as a point of reference or as a model, or even a protector?

VVA : Vietnam is a pupil of China. Whatever happens in China happens ten years later in Vietnam, only on a smaller scale. Just look at the Land Reforms or the “Hundred Flowers” movements under Mao Zedong in which thousands of so-called “land-owners” and intellectuals were arrested or suppressed. Politically, Vietnam kow-tows to China. This explains the current explosion of protests against the government’s failure to confront China over its violations of Vietnamese sovereignty. Popular discontent is particularly rife concerning Hanoi’s concessions of Vietnamese territories to Beijing in the Sino-Vietnamese Land and Sea Border Treaties (1999 and 2000), as well as China’s encroachment on the oil and gas-rich Spratly and Paracel islands. Shocked by their government’s submissive attitude, Vietnamese of all age-groups and social backgrounds have taken to the streets to alert people of the danger of losing their homeland to China. The Communists do not have the same notion of “homeland” as the people. For them, Vietnam and China are part of the same communist “Internationale”, so they have nothing to lose. But the Vietnamese people are fiercely proud of their homeland, and are adamant in refusing to submit to Chinese incursions on their territorial integrity. A very interesting book circulating underground in Vietnam since 2003 is the memoirs of Tran Quang Co, former Vietnamese Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs from 1954-1997. His description of Sino-Vietnamese relations during this period, the humiliations endured by Vietnamese diplomats and the arrogance and superiority of the Chinese paints a pathetic picture of Vietnam’s subservience to its northern neighbor. It is not surprising that this book was banded from publication by the regime.

FIDH : Has Vietnam any regional hegemonic ambitions? What is its relation to its neighbours, especially Cambodia, and what are the human rights implications, if any?

VVA : Vietnam is a small country, but it has big ambitions, and it has always coveted its neighbour’s lands. In 1980, when Vietnam invaded Cambodia on the pretext of saving its people from the Khmer Rouge, it was really indulging its hegemonic ambitions. At the moment, there is a power struggle in Southeast Asia as China seeks to increase its hold on Cambodia and Laos, to the great displeasure of Vietnam. Vietnamese influence on Cambodia and Laos is still strong. The impact on human rights can be seen in the connivance between Cambodian and Vietnamese Police in the refoulement of refugees, for example, with the forced repatriation of hundreds of ethnic Christian Montagnards who fled Vietnam to seek asylum in Cambodia. In 2003, Buddhist monk Thich Tri Luc, who obtained refugee status from the UN High Commissioner for Refugees in Cambodia was kidnapped by Vietnamese Security Police in Phnom Penh, taken across the border and imprisoned in Vietnam. There are many such instances. Cross-border sex trafficking continues with impunity thanks to this kind of police connivance.

FIDH : What are the specific challenges facing independent human rights defenders in Vietnam today? How do they respond to the challenges?

VVA : Firstly, that there is no rule of law, only the rule of the Party. Activities that would be legitimate in any democratic country are perceived as “threats against the state” and criminalized under vaguely-defined “national security” provisions in Vietnam’s Penal Code. Under legislation such as Ordinance 44, citizens can be detained for up to two years, and even interned in psychiatric institutions, without any process of law simply under suspicion of harboring critical opinions. It is hard to fight for justice when you have no legal safeguards.

Secondly, human rights defenders are surrounded by a pervasive network of police surveillance and control which is invisible to the “outside” world. It consists of the three-fold mechanism of precinct security warden (cong an khu vuc), household registration permits (ho khau) and the curriculum vitae (ly lich). This system enables the local police officer (often plain clothed) to have intimate knowledge of the activities of all members of the 30-50 families in his precinct and wield excessive powers over them. He can arrest and release anyone at will, deliver or confiscate the obligatory residence permits, without which citizens cannot obtain jobs, be admitted to hospital or rent new lodgings, at the drop of a hat. Anyone who advocates human rights or democracy not only risks their own safety, but that of their wives, children, parents and siblings. For the police can have their children expelled from school, their wives fired from their jobs, their parents deprived of health care etc. This pervasive climate of fear and insecurity haunts all human rights defenders in Vietnam.

FIDH : The trial of legal activist Cu Huy Ha Vu on April 7 attracted a considerable number of supporters from a wide range of social sectors who signed petitions, attended prayer vigils in churches, and gathered outside the courtroom in Hanoi. This is quite unusual as such actions are rarely if at all tolerated by the regime and they usually attract swift and harsh repression by the authorities. Is this kind of public reaction unique to Ha Vu’s case or does it reveal something deeper and more significant that has not been apparent in the past?

VVA : From a Vietnamese point of view, the real reason Cu Huy Ha Vu’s case attracted so much attention is that he is the son of a very prominent revolutionary figure, Cu Huy Can. His father was not just a companion of Ho Chi Minh and government minister, but also a very famous poet who became a household name from the 1930s, even before the communist revolution. This gives Cu Huy Ha Vu a standing way above other critics and dissidents, and it drew him an unprecedented range of supporters from both inside and outside Communist party circles. This is also the reason why he was not arrested before, even though he filed two indictments against Vietnamese Premier Nguyen Tan Dung. The fact that Catholics held vigils was actually quite a coincidence. Conflicts over state confiscation of Church lands have sparked out recently between Roman Catholics and the authorities, resulting frequently in violence. Cu Huy Ha Vu is a Catholic, and he supported the claims of Catholic parishioners in Con Dau, so their interests overlapped. Internationally, his case was easier to support because of his pro-party origins, which gives a certain credibility to his criticisms. Similarly, in a one-Party state like Vietnam, which classes the whole population as either “friend and foe”, dissidents were able to publicly defend a prominent figure such as Cu Huy Ha Vu without incurring government reprisals, whereas they would face immediate arrest for supporting critics such as Thich Quang Do. I think this case also reflects an internal struggle within the VCP. Cu Huy Ha Vu was to some extent a scapegoat in a struggle for influence between Communists from the former North and South Vietnam, and between the pro-Beijing and pro-Western factions. Unfortunately, I do not see this as the beginning of a deeper level of opposition.

FIDH : What is the role played by youth in Vietnamese society today? What are their aspirations and how do they relate to the social and political environment in which they live?

VVA : Up until now, Vietnamese youth have played no significant role in Vietnamese post-war society. Over 60% of the population was born after the fall of Saigon in 1975, which means they grew up under Communism. Although Communist society is highly political, it has instilled a repulsion of politics amongst the younger generation, who are far more concerned with consumerism and Western cultural icons. However, the upsurge of nationalist feelings and public criticism during the China dispute reflects a real awakening of political sentiments in the young generation. They have been the driving force of the anti-China protests, and they have succeeded in bringing together people from all sectors of society. They have learned how to use new technologies such as blogs and cell-phones to mobilize people. They are not encumbered by the heavy ideological legacy of the older generation, so they see things with new eyes. I was very struck to see banners in a recent demonstration in Hanoi with the names of all the soldiers who died defending the Spratly and Paracel Islands from Chinese attacks in 1974 and 1988. This means that the demonstrators are paying tribute to soldiers from the former Republic of (South) Vietnam as well as to Communist soldiers. This is something completely new, and it gives the protests a completely different perspective. These young people are putting individuals above politics, something that the Communist government can never contemplate, let alone accept.

FIDH : Is there any potential for an ’Arab Spring’ in Vietnam? What have been the main civil movements in the country both prior and after the ’Arab Spring’?

VVA : The main protests are the ones I have just described. The “Arab Spring” is definitely an awakening call. But we cannot compare the two situations. Although Tunisia, Egypt and other countries of the Middle East were ruled by dictatorships, there was a two-way flow of information, the circulation of ideas, a development of democratic culture. Under Vietnam’s tight system of censorship and control, these things have not had time to develop. But the seeds have been sown, and they are growing. We must be ready to help people in Vietnam when the moment comes.

FIDH : In which ways does the Vietnamese diaspora, especially in France, organize itself to promote human rights in Vietnam? How does it relate to the civil society in Vietnam?

VVA : The Vietnamese diaspora is very divided, like most exile communities. This is partly because the Communist Party devotes significant funding to infiltrating overseas organizations and spreading disinformation via the many diaspora newspapers and radio stations that they finance in Europe and the USA. It is also because a majority of the Vietnamese diaspora remains rooted in the past, and has not been able to keep pace with the rapidly changing global situation. In France, as in the US and elsewhere, there are many Vietnamese human rights groups and political parties. Sadly, they often spend more time on internal disputes than on useful activities such as documenting human rights violations in Vietnam.

At the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights (VCHR) and FIDH, we are keenly aware of the desperate need of human rights movements inside Vietnam to have a voice on the outside. They are the ones who are putting their safety on the line. We cannot act in their place. But we can provide a channel of communications, a voice on the outside that can amplify and relay their concerns to the international community. By shining a light on the plight of individuals and groups inside Vietnam, we can help to identify and protect them. We do this by using all the new technologies available, and this gives us considerable outreach. Whenever there is a demonstration or a crack-down, our network of activists inside the country sends us photos, interviews, reports that we can translate and use in our international submissions and campaigns. This first-hand evidence enables us to maintain our reputation as a credible source. We also have a weekly radio program in Vietnamese, and circulate human rights-orientated documents in Vietnam and in the Vietnamese diaspora.

FIDH : In conclusion, we can say that the human rights situation in Vietnam remains relatively unknown in the West. How do you perceive the expansion of the tourism industry and what would be your message to Europeans willing to visit Vietnam in full consciousness of the human rights situation in the country?

VVA : You are right, Vietnam’s grave human rights situation is not well known in the West, or even in neighboring Asian countries. The tourist industry is booming in Vietnam, and it provides an important source of revenue for the regime. There are two ways to approach to this issue - either to demand a total boycott on tourism, or to encourage “informed” or “engaged tourism”. Some of the tourist guides, such as “Le Guide du Routard” include a paragraph on human rights, and in previous years they contacted the VCHR and FIDH to write this. If tourists are informed about the human rights situation before they visit the country, they are better prepared to monitor abuses. Also, they can help to relay information by speaking to Vietnamese inside the country and bringing information outside. Calling for a boycott on tourism is also a possibility, but it would need massive campaigning in the press, TV and radio, for example urging tourists not to visit Vietnam until political prisoners such as Thich Quang Do have been released. The FIDH has great experience in these campaigns. Perhaps that could be one of your major focuses in the next few months? If so, I will do everything I can to help.

Vo Van Ai’s Biography

Vo Van Ai is a Vietnamese human rights defender, writer and poet living in Paris. He is founder and President of Quê Me: Action for Democracy in Vietnam and the Vietnam Committee on Human Rights, Director of the International Buddhist Information Bureau, and Overseas Spokesman of the independent Unified Buddhist Church of Vietnam (UBCV) which is currently banned in Vietnam.

Born in Central Vietnam in 1938, he was arrested and tortured at the age of 11 for participating in the resistance movement for the independence of Vietnam. In 1964, he became the UBCV’s representative overseas, and worked actively in the nonviolent Buddhist movement for democracy and peace. After Vietnam was unified in 1975, he played a key role in drawing world attention to human rights abuses under the communist regime, and drew up the first comprehensive map of “re-education camps” (Vietnamese laogai) with 150 camps and over 800,000 prisoners. In 1978 he helped initiate a campaign to launch the “Ile de Lumiere”, the first rescue ship to save Vietnamese Boat People fleeing for freedom on the South China seas.

A specialist on human rights and religious freedom issues, he makes regular reports to the United Nations and testifies at the US Congress, the European Parliament and other international forums on the human rights situation in Vietnam.

Vo Van Ai is also well known as a writer and historian. In addition to numerous articles and human rights reports, his written works include 17 books of poetry, essays and philosophy, as well as studies on Buddhism and Vietnamese history. He is currently writing a major work on “The Essence of Vietnamese Buddhism

South Korea

A brief conversation with Mayor Jeong Jong-heun

By Salai Thang
Staff Correspondence
July 4, 2011

Sihueng City Mayor Jeong Jong-heun

Recently, the Global Digest had a meeting with former Sihueng City Mayor Jeong Jong-heun at the AEBO craft museum on the outskirts of Sihueng city. The city is also known as a commercial hub and seaport on the western coast of South Korea.

During the conversation Mr. Jeong Jong-heun, the former Sihueng city mayor, discussed two significant initiatives. The first is the building of a new Jeongwangdong village, and the second is the cleansing of sea pollution.

During his time as mayor when an environmental issue was raised he was the first person to respond and make developments for a green city. In particular he developed a clean stream bank that is flowing from the Murang Lake into the Sore port at the yellow sea.

Another of his initiatives was the “Siheung Education Center”, started in 2004, for managing elementary, middle and high schools, and kindergarten education. He was the first person to introduce the center in Siheung city. He was also the first person to introduce the Economic Park in 2004, a project which is still carrying on to this day.

Sihueng city is one of the biggest industrial zones in the country and has a large number of migrant workers. There are at least ten thousand migrants resident in the area. In contrast there are more migrants resident in Ansan, a sister city to Siheung. However, Ansan became a city 10 years earlier than Sihueng did.

To alleviate their plight and support the needs of the migrant workers Mr. Jeong inaugurated the first foreigners’ family welfare center in Sihueng city in 2005. He is looking forward to the city’s future as a multicultural city.

Mayor Jeong Jong-heun(R) and the Global Friendship Club chairman Sunggon Oh(L)

Mayor Jeong Jong-heun was actually born in Geochang, Gyeongsannam do Province in 1943 in a typical giwajip style Korean house. A hometown, with the spirit of Gibaegsan, and the river Wicheon full of water, and with a wide range of plain farm land, made him a man.

He graduated with a BA degree in Russian language from the Korea Foreign Language University in 1966, and a double MA in Administration and National Policy from the Seoul National University in 1979 and 2004 respectively.

He served as Sihueng city mayor from 2002 to 2006. Before that, he was a vice mayor of Sihueng City from 1998 to 2000, and Chief of Gapyeongkun Administration from 1992 to 1994, as well as, Chief of Incheokun city Administration in 1994 and he also served as a captain in the Military Air Force from 1966 to 1972.

He received several awards for his hard work, including Air force Award for Saemaeul Movement, Pink-heart Merit award, Presidential Award and Nationwide Award(Shimin Newspapers).

Furthermore, he has actively advocated for social and environment issues. He is involved in the pro-environment Biologic Park Construction from Murang stream to Wolgot Port, and the Theme Yeongot Park construction, and has campaigned for a green city free from air pollution in Jeongwandong.

Since retiring he is now an advocate for Korea-Dokdo-love. He is an adviser and Honorary Chairman of the Global Friendship Club. Right now, he is living with his two sons and climbs mountains in his free time.

The Global Digest editor Barry Welsh edited to this story.

South Korea

Oriental medicine will take over modern medical science in the future! Dr. Kang Dong-Chul has something to say

By Salai Thang
Staff Correspondence
May 14, 2011

Dr. Kang Dong-Chul in his office at Seoul Sky Hospital

Nowadays, Oriental medicine is significantly increasing its operation in various fields. It can cure all kinds of diseases, including pain in the back, shoulder, neck, head and stomach; and it can cure high blood pressure (hypertension) and heart diseases. In the case of paralysis, they use Maxa (a product of Korean tradition medicine) along with acupuncture. Maxa medicine powder can also be found in Japan and China.

According to Dr. Kang, oriental medical treatment is better than modern medical science, because it doesn’t use chemicals. Junk foods cause damage to the immune system, and can produce headache, allergy, etc. In those cases, oriental medical treatment is definitely better than modern medicine science, he argued.

He has much confidence in oriental medicine and thinks others should too. He said, in the future, oriental medicine will become more popular.

According to Dr. Kang, from treatment at his Oriental medicine department, 60 percent of patients are completely recovered from their diseases, where approximately 2,000 patients per month receive treatment. He works at the Department of Oriental Medicine of Seoul Sky Hospital. A few foreign patients have also received treatment there, as well.

For paralysis patients, the expense is higher; it costs approximately 500 thousands won per month, and total expenses until recovery are approximately 3 to 4 million. It takes approximately at-least 3 months to recover completely, he said.


Korean Medicine Service Team Abroad (KOMSTA) is an oriental medical NGO providing humanitarian services. Dr. Kang is a chairperson. So far, it operates in 27 countries, Asia, Africa, Brazil, America, Russia and in Europe; and has assisted 400,000 patients within 17 years of operation. KOMSTA has 1000 members who are mainly from the background of medicine - doctors, nurses and professors.

KOMSTA gets a small amount of support from the Ministry of Health and Welfare and other support from private contributors. They also have cooperation overseas from the countries of Srilanka, Uzbekistan, Mongolia, and Kazakhstan.

Dr. Kang Dong-Chul is a director of Korean medicine at Seoul Sky hospital, and the president of the organization. Before he joined Seoul Sky Hospital in 2007, he worked for Inja Korea clinic for 17 years. He graduated with a PhD in Acupuncture from Daegu Haany University. He has a son and daughter.

The Global Digest editor Layne Hartsell edited to this story.

South Korea

Interview with the former Sahmyook University President emeritas Professor Daegeuk Nam

By John S Thang
Staff Writer
Apr. 29, 2011

Sahmyook University entrance gate

Recently, the Korean Ministry of Education, Science and Technology awarded Sahmyook University an award for good character for 2011.

For more information, the Global Digest interviewed the former Sahmyook University President, Professor Daegeuk Nam. He served from 2000 to 2005 and is a prominent professor in Korea.

Sahmyook University is a medium sized, independent Christian university with approximately 6,000 students, located on the outskirts of Seoul, to the north of the city. In Korean “Sahm” mean “three folds” and “yook” means “education.” These three folds are physical, mental and spiritual. The university motto is “truth, love, and service,” Dr. Nam told the Global Digest.

During his term as president, he increased the morale of staff and faculty, where, at the time, they were losing confidence in themselves. They faced a lot of divisions within the school.

The advantage of the university is its location in the mega city of Seoul, and its ranking is 50 among more than 200 universities in South Korea. Actually, his goal was to reach the rank of 30 during his presidency, however, it was not achieved.

At the international level, Sahmyook University is the largest of the Adventist church’s universities among approximately 100 universities in the world, except in America.

Professor Daegeuk Nam

The university’s unique characteristics are financial stability, low ratios of students/teachers and a beautiful environment. There were about 160 full time teachers during Dr. Nam's presidency.

Essentially, the university is self-supported and other financial assistance comes from the church. In addition, in Korea, the university can get support from the government through various projects, if the university is chosen. In turn, the university has to pay a large amount of taxes to the government, said Dr. Nam. A small disadvantage he felt was that not all the teachers were from an Adventist Church background, the university’s mother church organization.

Although the Christian based university wants to give religious education to all students, such as attending chapel services, it is the student's personal choice of whether he or she wants to attend.

The important thing is that the Christian faith and ethics made the university a good place to study and to contribute to society.

Concerning religious freedom and human rights, he is not happy for the miniscule progress of the crisis in North Korea, and he is disappointed in the South Korean government position’s as kowtowing. He claimed God’s the creator of all things, we should treat ourselves and others with the same values. He supports change to democracy and freedom for all countries with dictators.

His message to readers was that we need to be more intelligent rather than being excited. He also called for Christians to fix our eyes on the coming of Jesus Christ.

Dr. Nam served as an Old Testament scholar at Sahmyook University for 37 years, where before that he served as a German teacher at the military academy for three years. He was a chairman of Sukil Scholarship Foundation for the last eight years.

Currently, he is vice president of retired professors of the Korea military academy; chairman of Adventist Collegian with Tidings (a program for Adventist secular universities’ students); a member of Korean Society of Old Testament study; he worked for a program at Division Adviser committee; in charge of translating the SDA Bible commentary in 14 volumes in Korean (due out this year).

He contributed several scholarly papers to the Old Testament society. He is the author of seven books and co-author of three books, and has finished four Korean translations of books.

He finished double Bachelor Degrees, triple Masters Degrees and a Doctorate. He graduated with a B.A. and M.A. in German language and literature at Seoul National University, and later he graduated with a B.A. in Theology at Sahmyook University; and M.A. and M.Div. in religious studies at Adventist International Institute of Advanced Studies in the Philippines. He finished his Th.D in the Hebrew Bible at Andrews University in the U.S.A.

After his retirement from the Sahmyook University in 2009, he has spent most of his time writing books.

The Global Digest editor Layne Hartsell edited to this story.

South Korea

Interview Story: The Mayor of Ansan
Ansan City Mayor Kim Cheol Min gives his vision for the rapid development of the city and the integration of foreign residents

John S Thang
Staff writer
Mar. 6, 2011

Ansan City Mayor Kim Cheol Min

Ansan city is a rapidly growing city, as the city is aiming to be the hub for the largest influx of foreigners into Korea. It is already home to the largest foreign population, and the city is trying to develop as a global multicultural center with services, entertainment and shopping for all. Moreover, it is planning to promote the highest percentage of urban green areas for environmental advocacy.

One of the city green zones is Sihwa Lake, which has more than 25 species of birds residing around its shoreline. Another, the Nojeokbong Fountain Park features the nation’s largest fountain with a height and width of 23m and 133m, respectively. Also, the world’s largest tidal plant is located in nearby.

Ansan City is on the west coast of Korea and is approximately 147.14 km2 . It has a population of 720,000, with a significant number of foreign residents. Among them are migrant workers who contribute to the economic development of the city in the labor sector of industry. According to the city motto, ‘To Make People Feel Happy, Delightful and Comfortable,’ the city is adjusting itself to becoming a multicultural or internationalized city for foreign residents.

For more information on the city’s future plan, the Global Digest conducted an interview with Ansan City Mayor Kim, Cheol Min:

The Global Digest (GD): Mr. Mayor, first of all, on behalf of The Global Digest, I would like to thank you for this interview. What makes you passionate about Ansan City? Which part of the city most concerns you as mayor? And, could you explain your vision and goal?

Mayor Kim Cheol Min: Not one business carried out by the city is insignificant, and I would like to set three main goals for the future prosperity of Ansan City. First, we will do our utmost to alleviate the current economic hardship faced by common people. We will head for a firm-friendly, competitive industrial cluster by improving technology and transportation and the accessibility of the deteriorating Banwol and Siwha industrial complex. Also, we will create stable jobs by attracting major companies such as Canon Korea, as well as small and medium enterprises. Moreover, we will establish a wholesale distribution center to enhance merchants’ economic competitiveness and to encourage a regional shopping area with differentiated themes.

Second, we will form a social welfare system without blind spots and establish a happy, welfare-oriented city full of sharing and consideration for others. Formerly, welfare was perceived as a burden. Yet, as welfare is a basis for social integration, it must be viewed as a form of investment to continue the competitiveness of society. Based on this change of perception, we will construct Ansan Memorial Park and extend both the Senior Center and Municipal Geriatric Hospital located in Sangnok-gu. Also, by providing free school meals for all elementary school children, establishing two high schools in preparation for high school standardization, and constructing a lifetime education center, we will take steps towards becoming one of the educational centers in the capital area.

Third, we will deal with the growing demand of tourists along the west coast by forming infrastructure for tourism. Tourism of the area will alter significantly when the tidal plant in Sihwa Lake in Ansan, the most advanced in the world, begins to operate. Consequently, as we establish a marine tourism department, we will remake Ansan’s cultural heritage and natural environment into attractive place for tourists. Furthermore, we will put our strongest effort into realizing Ansan’s new goal combining technology and tourism by strengthening renewable energy facilities and developing the city into the nation’s most advanced renewable energy metropolis.

GD: What is the most recent satisfaction you have derived from the city? We heard there is a plan for building a memorial park in Ansan city. Can you tell us more about it?

Mayor: In Korea, cremation is now gaining popularity over burial. In Ansan, the rate of cremation was 82.3% in 2010. Acknowledging the growing need for a cremation facility, we decided on the site last December. Henceforth, we need to concentrate on constructing a nature-friendly memorial park and on encouraging development of neighboring areas. We aim to construct facilities underground as much as possible and to beautify the park by forming roof gardens, as well as to shelter the place from Ansan Integrated Circuit. We will also renovate Anyang Park Cemetery and renew the area’s image. Moreover, we will restrict the entrance of people selling things. As we readjust urban management planning we will make better use of the land, and make our city a good place to live as we expand urban infrastructure. Establishing welfare, culture and sports based towns will provide convenience to our people. In conclusion, we will see to it that there is support for regional business and people can enjoy the services and facilities as much as possible.

GD: The Korean Government designated Ansan city as a special city for foreigners. How are the processes going? Are you and Ansan citizens ready to accept the responsibility?

Mayor: Ansan hosts the most foreigners in Korea - approximately 39,000 people from 67 countries are registered. In 2009, Wongok-dong was approved as a special multicultural region, which encourages a multicultural community. A multicultural society is a must for Korea to become an advanced country. Especially in Ansan, many foreigners are working in the Banwol and Sihwa industrial areas, contributing to the region’s economic growth. As is the case, we all agree on making policies that guarantee the best living conditions for foreigners.

GD: Do you think Ansan City can become an internationalized city?

Mayor: First of all, I would like to talk about the globalization of Ansan in an economic perspective. With the technological improvement of Banwol-Sihwa industrial complex, improved entrance into the complex, and trying to attract massive enterprises both in Korea and outside Korea, we are becoming an economic hub further supported by improved transportation. Moreover, by encouraging a power industry, we are striving to become an economic center for industry.

From the socio-cultural perspective, there are 38,200 registered foreigners in Ansan. We are encouraging the multicultural community by holding festivals for each individual country and traditional celebration days.

Lastly, I will talk about tourism in the future globalized Ansan. We are expecting many tourists from all over the world once the tidal plan in Sihwa Lake begins to operate. Along with constructing a green belt linking Wetland Park and Daebu Island, we are planning on establishing marine and leisure based cultures. To realize this idea, we aim to build accommodation facilities and sites for diverse experiences.

GD: What is the biggest obstacle to internationalizing Ansan city? Could it be the language? What do you think of English as an international language to be widely used in Ansan city?

Mayor: Ansan city runs two English villages designed to encourage better access to the language for our people. Every year 15,000 children experience everyday English, eliminate fear over English, and participate in programs that provide a basic ground for fluent speaking abilities in everyday English. Also, we are in the middle of building a lifetime education center, and with native speakers as teachers we are striving to become a globalized Ansan where foreigners can feel at home.

GD: Ansan City is an industrialized zone. What are your plans on growing Ansan City’s economy, and also what are your plans on securing an international business community here?

Mayor: Ansan is an industrialized city with over 6,000 firms and over 120,000 workers, exporting manufactured goods worldwide. Banwol industrial complex, recently chosen as a model for technological improvement, is changing to a firm-friendly, worker-friendly environment. It is also a globalized industrial complex where approximately 30,000 foreign workers are working hard together with Korean workers. We are planning on supporting neighboring industrial areas as free economic zones, encouraging free foreign investments and further initiation of businesses.

Ansan is becoming a competitive industrial city with improved technology and settlement of foreign and Korean enterprises. Last year, Canon Korea signed a one hundred million dollar contract expected to create 10,000 jobs, and we are expecting the positive influence of attracting other massive firms. With improved accessibility we are once again becoming an economic hub.

GD: Considering the current increase of discrimination against foreigners (especially migrant workers) in the country, what do you think Ansan City should do about this issue? Should, or could the mayor take a more active role on the plight of migrant workers?

Mayor: It is obvious that migrant workers are an important labor force in industrial settings. They are especially necessary for smaller enterprises and in 3D (difficult, dangerous, and dirty) sectors. However, although these migrant workers are being discriminated against, suitable solutions are not found easily because of their low level of Korean language and job status. To improve these kinds of problems, Ansan City has established ‘Migrants Help’ call center, which deals with 5,400 cases per month, so the immigrants can gain their rights. Also, Ansan City has legislated the ‘Ordinance to improve the rights of immigrants’ to improve immigrants’ human rights issues, in March, 2009. This ordinance possesses the tools to provide legal advice, language support, and information when immigrants’ rights are violated. Ansan City is also putting in the effort to improve immigrants’ rights, which includes providing human rights education to the citizens.

GD: What are the roles of the migrant community and foreigners in governing the city? What can the city do to deal more with the multicultural society?

Mayor: Immigrants in our society are compulsory human resources, and they should be treated equally as any other ordinary citizens. Our city knows the value of immigrants, and established Korea’s first department exclusively for the immigrants, enacted the ordinance for improving human rights for immigrants, strived to provide equal service for migrant workers, marriage certification, and services for their offspring. Also, ‘Immigrants’ Home’ call center provides services including Korean education, technological education, living experiences, free medical care, and translation services every day. With a multicultural infrastructure and our know-how, our city is trying to create a community where both immigrants and citizens can live together.

GD: You want to promote a green environment in the city. Can you explain how you will do this?

Mayor: Until the beginning of the year 2000, the bad smell from the industrial complex has led to negative images of Ansan such as “foul-smelling region” and the contaminated Lake Sihwa. However, Ansan City, city council, environmental organizations, and ordinary citizens put in efforts to improve these problems, and Lake Sihwa’s contamination and bad smells are improving. Lake Sihwa is also becoming a large habitat for migratory birds. Lake Shihwa’s hydrologic improvement COD: (1997) 16.61ppm  (2009) 4.1 ppm

The number of migratory birds frequenting Lake Siwha: 25 types of rare birds and 120 types in all (Total: approximately 100,000) Also, we are participating in a green campaign organized by the United Nations, continuously planting 7,000,000 trees, and we are also aiming to expand the greenbelt region to 10m2 per person by the end of 2017.

Lake Sihwa’s image has improved from a polluted region to a vibrant ecosystem, and both Lake Sihwa and Daebu Island have become important resources for tourism and environmental preservation. We are trying our best to develop ecosystem resources such as Sihwa Reed Wetland Park, which is located in the upper stream of Lake Sihwa , and a tidal plant in Lake Sihwa, which is going to be finished by May 2011.

We are also trying to develop Ansan City as an environmentally friendly city, where people can enjoy nature. We are especially trying to reduce the amount of CO2 emissions. To accomplish this, we are trying to create an environment where common households, companies, and public organizations participate. This will make Ansan City a climate conserving, eco-friendly city. We will create green-citizens by establishing governance between civil organizations and administrative agencies. To accomplish this, we are trying to establish low CO2 emission enactments and a Green Development Council, and to arrange administrative and financial support. We will try our best to motivate the synergetic impact by carrying out the plans including developing a greenhouse gas emission management system, constructing renewable energy, constructing a bicycle network, and providing environmentally friendly households. We will efficiently use the Green Start Network, which is part of our new-governance system, and impart a new idea to the society that saving energy is part of producing energy.

GD: Do you wish to say anything to citizens living in Ansan?

Mayor: Korea is at a difficult stage, where everyone suffers. I will try my best to cooperate and communicate with people as I govern the city. I will also try to make Ansan a city where hard-working people have their well-deserving opportunity. I trust the united strength of Ansan City’s citizens. I believe that we will overcome hardships and accomplish new feats through our passion. This year, we will be writing a new history of Ansan City based on last year’s accomplishments and elevated confidence. I hope every citizen accompanies us in our path to achieving Ansan’s dream.

GD: Thank you.

Mayor Kim Cheol Min graduated with an MA in Business Administration from the Graduate School of Industrial Engineering, Management & Design, Hanyang University. His past professional experience is: President, Korea Institute of Registered Architects, Ansan; Vice District Governor, District 354b; Korea State Council Lions Clubs International; CEO, Ansan Architects & Engineers; President, Korea Association of Athletics Federations, Ansan.

The Global Digest editor Layne Hartsell edited and ACHR team members translated to this story.

South Korea

Alcohol Awareness: You too can stop drinking

An interview with Dr. Chun Sung Soo, President of the Korean Society of Alcohol Science

John S. Thang
Staff writer
Feb. 18, 2011

Anti Alcohol advocator Dr. Sungsoo Chun in his office

Where there is a high level of alcohol consumption in a society, the control of drinking must be considered. Amidst the difficulties in South Korea, the idea of alcohol awareness was started by Dr. Sungsoo Chun and his colleagues in 1999; and they continued to explore the topic until 2004 after they formally organized in a small project in South Korean society.

The project was begun by conducting research on heavy drinking and binge drinking among college students with a small fund from the Korean government. Simultaneously, they developed alcohol policy and prevention at the college level; all a part of their first initiative.

Later, they developed a project called the Comparative Study between Korea and the US, particularly by comparing Sahmyook University and Harvard University, respectively. It was the first international level developmental study.

In 2005, they started an official institute on alcohol problems after more researchers joined in their network.

Because of his significant effort, in 2010 Dr. Chun was invited to be a member of the Korean 20/20 Health Plan. This institution is maintained and conducted by the Korean National Health Plan every 10 years. As a member of this group, he earnestly introduced and developed the idea of a nationwide alcohol policy.

Controversial with local Koran tradition drinking!

In early times, Koreans did not know how harmful drinking alcohol was for their health. Nowadays, people know it is harmful for health, so they should stop drinking. Nevertheless, people are still drinking with the awareness of health problems, Dr. Chun lamented.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), alcohol is a kind of drug. Many scientists agree that it is a drug and a danger for health and suggested that people not encourage drinking.

It is a need to change the habit of heavy drinking, otherwise, if they continue, problems will arise in society, Dr. Chun commented.

The easiest way to change culture is to make a policy of alcohol control. This change of drinking habits is very important than the traditional drinking maintaining, he added. Moreover, it is a national duty and responsibility. Especially, the intellectuals should lead this change in society and people should ultimately give up drinking.

He continues to speak and to show that the impact of alcohol is severe and that there must be an alcohol control policy.

There are various strategies to control drinking. For example, because of the FTA, wine spirits have become affordable in South Korea. On the other hand, in Thailand, the lawmakers blocked the FTA so wine prices remained expensive and people could not afford to drink. Thailand developed the Alcohol Control Act in 2008.

Dr. Chun’s organization is trying to develop an alcohol control act on the Korea Peninsula. The upcoming year 2012 is designated as their campaign year, especially to convince the congressmen, lawmakers and members of the Korean Parliament.

So far, he has met with the minister of public health and some congressmen. It seems they have positive views on the issue.

Dr. Chun hopes Korean society will change in the future. He said, alcohol is one of the serious problems in Korea, as well as, a problem of global proportions.

His organization is already supported by approximately 200 Korean scientists and politicians. KSAS has five regular researchers and ten part time researchers.

Also, he has a vision to make a global institute related to alcohol policy making.

Internationally, they formed a MoU with the Thai National Center for Alcohol Study in Thailand on February 4, 2011. The purpose is to exchange techniques, research and to organize conferences on prevention and treatment.

There is also potential to make MoUs with countries such as New Zealand, Australia, US (Harvard University), and Canada (Toronto University).

Now, they have a strong international scientists’ network ranging from New Zealand, Australia, Sweden, France, England, US, Thailand, Japan, China, Taiwan, India and to other countries. Scholars from at least 13 countries have joined in their network.

Dr. Chun is a board member of the Global Alcohol Policy Alliance (GAPA) which is a group for the advocacy of international alcohol control policy.

Dr Chun graduated with a PhD and MA in public health from Seoul National University and a BA in pharmacy from Sahmyook University in 1999, 1993 and 1983 respectively. He is currently Professor and Chairman, Department of Public Health, Graduate School of Health Science and Welfare, and President, Korean Institute of Alcohol Problem (KIAP) Sahmyook University, and President of the Korean Society of Alcohol Science (KSAS); and Executive Director for the International Affairs, Korean Society for Health Education and Promotion (KSHEP).

The Global Digest editor Layne Hartsell in Thailand edited to this story.

South Korea

Reorganizing the Korean’s largest human rights body in New Year 2011

John S Thang
Staff writer
Jan. 31, 2011

The South Korean’s largest human rights body “National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)” was reorganized its team members ahead of lunar New Year.

Details about human rights program and particularly on migrants and foreigners issue, the Global Digest had interviewed with Park, Sung Nam, director of Migration, plus Civil Rights Division and Investigation Bureau in charge. Along with him investigator Byoung-Soo Park was participated in the interviewing. Both of them are from the same team, and they have been working for the Commission longtime, as very senior members.

Mr. Park, Sung Nam, director of Migration team

A team leader Mr. Park, Sung Nam expressed that the migration department is a new field for him and just started it in this month. However, he has a wide rang of experiences in the Commission, he worked at policy division for 3 years, at investigation Bureau for 2 years, at disability policy team for a year and at discrimination department for 6 months respectively. He graduated his MBA from Budapest University in Hungary, also he had trained human rights in Canada for a year.

An investigator, Byoung-Soo Park

An investigator, Byoung-Soo joined the Commission in 2003, he worked at human rights policy bureau department alone for 6 years, and started his investigator post from last year.

Their team has special goals for this year. They plan to develop migrants’ human rights guideline, a kind of road map to deal with all foreigners’ human rights issues.

Secondly, they plan to make a consolidation society for every nationality who resident in South Korea, aiming to live together and happily without any hindrances. Where the government must provide minimum standard of assistances, such as migrant children rights to get minimum standard of allowance in their education.

Furthermore, about consolidation society promotion, although the commission had trained human rights education to its staff workers, but it still needs a lot more to educate Korean public in order to understand and to become a practical in consolidation society, said Mr. Park, Sung Nam.

The other thing is to review Employment Permits System, and migrant women issues who had forced divorced by their Korean husband. The victim women should get living and foods, education training, some allowances and rehabilitation program, said Mr. Park, Sung Nam.

Where some of violators are cruelly and rudely respond even to the investigators, however, we should investigate and we have authority to investigate, said Mr. Byoung-Soo.

Since Korean government drastically cut down the commission’s budgets, the numbers of staff workers are reduced. Before the migration team members numbers were 6/7 persons but now only 4 team members are available.

Generally, the migration team conducts a research on law, policy and the system about migrant issues. Secondly, they conduct investigation task, such as racial discrimination, human rights violations committed by public officers, and refugees and other issues.

According to Korean law, migrant children can access any school regardless of their visa status. However, their basic education allowance was still neglected. So, it needs to advocate and update the legal system and policy, said Mr. Park, Sung Nam.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has celebrated its 9th anniversary in last November 2010. During 9 years they received a total of 320,000 cases filing. Among over 50,000 cases of complaints, 77% are human rights violation and 19% are discrimination cases.

South Korea

Let’s join the “Korea Dokdo Love” program and Dr. Jonghun Lee

By John S Thang
Staff writer
Jan. 27, 2011

“Korea Dokdo Love” organizers Mr. Sunggon Oh(left), Dr. Jonghun Lee(center) and Mr. Hansool Suh (right)

In recent years, the Dokdo islets have become a controversial issue between South Korea and Japan on the world stage, which has heightened relations in a negative way. The Korean people have tried to advocate in the world community that Dokdo islets are part of South Korean territory.

Dokdo islets are located near Woolreungdo Island, and have been documented as Korean territory according to documents found from the Shilla dynasty (B.C 512), Goryeo and Choseon periods.

Geographically, the Dokdo islets are 87.4 km from South Korean’s Woolrengdo Island and 157.5 km from Japanese’s Okikundo Island.

According to “Korea Dokdo Love” program organizers, there was a misunderstanding and thus confusion in the international community which came to see that Dokdo was part of Japanese territory. The misinformation arose because of Japanese influence in the international arena, and from its aggressive attitude toward Korea.

Therefore, the group “Korea Dokdo Love” strongly condemns Japan in its wrong intentions to occupy the Dokdo islets. The group also submitted its statement to the Institute Research Seminar of Dokdo Historical Museum in Woolreungdo.

Furthermore, a sub-group of “Korea Dokdo Love” in Ansan City helps foreigners to understand and to support the Dokdo islets as part of South Korean territory. The organizers are from various professional backgrounds, including scholars, politicians, artists and medical doctors.

Among them, physician Dr. Jonghun Lee is one of the strong supporters of “Korea Dokdo Love” program. Dr. Lee has a private Cheongdam clinic in Ansan city which has been operating for more than 12 years. Because of his skill and compassionate attitude towards his patients, his clinic quickly became popular in Ansan city.

Cheongdam clinic poster

Cheongdam clinic is equipped with modern techniques and tools. Its services include: X-ray; plastic surgery; orthopedics involving joints and broken bones (e.g. broken legs, hands, fingers etc.). The more interesting service of plastic surgery is for young people who want to become more beautiful (e.g. surgery of nose, face and etc.). It is very popular.

Dr. Lee received his medicine degree from Kyueng Hee University, and he finished his postgraduate degree from Gachun Medical School in Incheon city. He also served at Seoul Catholic Medical School before he opened his clinic in Ansan city.

Apart from his private clinic, he supports social and community services in society. Dr. Lee is an honorary chairman of The Global Friendship Club and incumbent chairman of Ansan—Korea Dokdo Love program. He regularly contributes funds to the Global Friendship Club.

To contact Cheongdam clinic:
Tel: 486-2888


South Korea

Free dental service for foreigners

With a compassionate Dentist

John S Thang
Staff writer
Jan. 25, 2011

A young dentist Dr. Seo Jong-Won in Wongok Health Care Center

A dental service for foreigners and native elderly people is operating in Ansan Danwon Health Center at Wongok Branch, Ansan city. According to the center slogan ‘the Global Village united with love and Health, Happy Together,’ the health center provides medical care programs, including general health check up, dental clinic, oriental medicines and other services.

Among various programs, dental clinic is pretty much appreciated by foreigners for a good and compassion service of Dr. Seo Jong-Won. He is not just kind and patient, but also good in English conversation when explaining the patients’ diseases in details.

Dr. Seo explains there are two types of dental service they're providing. They are preservation treatment (oral examination, tooth brushing instruction, scaling, caries removal etc.), and operative treatment (such as extraction, incision & drainage, curettage etc).

All foreigners are charged free of cost, as well as, native Korean elderly people above 65 are free of charges. Even the foreigner, who has no valid visa or overstaying, can use the center on humanitarian grounds, said Dr. Seo.

Dr. Seo serves for Wongok Health Care Center instead of military service. Military service is an obligation to every Korean before the Korean government, said Dr. Seo. He was graduated from Kyungpook National University in 2008. Before he came to Ansan city, he had been served in Sangju city, Gyeongbuk province for rural area residents people, as well as, he served in Ulleung Island, Gyeongbuk province for isolated Korean people.

This is his final year of service at Wongok Health Care Center. Foreigners came to the center will always remember Dr. Seo for his kindness and compassionate services. We hope he will keep continues his social service in his future.

The original of this Wongok Health Care Center is started in 2003, where the center was supported Korean Chinese and foreign workers mainly. Later in 2005, the center name was changed into Wongok branch Health Care Center, which service was expanded to all foreigners, also allowed Korean native residents treatment in the center.

The service timing is Monday to Friday 9:00-18:00, and the last Sunday of each months.

Contact: 031-481-3608

South Korea

Highly ambitious the Global Friendship Club

Meeting with a local Korean Social activist

By John S Thang
Staff writer
Jan. 15, 2011

Mr. Sunggon Oh, Chairman of the Global Friendship Club

A local Korean social activist in Ansan city, Mr. Sunggon Oh has shared his vision to The Global Digest.

Mr. Oh, a mechanical engineer, who founded the Global Friendship Club and started it in 2005 to make a friendship with difference races from difference countries in Ansan city.

Most of the club members are from Southeast Asia countries who married with Korean and vice-versa. It has approximately 150 members.

The club also provides small scholarships to the Asian poor countries. Last years, three Chinese elementary school students received scholarships from the club. Mr. Oh persuasively telling, the club will continue to provide small scholarships to other countries as well. He expresses interest in helping Myanmar after terrible cyclone disaster hit in the Southeast Asia country 2 years ago.

Moreover, the Global Friendship Club promotes Korea-Dokdo-Love program. Mr. Oh said, Dokdo Islets are part of Korean territory, however, it had been influenced by their neighbor countries Japan and China, just because of they are bigger power than Korea.

Usually, the Global Friendship Club fund is coming from Mr. Oh’s own pocket by running “Tae Yang car workshop.” His workshop services are welding, panel beating, painting and etc.

Also Mr. Oh had been worked as mechanical engineer in Saudi Arabia for a year. He has been visited Papua New Guinea, and visited China several times. Active in social services, he is one of the rare Korean men who sympathizes foreigners in Ansan city.

Korean government designated Ansan city as foreigners’ city, about 50,000 foreigners population are living in Ansan city.

South Korea

Korean Law firm devotes for Justice

Human Rights Activists Respond

By John S Thang
Jan. 12, 2011

The Global Digest has privilege to interview Korean Law firm DAON in its office. The interview was made to Attorney Young Jun Kim and Attorney Kim Jae Ryon. Both of them are from DAON law firm.

Attorney Young Jun Kim

Attorney Young Jun Kim graduated from Seattle University Law School and a member of Washington State Bar Association; he is expert in International trade and commerce issues. Attorney Young is also interested in Myanmar human rights violations consequence of International Companies trade with Myanmar military government.

Attorney Kim Jae Ryon

On the other hand, Attorney Kim Jae Ryon is more concentrated on local issues, such as women, migrants and refugees problems. She was graduated from Ewha Womans University College of Law and a member of Korean Bar Association.

The refugee issues are increasing nowadays. Since numbers of refugees’ applications were rejected by the Korean Government refugees have to struggle for their lives difficulty. Secondly, many refugees were not able to enjoy the rights to asylum due to obstacle of accessing refugee application system. Afraid of arresting and threaten to punish them, especially to the overstayed visa holders.

Another issue is migrant worker problem. Probably, it is the biggest issue faced by foreigners in South Korea. Since South Korea is becoming developed country, it increases doubles of its industries firms every year, which demanded larger number of employees. At the same time, their problems become the issue everyday. Most of migrant workers face no payment of salary, abuses, accident in work field, and even fire them out from their jobs.

As Korean lawyers, it is not easy to advocate for foreigners against their Korean employers. Sometime, the employers accused lawyers with strong voice of condemnation as national betrayers; even they could get physically assaulted. In any circumstances, Attorney Kim Jae Ryon said, we will fight them back, she added, it is our duty. Further she said, we would like to work for justice. Actually, in the law, it is not really a matter of nationalities.

At the end of the meeting, the two Attorneys expressed their willingness to cooperate with “The Global Digest” and “Chin Democracy and Human Rights Network” for the sake of foreigners. Attorney Young Jun Kim opens us for the cooperation. And the DAON law firm will serve as legal counselor to us, said Attorney Kim Jae Ryon. It’s a privilege to meet Attorney Young Jun Kim and Attorney Kim Jae Ryon. We hope they would ever become the best lawyers for foreigners.

For more information, you can visit DAON website:
Tel: 02-3477-7733



Talking with the leader
NGO, human rights activist

Jan. 1, 2011

Layne Hartsell in his office

The Global Digest has interviewed with Professor Layne Hartsell, who is Assistant Professor of Language Institute and Biosciences at SKKU Advanced Institute of Nanotechnology, Center for Human Interface Nanotechnology, Sungkyunkwan University.

He is also the founder of the Integral Trust Fund (ITF). The trust fund is a way to collect and hold funds for various projects which are needed in villages. He expands his activity to various countries, Thailand, Cambodia and other part of the world. The details information is in below:

The Global Digest: First of all, on behalf of The Global Digest, I would like to thank you for this interview. When did you start your ITF? What made you to start this organization? Could you explain what is your vision and goal?

Layne Hartsell: I think the reason for starting a project like this is similar to most anyone who considers society, culture and justice. There is a sense of wanting to do something to help in some way, even if it is small and perhaps insignificant. Such motivation comes from simply being deeply pained at seeing injustices, especially those which could be easily remedied, e.g. clean water to children in Africa. If Africa seems too far away, then we can look around and see many ways to help. The trust fund is a way to collect and hold funds for various projects which are needed in villages.

GD: There are so many NGOs operating in Korea. What differentiates your organization from other organizations in Korea?

LH: ITF is somewhat of an NGO, however, it doesn’t follow a particular structure or organization, though when we are working on a project, we are organized. I have watched as organizations have become too “heavy” or large and tend to begin to exist for constant marketing, large salaries for personal use and for bureaucracy. In dealing with greed, bureaucracy and constant promotion, the true service can get lost – that service is to help in a meaningful way.

GD: Tell me why you chose the name " ITF ". Is there any special meaning to it?

LH: I started the Integral Trust Fund (ITF) with some concepts in mind. The concept of a trust as a noun is to hold wealth in trust for the public good and the integral part is taken from integral philosopher Ken Wilber to indicate the integral aspect of economics or fundamental economics in human need and well-being. In the case of ITF, the meanings of the concepts are interwoven to indicate village development or in cities (slums) which are where most people live. The fund is very small and operates whenever funding is available for the implementation of some project which is needed by a village.

GD: Who are your target people? How many did you implement your targets as far as you know?

LH: I don’t know about the word “target,” let me use a non-business or non-military kind of language; how about “people who say they need some assistance.” These kinds of people might be villagers in a rural area, or in the slums. We have done a number of small projects related to microcredit or to funding farmers to buy seeds at the beginning of their planting seasons. The larger project we completed was to build 3,000 bamboo houses in a refugee camp along the border of Thailand. I believe there were about 9,000 inhabitants at that camp.

GD: What are some of the most popular outcomes from your programs? What are the secrets of your popularity? What percentage of your targeted people return to your activity after their first activity?

LH: I haven’t seen any popularity of our projects, probably because they are so small, but there are larger projects on which I have modeled some of our projects, for example, the Grameen Bank in Bangladesh. As for ITF there is no popularity that I can think of, other than a few interviews and lectures I have given. Also, most of our microcredit projects simply failed or we were unable to continue because of finances. In those cases, we simply donated the money to the villages.

GD: How do you maintain or expand your ITF programs? Did you ever raise funds from America?

LH: For maintenance, I usually ask professors or friends to give some money for a specific project. Then, we go together and implement the project. I have never directly raised funds from the US, however, for the larger project another coordinator did raise funds from the US. There was a large response from communities in Minnesota and California.

GD: What is your long-term plan for "ITF?" Have you ever dreamed to become one of the most popular leaders?

LH: The plan is to keep on working in the same way, perhaps with more money. Earlier in my life I studied Gandhi and thought leaders should learn much from his model. As for popularity, that depends one who decides and for what reasons.

GD: We heard you have another organization Seoul Global Study Group (SG2). Can you tell us more about it and how much it’s related to “ITF?”

LH: Yes, SG2 and ITF are integrated together in my work in village development. SG2 is an educational project here where we hold dialogues on relevant topics to society, for example, the G20. Each month we have a dialogue which is structured with a moderator and also we have dinners with Korean scholars. We also are initiating a more free-flowing dialogue called Chat!, where people get together and simply talk about a relevant topic. Any donations from SG2 go towards a specific project in ITF. At the moment, we want to fund a seed bank which is already operating in Thailand. We will work on this in 2011.

GD: Could you explain to me about the personal side of yourself? How do you spend your free time? How about your family? Can you introduce your family members?

LH: Ah, I like to read a lot of books, exercise and I enjoy nature and technology – but this isn’t a really important matter for work. Thanks for asking.

Thank you.


Interviewed with Matupi Students Union in Norway

"Matupi Students Union, Mr. Ngun Sang Lian was interviewed by Local county NGO Reporter in Bryne, Norway"

October 26, 2007

The following questions were prepared by MSU members for interview process:- (A). The reason why military leaders moved the capital city from Yangon (Rangoon) to Pyinmana. (B). How is the condition of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in this period, and what will be in the future? (C). Regarding on Economic Sanction and dealing with import/export matter. (D). How to Support for the rebirth of Democracy in Burma? MSU prepared regarding on answering above questions as following:

(A). The reason why military leaders moved capital from Yangon (Rangoon) to Pyinmana:

As a result of the moved, diplomats and analysts were left groping for an explanation. But in a no-more-than six minutes press briefing, Rangoon’s information minister stated, "the move is necessary for all-round development of the country".

What I think about the moved of capital city is may be because of what they had done to the people of Burma such as mistreated and supressed under their military boots. They really scared to come up a revolution movement from the citizens. Therefore they separated public servants and citizens from possibility to unite if any revolution activities arise, which had happended back in 1988. Actually the military dictators don't really care about how much Burmese citizens are suffering from how they mislead the country's economy rather than their own security and prosperity. On November 6, nine ministries moved to Pyinmana at exactly 6:37 am, in line with astrological calculations. One more point is, Pyinmana is strategically located in central Burma for the purpose of both militarily and politically.

Another reason may be that the military regime also fears an attack by the US or any international force in the near future. Since the media integration is very limited in Burma, it is hard to imagine the reason why they moved out to a remote fortress, but it is most likely that the increase of international concern, and the possibility of foreign intervention in the near future because of its severe human rights violations and ethnics genocides.

Many experts have called the strategic retreat to Pyinmana "a well thought out and 'best-laid' plan - a plan to maintain control of military power and rule over the civilians from a well-protected and physically guarded safe haven far away from the masses who may one day revolt".

(B). How is the condition of Daw Aung San Suu Kyi in this period and what will be in the future?

I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi will not be released before the completion of the National Convention (NC). By releasing her, the National League for Democracy (NLD) activities might agitate the ruling government and disable NC. This is what the junta fears during the opening of the NC. Only After ten days of commencing the Convention, the authorities allowed ethnic leaders to meet and discuss to one another. In contrary, she may be released before the re-commencing if NLD's view and concept is different from what they have proposed to the military government prior to the NC and willing to join the NC in common opinion. (George Sharon, Chiangmai, Thailand)

If they release her, that will make harder for the SPDC to hold the National Convention later this year and less chances to draw the constitution as they wishes. The SPDC will only release her when they have the constitution that protects their property and power. They will never release her or transfer the power, if there is no law to protect them from being accuse of their mistakes in the past. Everyone knows that all the parties, ethnics group and currently illegal government (military leaders) must sit down together and discuss face to face the current problem and strategic move for the future of Burma. That is the only way to build a peaceful federal union in the days to come.

The military government arrest and release Daw Aung San Su Kyi whenever they're under international pressures, or they're in political dilemma. And they'll do it again and again repeately if needed. By doing that kind of activities continuously, they are extending time to hold on the power. But I will not disagree if people think Daw Su'll be released soon for those reasons. I never believe that NC is the right place where our democratic and ethnic leaders could meet, discuss, and resolve political problems, since that place have no possibility to adopt the right, fair, justice, equal constitution for all citizens of Burma. I believe that the constitution for future Burma adopted by SPDC will not guarantee our citizens' rights. The most important duty for Daw Su after her release and NLD party, is to inspire and to organize Burmese people nationwide to make radical change in Burma, or to remove SPDC by people power.

(C). Regarding on Economic Sanction and dealing with import/export matter:

The only significant sanctions against Burma's regime come from the US and allies countries. The unwillingness of China, India, Russia, and some ASEAN countries as well as soften sanction from other democratic countries to assert efficient political pressure may contribute to the regime's continuing refusal to accept positive political developments inside Burma.

Economic sanctions are not an end game solution. They are part of a process to achieve the type of environment where final solutions can be found and attained. At this very moment, sanctions are acting as a safeguard, putting a certain amount of economic and political pressure on the military.

Without sanctions and the global attention create, the Burmese regime would have a free hand to oppress and brutalize its people without hesitation. Thus, the threat of sanctions against the Burmese government is both necessary and needed. But the sanction alone from few countries alone will not change the regime's stubbornness. Therefore, the sanction has to be come from all countries, perhap directly through the good office of United Nations Organization. That may means that Burma is 100 percent isolated from the world. Only in that case, the use of santion will be effect and meaningful.

Economic mismanagement and abuses caused constant economic downturns. Facing shortages in basic needs such as proper health care, education and social services, economic infrastructure and business incentives, Burma's urban dwellers lack the same opportunities to survive as their rural counterparts.

Sanctions are designed for complex political situations and have nothing to do with the junta's failed economic liberalization attempts. The junta never reinvests its export revenues but keeps spending on defense and security measures—more than $1 billion has been spent on the extension of the defense forces while less than three percent of the GDP has gone to education and health. Obviously the sanction is the most useful way to change the political condition in Burma if the sanction is fully supported by the international community’s under UN’s leadership. So that the international communities can keep Burma fully isolated intend to change political condition instead of leading the people to become under poverty.

Regarding Economic sanctions (if the sanction is not fully supported by international communities i.e including China, Russia, Thailand, India and other countries), the Western countries should withdraw back for the sake of poor people and to decrease unemployment. The sanctions directly and indirectly handicapped the ordinary people rather than the military leaders.

As a result, the innocent people became victims. Deterioration of health care services continues while spread of Infectious Diseases and preventable illnesses much abound. The ever increasing number of unemployed became daily part of lives, and stagnation of development is the clear result.

Investments and creation of markets for the goods and products of the Burmese people will empower the ordinary lives and as a result they can afford better education, healthcare services, and better access to a healthier lifestyle.

Instead of demanding to stop investing in Burma, we people living in abroad should encourage investments to be made for the purpose of improving the Burmese society as a whole.

Solving the political problems must go through political and peaceful means and processes. Political problems should not be obstacles to the economic matters which are directly related to innocent people’s social-economic lives. Innocent people have suffered enough from economic sanctions. How long should this continue on?

The military government for sure is greatly responsible for the restrictive conditions and environments faced by aid groups working in Burma. Nevertheless, the role play by activists and lobby groups cannot be also denied.

Are the activists and lobby groups more concerned with the government that is in power or are they more concerned about the ordinary people who are facing the brunt of all the economic sanctions made in the name of DEMOCRACY?

(D). How to Support for the rebirth of Democracy in Burma?

For the first step, my suggestion is world/international communities must be taking part with a very wise ways (ideas and methods) to assist this Burmese opposition parties and multi-ethnics group under very careful study, and equal treatment under proper arrangement. Before they provide any assistance, they must make details study, prepare special rules and policies for this opposition groups to be united under “One umbrella” which will represent for the whole Burma’s opposition group. Each group may have their own roles and responsibilities under the “One umbrella” organization or project.

The assistance will be given to only those who join under “One umbrella”. But the “One umbrella” must have special policies and rules for all opposition groups, every ethnics group, and any individual who would like to participate in building the country, to be play with their own roles under fair selections, equal treatment, and justice system in that "one umbrella organization". Especially the right to make decision equally and enough room for all ethnics/dialects groups to be participate under “One Umbrella Organization”. The One Umbrella Organization must also open the door to any individual and groups to join.

According to local news, more than 3,000 protesters were arrested and being put into the awful custody as a result of peaceful demonstration held during September 2007. Even though the government's official news declared that around 10 person including Japanese journalist were dead, but the local news reporters and most of eyewitnesses confirmed more than 250 persons were dead and most of people were buried up by the military soldiers after they killed. Moreover, most of people have been suffered physically and mentally as a result of awful crack down on peaceful demonstrations.

By seeing such kind of incidents, we appeal the UN and powerful countries to enter into Burma through “UN’s Peace Keeping Forces / Security Forces” to maintain stability within Burma if the military leaders turn their blind eyes of killing innocent civilians and turning their deaf ears to the voices of Burmese people and international communities.

My main point is International community’s or NGO should organize proper group to prepare facts finding mission such as Human Rights abuses and violations throughout the country by military leaders and brought them to “International Court of Justice” so that individual military leaders can be punish for their terrorist acts.

By seeing the article, regarding on which was occured while Ms Aung San Suu Kyi visited Matupi District of Chin State in April 2003 and the Matupi people everywhere warmly welcomed her despite the fact that authorities had threatened them with severe consequences if they participated in welcoming Aung San Suu Kyi, the military guys will never ever treated faily on any Burmese citizens and political activists. Therefore, the military government and their system has to be abololish at any cost as soon as possible in order to see a peaceful Burma country.

This kind of activities conducted by ruling military junta is acceptable or not in this modern civilized age? If not, why can’t we bring them to the "International Court of Justice" to give them necessary punishment. If we can sermon each individual military crime committer to the I.C.J and able to introduce some kind of procedure for those matters, will there be one of the main effective strategy to change Burma into Democratic country within short-period.