Click here for a PDF version of the letter.

October 1, 2010

To the Honorable Ambassador of the Republic of Korea,

As people living in the United States and as members of the undersigned organizations, we are deeply concerned by the actions of President Lee Myeong-bak’s administration in preparation for the 5th G20 Summit to be held in Seoul, South Korea, from November 11 to 12. We find that the current administration is using the G20 Summit as an excuse to implement measures that criminalize the freedom of expression and the right to assemble and to collective bargaining, all basic pillars of a democracy that are now under attack.  Under the guise of maintaining security, the state has also mobilized police and immigration officials to target migrants, street vendors, and other vulnerable sectors of the population in public spaces, creating an atmosphere of fear and repression that is in violation of the human rights provisions that the government must uphold. 

First, under the pretext of “preemptively responding to foreigner crime” before the G20, the Seoul Metropolitan Police have been using blatantly illegal and racist procedures to stop and search anyone officers deem ‘suspicious’ (those who look foreign and dark-skinned), resulting in the arrest, imprisonment and deportation of migrant workers . Instead of addressing fundamental problems in the migrant labor laws that allow for the unchecked exploitation of migrant workers and give them little choice but to leave abusive employers, this practice indiscriminately targets people on the basis of their ethnicity and skin color.

Secondly, through the mandate of a “road maintenance crew” formed for the G-20 summit, the police are targeting street vendors and homeless people for removal from public spaces, saying they are “cleaning up the streets.” These measures are brutally destroying the livelihoods and wiping out the resting places of South Korea’s poor. 

The government has also been repressing public employee unionization and attempting to control union activities through the time-off system, in violation of the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association recommendations and the G20’s agreement that “the current challenges [posed by the crisis] do not provide an excuse to disregard or weaken internationally recognized labor standards.” It is even ignoring the G20’s stated commitment to put “decent work” at the center of economic recovery, and instead pursuing labor flexibilization policies such as the weakening of restrictions on mass lay-offs and the expansion of the industries in which agency workers can be legally employed.

We are particularly concerned about the passage of the “Special Law on the Safe Escort of the G20 Summit,” which goes into effect on October 1. By allowing the Korean government to mobilize the army to maintain public order and to establish ‘Safe Escort Zones’ around G20-related sites to randomly stop and search passerby, this law provides the government with tools for the repression of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly. The use of the military in a non-combat situation within South Korea’s borders creates a dangerous state of exception for the use of force on peaceful civilian gatherings and unnecessarily endangers innocent lives with extreme, life-threatening measures. 

We urge you to recognize that these measures are grave violations of human and democratic rights. What is more, they will only harm the international reputation of the Republic of Korea as a democratic nation.

We therefore stand with the people of South Korea and people around the world who urgently request that you convey the following demands to your government and do everything in your power to see that they are met.

1. The G20 Summit is NO excuse! Stop the crackdown on migrants, street vendors and homeless people!

2. Honour international labor standards and ILO recommendations! Stop labor repression and labor flexibilization policies!

3. Repeal the “Special Law on the Safe Escort of the G20 Summit” and end the repression of the rights to freedom of expression and assembly!

We will be paying close attention to the situation in South Korea in the days leading up to the G20 Summit, and voice our concerns in the media and in the public sphere until this issue is resolved.


Nodutdol for Korean Community Development

Art for Change


Channing & Popai Liem Education Foundation

Filipinas for Rights and Empowerment-Gabriela USA

International Action Center

Justice Committee

KIWA Koreatown Immigrant Worker’s Alliance

NY Committee for Human Rights in the Philippines