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South Korea: UN rights expert calls for independent investigation into lethal use of water cannon

GENEVA (28 September 2016) – The United Nations Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, Maina Kiai, expressed dismay over the 25 September death of South Korean protester Baek Nam-gi, and called for a full and independent investigation into the police’s use of a water cannon last year that led to his death.

Mr. Baek, a 69-year old farmer, was knocked to the ground by a water cannon operated by the police while taking part in a peaceful rally in Seoul on 14 November 2015. He had remained in a coma until his passing.

“I express my deepest condolences to the relatives and friends of Mr. Baek Nam-gi for this tragic loss. I had the chance to meet Mr. Baek’s daughters in Seoul during my country visit in January 2016 and in Geneva last June. I was very humbled by their courage and determination to seek justice for their father in such harrowing times,” Mr. Kiai said.

“I call for a full and independent investigation into the police’s use of water cannon during the rally of November 2015 that unambiguously led to Mr. Baek’s death according to video footage available,” the expert stated. “The perpetrators should be held accountable and the family of Mr. Baek receive appropriate compensation; in addition, adequate measures must be taken to prevent a similar tragedy from happening in the future”, added Mr. Kiai.

The Special Rapporteur also reiterated his recommendation made to the South Korean authorities in his country report* of June 2016 to “review tactics used for the management of assemblies - including the use of water cannons and bus barricades - to ensure that they are not applied indiscriminately or against peaceful protestors, they do not result in escalation of tensions, and are directed at facilitating rather than preventing the exercise of assembly rights.”

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

“It is critical that the authorities learn the lessons from this painful tragedy so that it never happens again,” the human rights expert stressed.

Finally, the Special Rapporteur called on the authorities to respect the will of the family not to have the body of Mr. Baek taken for autopsy. The police and the Prosecutor’s Office requested a warrant from the Seoul Central District Court to proceed with an autopsy as the cause of death is allegedly not clear, but it was denied by the court. They have reportedly filed another request.

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

(*) Check the Special Rapporteur’s 2016 report on the Republic of Korea (A/HRC/32/36/Add.2, para. 93(b)): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/CountryVisits.aspx
(**) Read the Special Rapporteurs’ joint report on the proper management of assemblies (A/HRC/31/66): http://www.ohchr.org/EN/HRBodies/HRC/RegularSessions/Session31/Pages/ListReports.aspx

Mr. Maina Kiai (Kenya) took up his functions as the first Special Rapporteur on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association in May 2011. As a Special Rapporteur, Mr. Kiai is part of what is known as the Special Procedures of the Human Rights Council. Special Procedures, the largest body of independent experts in the UN Human Rights system, is the general name of the Council’s independent fact-finding and monitoring mechanisms that address either specific country situations or thematic issues in all parts of the world. Special Procedures’ experts work on a voluntary basis; they are not UN staff and do not receive a salary for their work. They are independent from any government or organization and serve in their individual capacity. Learn more, log on to: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/Issues/AssemblyAssociation/Pages/SRFreedomAssemblyAssociationIndex.aspx

UN Human Rights, country page – Republic of Korea: http://www.ohchr.org/EN/countries/AsiaRegion/Pages/KRIndex.aspx

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