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Korea failed to protect three Filipino women trafficking victims and ensure their effective access to justice, UN Committee finds

24 November 2023

GENEVA (24 November 2023) – The Republic of Korea violated the rights of three Filipinas who were forced into prostitution by failing to identify and protect them as trafficking victims and not ensuring access to justice and adequate remedy, the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) has found.

The Committee published its Decision today after reviewing the complaint filed by A.L.P., A.M.E. and F.F.B. The three Filipino women entered Korea on a special E-6-2 Visa designated for the entertainment industry. They were all hired as singers in the summer of 2014, two of them by recruiting agencies, and the third through a singing contest and a visa interview at the embassy of the Republic of Korea in Manila.

They had planned to work as entertainers but ended up working as waitresses at the Golden Gate Club in Seoul. They were confined and eventually forced to perform sexual services with customers. The club owner confiscated their passports and used psychological and physical violence against them.

They were arrested in March 2015 when the Seoul Metropolitan Police cracked down on the Golden Gate Club. The police interrogated them on prostitution charges.

“They were primarily treated as criminals rather than crime victims,” Committee member Corinne Dettmeijer-Vermeulen said.

“According to information brought before us, there were many signs of trafficking, such as confiscation of their passports, fear of the club owner, and the E-6-2 Visa, that the police and the immigration officers knew of and should have recognised,” Dettmeijer-Vermeulen added.

The three Filipino women reported being victims of trafficking to the police but were only questioned for prostitution. None of the immigration or police officers asked if they had been sexually harassed or if their rights had been infringed in any other way.

They were detained for 40 days and given deportation orders in April 2015. If deported to the Philippines, this would negatively affect their chance to pursue legal proceedings successfully against the perpetrators in Korea-- essential for their rehabilitation. They filed an administrative claim with the Seoul Administrative Court in May 2015 against their deportation order, which was rejected in 2017. Their subsequent appeals before the Seoul High Court and the Supreme Court were also dismissed in 2018.

After exhausting all legal remedies in Korea, the three victims filed their petition to the Committee, claiming that Korea was responsible for the failure of its law enforcement and immigration authorities to investigate gender-based violence effectively, which constituted gender-based discrimination. They further alleged that the deportation order prevented them from participating meaningfully in legal proceedings in Korea due to gender bias and discrimination by the judiciary during criminal and administrative proceedings.

The Committee noted discrimination throughout the investigation and judicial process that the victims had gone through. They also found that Korea did not guarantee the victims’ access to justice and adequate remedies, thus violating their rights under the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women.

“In this case, we observed stereotypical views from the police and courts, which hampered their identification of trafficking victims,” stated Dettmeijer-Vermeulen, adding, “Victims are secondarily victimised by the criminal justice system as they were denied access to justice.”

The Committee asked Korea to provide full reparation to the victims. It also recommended that the State party revise the current E-6-2 visa regime and strengthen the monitoring of entertainment companies that recruit foreign women. It further recommended that Korea address the adverse collateral effects of anti-trafficking efforts by ensuring that innocent women and girls are not arbitrarily arrested, abused, or falsely charged as well as step up investigation and prosecution of perpetrators involved in trafficking in persons for sexual exploitation.

For more information and media requests in Geneva, please contact:
Vivian Kwok at [email protected] or
UN Human Rights Office Media Section at [email protected]

The Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women monitors States parties’ adherence to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which to date has 189 States parties. The Committee is made up of 23 members who are independent human rights experts in women’s rights drawn from around the world, who serve in their personal capacity and not as representatives of States parties. The Optional Protocol to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women allows the Committee to receive and examine complaints by individuals or groups of individuals under the jurisdiction of a State party to the Optional Protocol, claiming to be victims of a violation of any of the rights set forth in the Convention. To date, 115 States have ratified or acceded to the Optional Protocol.

The Committee’s views and decisions on individual communications are an independent assessment of States’ compliance with their human rights obligations under the Convention.