Joint Letter Sent to the UN Secretary-General to Stop Human Rights Violations and Religious Oppression in South KoreaTuesday, 11 August 2020 12:19
On August 10th, 155 youth groups with one million members from 62 countries around the world sent a joint letter to the UN Secretary-General António Guterres and the UN affiliates, including the UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (OCHA) and the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR).
The joint letter contained a request for recommendations to stop discrimination against Shincheonji Church, a new Christian denomination headquartered in South Korea, and a UN ECOSOC-affiliated organization named Heavenly Culture, World Peace, Restoration of Light (HWPL).
The representative of this letter, the director and founder of FREE WATCH AFGHANISTAN, Mobeenullah Aimaq, said that he agreed with the UN's concern for the persecution of minorities and vulnerable groups as well as human rights violations that continue to occur in the pretext of fighting the coronavirus. To solve this problem, he proposed a joint letter to young people around the world to appeal to the international community.
He strongly urged that the Korean Government should knock off the prosecution of Shincheonji Church and HWPL in South Korea. "Prosecuting Shincheonji Church and HWPL should be immediately stopped so that the international reputation of the government, known as a proponent of peace in the globe, will be saved," he added.
In the letter, they reported the several acts of unfair discrimination and oppression of the Korean government and the media against these organizations by citing the concerns of UN Secretary-General regarding "disproportionate effects on certain communities, the rise of hate speech, and the targeting of vulnerable groups".
According to the report, there have been over 5,500 instances of human rights abuses of members of the Shincheonji Church during this period of the ongoing pandemic. Among the cases include two female members’ death in suspicious circumstances. Many of these victims are promising young people who are now facing increased discrimination in workplaces and schools, violence at home, and even forced deprogramming.
The letter highlights that the members of Shincheonji Church are also victims who were unfortunately infected with the virus despite following the government's guidelines related to the pandemic.
Furthermore, the unprecedented custody investigation against 89-years-old Chairman Man Hee Lee of Shincheonji Church and HWPL was recently determined. The charters of these two groups have been revoked by the government and they have been subject to rigorous tax investigations. Those in leadership positions within the organizations also have been taken into custody for questioning.
In the Korea Times column titled “Can unpopular sect expect justice?”, Michael Breen, CEO of Insight Communications, referred the current investigation into Shincheonji Church as a “witch-hunt” by saying that Shincheonji is a safe target for politicians and others who comment in public since it is unpopular.
In the joint letter, they urged that cases of human rights, social and religious repression, such as the ones occurring in South Korea, must be put to an end in order to build "more effective and inclusive solutions for the emergency of today and the recovery for tomorrow."
Press Release of the Department of Public Relations
Heavenly Culture, World Peace, and the Restoration of Light
A meeting within the framework of the Human Rights Dialogue “Turkmenistan - the European Union” was heldFriday, 19 June 2020 10:09
On June 18, 2020, a regular meeting as part of the Human Rights Dialogue “Turkmenistan - European Union” was held in the form of a video conference.
The heads and representatives of relevant ministries and departments of the country, including the Mejlis of Turkmenistan, the Ombudswoman of Turkmenistan, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Internal Affairs and others attended the meeting.
The European side at the meeting was represented by the head and representatives of the European Service for Foreign Policy Activities, as well as the Head of the European Union Delegation to Turkmenistan.
During the meeting, issues of expanding cooperation between Turkmenistan and the EU in the field of human rights and international humanitarian law were discussed. An exchange of views took place on such issues as the development of civil society, the rule of law and judicial reform, as well as intensive interaction between the parties to reduce the socio-economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the framework of the online meeting, the participants discussed the comprehensive promotion of economic, social and cultural rights of the people in the framework of international and local documents, including the National Plan of Action for Gender Equality for 2015-2020, the National Human Rights Action Plan for 2016-2020, the National Plan of Action to Combat Trafficking in Human Beings for 2020-2022, the National Plan of Action for the realization of children's rights in Turkmenistan for 2018-2022, as well as the National Strategy of Turkmenistan for the Early Development of the Child for 2020-2025 and others.
Also during the dialogue, the parties expressed views on expanding cooperation between Turkmenistan and the EU in the framework of multilateral forums and international organizations.
The current session of the Human Rights Dialogue “Turkmenistan - European Union” serves yet as another proof of the adherence of the parties to multifaceted bilateral cooperation.
Preventing COVID-19: Council of Europe supports prison systems in Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and North MacedoniaTuesday, 09 June 2020 15:42
In response to the emergency of COVID-19 pandemic and to the need of providing urgent support to inmates and prison staff, in the context of its cooperation programmes, the Council of Europe has donated protective materials to five member States: Armenia, Georgia, Moldova, Montenegro and North Macedonia.
In Georgia, donations included 6,500 masks, 2,500 face shields and 500 litres of sanitizer and antiseptic liquid, 20 pulse oximeters; 5,000 disposable plastic shoe covers; and 3,000 medical disposable headcovers.
A total of 13,760 masks; 2,500 facial shields; 1,240 litters of disinfectant/sanitizer for hands and surfaces; 84,000 gloves; 99 infrared thermometers; 2 oxygen generators; 5 portable saturometers; 10 bactericide lamps; 50 medical uniforms; 100 protective glasses, 20 pulse oximeters; 3,000 head covers; 5,000 shoe covers were delivered to prison administrations in the mentioned countries. 850 pieces of disinfectants and 5,000 gloves are also under way of delivery in North Macedonia, and additional items are expected to be purchased in Montenegro and Azerbaijan until end of June 2020.
These donations aim at supporting the commitment of the Council of Europe member States and their national prison administrations to adhere to the CPT statement of principles for the treatment of persons deprived of their liberty (see the statement also in Georgian here), in accordance with the World Health Organization guidelines in relation to the COVID-19 pandemic.
The donations were delivered following requests from the Ministries of Justice and prison administrations within the framework of the cooperation activities implemented by the Criminal Law Cooperation Unit, Action against Crime Department, Directorate General Human Rights and Rule of Law.
The donation to Georgia was possible in the framework of the project Enhancement of Human Rights and Health-Care Support to Penitentiary System (financed through CoE Action Plan for Georgia 2016-2019).
/STRASBOURG/ We welcome the political agreement reached yesterday, 8 March, by the majority and opposition in Georgia on the 2020 electoral system, which puts an end to uncertainty that lasted for several months and opens the way to depolarization of the political debate, in the run-up of this year’s elections. Talks were facilitated by representatives of the international community in Georgia including from the European Union, the United States, Germany and the Council of Europe.
We look forward to the adoption in Parliament of the provisions of this agreement, as well as all other necessary changes to the electoral legislation, in line with international recommendations. The Council of Europe including its Venice Commission will continue to offer its assistance to Georgian authorities towards a successful completion of the process.
We commend political parties’ commitment to strive for the highest standards of functioning of Georgia’s judiciary, and protect judicial and electoral processes from inappropriate political interference. This will contribute to upholding the relevant provisions of the European Convention of Human Rights and the Council of Europe standards on electoral matters.
The rapid spread of the Coronavirus infections in South Korea with many cases found among members of a Christian denomination named the Shincheonji Church of Jesus is raising concerns that hatred and animosity targeted to the specific religious organization increase human rights violations.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (KCDC), an organization under the Ministry of Welfare and Health, stated that 123 additional cases have been confirmed with the total of 556 as of February 23. Many of confirmed cases were found in the city of Daegu and the North Gyeongsang Province.
South Korean prime minister Chung Sye-Kyun in his public statement asked citizens to cooperate with the government and avoid large-scale gatherings and the virus has low fatality rate and can be cured sufficiently by early isolation and treatment.
But the South Korean government did not mention prohibition of entry from China, which has constantly been raised by Korean Medical Association and opposition parties. For the online national petition to the executive office for the President of South Korea on the prohibition of entry, no official responses have been made by the government despite 760,000 supports. The South Korean public news agency, Yonhap News, introduced the possible relationship between the influx of 1,000 Chinese school trips to Daegu last month.
The Shincheonji Church, which has gained main attention for the virus proliferation and counteraction, released a statement on the same day that the church is in close cooperation with the health authorities, including offering the full list of members the Shincheonji Church in Daegu to the KCDC, as many members of the church have been exposed to the virus after the 31st confirmed case from a member of the church was found.
With the fear of increasing infection cases, major newspaper reports and social media posts in South Korea turn their eyes on the Shincheonji Church, many of which are speculative information. Some South Korean media owned by the conservative and fundamentalist Protestant groups that have denounced Shincheonji released an article saying that Shincheonji ordered its members to participate in other church services so that the Coronavirus is not solely the Shincheonji problem.
“As a scholar who has studied Shincheonji, I am concerned with the fact that international media that obviously know nothing about it have “discovered” this church overnight because of the coronavirus incidents in Korea, and have repeated inaccurate information they found on low-level Internet sources,” said Prof. Massimo Intovigne, a well-known Italian sociologist of religion and the managing director of CESNUR (Center for Studies on New Religions).
“Even of more concern is the fact that Shincheonji members who have contracted the virus, who are the victims in this story, are being treated unfairly by the Korean media and described as “cultists.” Worse still, some Shincheonji members have been insulted, discriminated and forced out of their jobs, as scapegoats for what has become a national and international hysteria about the virus,” added Prof. Intovigne.
The negative attitude against the new Christian denomination is on the ground of decades-long confrontation with the conservative and fundamentalist Christian groups whose political activism raised controversies on corruption, which triggered breakaway from these groups and joining the new Christian movement led by Shincheonji.
“Turning a blind eye and a deaf ear to the illegal activities of the conservative church in South Korea, such as kidnapping and confinement for forced conversion, resulted in violence against the rapid increase of Shincheonji members. Intensifying the degree of indiscriminate hatred promoted by unfounded information in media and communication platforms poses a continuing, grave concern for the already gross violation of human rights against them,” said Willey Fautré, Director of Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF).
On 29 November, Center for Studies on New Religions (CESNUR) from Italy and Human Rights Without Frontiers (HRWF) from Belgium hosted a seminar on human rights entitled “Intolerance and Discrimination Against New Religious Movements: An International Problem”.
This seminar, held in Seoul, South Korea, was devoted to the protection of the rights of religious minorities targeted by the majority groups, particularly in the context of anti-human rights situations such as the forced conversion that occurred in Korea.
Forced conversion, also known as “Deprogramming”, is a social issue that causes human rights violations by kidnapping and detaining the members of religious groups labeled as “cults” by their opponents in order to compel them to abandon their faith.
More than 80 participants including legal experts, journalists, and civil society representatives reviewed the current situation of forced conversion and discussed solutions to defend the freedom of faith and human rights that have become the norm of the international community.
Massimo Introvigne, Managing Director of CESNUR as well as an Italian sociologist, stressed that forced conversion is conducted through the mainstream by saying, “Korean deprogrammers are specialized pastors from the mainline churches, most of them Presbyterian."
"The protests that commemorate the victims from forced conversion were mentioned in the 2019 U.S. State Department Report on Religious Freedom, including violations of religious freedom in the year 2018. However, there were new cases of deprogramming even after their death," he criticized.
Regarding the multi-dimensional strategy to solve such phenomenon, Willy Fautré, Founder and Director of HRWF stated several suggestions; pointing at the responsibility of the leadership of the Presbyterian Church which tolerates, endorses, and maybe encourages such a practice; developing advocacy at the UN and in organs defending freedom of religion or belief; prosecuting those who encourage people to perpetrate an act of abduction and confinement.
In an open letter, signed by 15 international NGOs including CAP-LC and HRWF, to the South Korean President Moon Jae In on July 24th, it said, “South Korea may well be the last democratic country in the world where deprogramming is still tolerated” and asked the President to “investigate in-depth accusations of forcible deprogramming, put a stop to this obnoxious practice, and hold those responsible fully accountable.”
Meanwhile, South Korea was elected to serve the 5th term on the United Nations Human Rights Council on October 17th. South Korea’s mission to the UN said that it plans “to participate in the international efforts to respond to human rights crises around the world.” Participants urged the Korean government to respond to the issue of forced conversion which is still threatening the human rights of its people.
The Council of Europe Parliamentary Assembly (PACE) today elected Lado Chanturia as judge to the European Court of Human Rights in respect of Georgia.
Mr Chanturia, having obtained an absolute majority of votes cast, is elected a judge of the European Court of Human Rights for a term of office of nine years which shall commence no later than three months after his election.
Judges are elected by PACE from a list of three candidates nominated by each State which has ratified the European Convention on Human Rights.
Georgia-Australia cooperation and future perspectives in the human rights area were discussed at the working meeting between the human rights secretariat of the Administration of the Government of Georgia and representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Australia held today at the Administration of the Government.
Head of the Human Rights Secretariat of the Administration of the Administration of the Government Natalia Jaliashvili informed the Australian delegation on the progress achieved by Georgia in the area of human rights protection and discussed relevant action plans and scheduled events.
Particular attention was paid to the deplorable human rights conditions on the occupied territories of Georgia. Members of the delegation of Australia reasserted their firm support for the territorial integrity and sovereignty of Georgia.
Within the frames of the visit, the representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Australia held meetings with various state agencies. Visit of the delegation is over.
I am appalled by what happened to Afgan Mukhtarli, an Azerbaijani journalist and activist, who has reportedly been abducted in Georgia and forcibly taken to Azerbaijan, where he is now facing prosecution for illegal crossing of the border and smuggling. Mr. Mukhtarli had been living in Georgia since 2015, when he left Azerbaijan to escape the government’s repression of critical voices.
According to his lawyer, Mr Mukhtarli affirms that money was put in his pocket by his abductors and alleges that they also ill-treated him. These are very serious allegations that require the utmost attention and urgent reaction by the Georgian authorities, which should carry out an effective, rapid and independent investigation into the events and take the necessary measures to act upon the results of the enquiry. In the meantime, Azerbaijan’s authorities must release Mr Mukhtarli without delay and ensure that he fully enjoys his human rights, including the protection from torture and ill-treatment.
On May 18-19, Belgrade hosts the PACE Legal Affairs and Human Rights Committee sitting to be attended by the Chair of the Legal Issues Committee, Eka Beselia.
The agenda includes: report on Implementation of judgments of the European Court of Human Rights, Fighting organized crime by facilitating the confiscation of illegal assets, democratic approach to the issues of governance in European multinational States, proportionality issues concerning derogations under Article 15 of the European Convention on Human Rights and strengthening international regulations against trade in goods used for torture and the death penalty.
Eka Beselia will deliver the report on the issues considered at the Venice Commission Democratic Election Council sitting on “New Threats of Rule of Law in CoE member States”. The Committee sitting will as well be attended by the Head of Serbian Delegation to PACE and officials of Ministry of Justice of Serbia.