The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination this morning held an informal meeting with representatives of non-governmental organizations with respect to the Republic of Korea and Norway, whose reports on the implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination will be considered this week.
The report of Albania will also be reviewed by the Committee this week, but no civil society representatives spoke on the situation in that country.
Noureddine Amir, Committee Chairperson, welcomed the representatives of non-governmental organizations to the second informal meeting with civil society representatives held during the Committee’s ninety-seventh session.
During the discussion, civil society organizations from the Republic of Korea drew attention to widespread xenophobia against migrants and the stereotype of foreigners as criminals. Over two million migrants who came from China, Viet Nam, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Cambodia and others were living in the Republic of Korea. They were treated as aliens or foreigners who did not fully belong to the society. There was no legal framework to combat racial discrimination, which allowed some hate groups, including conservative Christian groups and Internet groups, to produce and spread fake news with the intention of justifying discrimination. Migrant workers faced discrimination in terms of minimum wage and they could not change their jobs unless they had permission from the employer. The situation of migrant women in domestic service, agriculture and small businesses was particularly precarious due to the temporary nature of their employment. Undocumented migrant children could not enjoy their rights just because they did not have Korean nationality, whereas the refugee status determination process was used as a device not to protect refugees but to keep them out. When they could not be returned home, foreigners were often detained without due process.
Representatives of civil society from Norway highlighted the lack of responsible conduct by politicians, public authorities and media professionals in their public statements, in spite of the recently adopted national strategy against hate speech. There had been fewer open and crude hateful statements by political leaders since the previous report of the State party, but there had been more populist statements that encouraged xenophobia and influenced generally negative views of Muslim migrants. The organizations further drew attention to ethnic profiling by the police, due to the Government’s targeting of illegal migrants. As a result, some 9,000 persons had been deported. Turning to discrimination against minorities in the labour market, speakers reminded that the unemployment rate of minority women was alarmingly high compared with that of the general population, and they were overrepresented in low-paid and unskilled jobs where they were more exposed to abuse. Speakers also warned of the increasing exposure of the Sami and Kven communities to the outside pressure of new industries and infrastructures, endangering traditional livelihoods. Finally, speakers highlighted discrimination against Roma and against lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons who did not have permanent residence in Norway.
Speaking on the Republic of Korea were Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea, Migration and Human Rights Institute, Minbyun Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Immigrants Advocacy Centre Gamdong, GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation, Dongcheon Foundation, and Korean Bar Association.
Norwegian Centre against Racism, Institution against Public Discrimination, MIRA Resource Centre for Women with Minority Backgrounds, Queer World, Teternes Association, Norwegian Kven Association, Romano Kher/the Church City Mission, Sami Parliament, and Sami Council spoke on Norway.
The Committee will next meet in public today at 3 p.m. to consider the combined seventeenth to nineteenth periodic report of the Republic of Korea (CERD/C/KOR/17-19).
Statements on the Republic of Korea
The first speaker, on behalf of a coalition of 47 non-governmental organizations, said the Republic of Korea had created a myth of a one ethnic Korea for a long time. People who did not conform to that had mostly lived invisibly. There was a strong assimilation drive towards homogeneity which left ethnic minorities in situations of prevalent exclusion and oppression. The recent large influx of migrants had changed the scene of diversity. Over two million migrants who came from China, Viet Nam, Thailand, Uzbekistan, Philippines, Cambodia and others, were living in the Republic of Korea. They were treated as aliens or foreigners who did not fully belong to the society. The racial prejudice and systemic discrimination against migrants with low skills were especially severe. The wide spread instigation to xenophobia and Islamophobia was also of particular concern. The news created a stereotype of foreigners as criminals. In July 2018, over 700,000 persons had petitioned the President asking for the deportation of Yemeni asylum seekers. The Government called undocumented migrants illegal residents and criminalized them. There was no legal framework to combat racial discrimination, which allowed some hate groups, including conservative Christian groups and Internet groups, to produce and spread fake news with the intention of justifying discrimination. It was urgent for the Republic of Korea to enact a comprehensive law prohibiting all forms of discrimination, and immediate measures were necessary to regulate hate speech.
Joint Committee with Migrants in Korea recounted an experience of a woman born to a Filipino father and a Korean mother. When she took a bus with her father, she was conscious of how people were staring at them. She had discovered the discrimination did not occur only on the streets where xenophobic protests took place and racist slogans were shouted. Mere judgmental stares made her want to deny her identity. There was still no anti-discrimination law in the Republic of Korea and discrimination flowed clearly from laws and policies, in the schools and supermarkets and bus stations. The speaker said she was called of mixed blood at the time, now the correct word was multi-cultured, and this word followed a person indefinitely. In the Korean society, differences led to discrimination based on class, country of origin, skin colour and gender. Cultural and institutional racism was prevalent in the Republic of Korea. Living in the Republic of Korea without nationality were migrant workers, migrant women and refugees, and they were treated as labour force, means of reproduction, non-existent beings or simply targets of hate.
Migration and Human Rights Institute addressed the discriminatory aspects in the Republic Korea’s labour migration system and attempts to discriminate against migrant workers in the minimum wage level. They could not change their employer unless they had permission from the employer or unless they could prove violations of their rights. The Government claimed that migrant workers were covered by domestic labour laws but that was not true for all. Migrant workers working in agriculture or fisheries were not covered; they worked long hours and were paid less than the legal minimum wage. Migrants were excluded from social security rights, especially from the healthcare system. Many migrants in the Republic of Korea were working and paying taxes, but most were excluded from the right to social security, including healthcare, except for recognized refugees and marriage migrants who met certain conditions. The crackdown on undocumented migrants was extremely violent, especially if they were migrants from low-income migrants. In the past decade, 10 undocumented migrants had died and 77 were injured during violence and crackdowns against migrants.
Minbyun Lawyers for a Democratic Society reminded that there were many hard-working migrant women with various legal statuses in domestic service, agriculture and small businesses on a temporary basis. For that reason, their labour rights were violated by long working hours with low pay, lack of breaks and days off, and exclusion from occupational insurance. Because of their legal status, migrant women workers tended not report sexual violence affecting them. All female migrant workers should have equal rights to a support system and should not be discriminated against in maternity leave protection and childcare. Women from Thailand were exposed to sexual exploitation and human trafficking. A married migrant who was separated from her Korean spouse through death or divorce had to return to her country, unless she was already a Korean national or had Korean children. Some marriage migrants were considered as baby-making machines. The Korean Government should revise its discriminatory rules on migrant women and multi-cultural families.
Immigrants Advocacy Centre Gamdong recalled that undocumented migrant children were excluded from the application of laws and policies for children just because they did not have Korean nationality. Undocumented migrant children were categorized as illegal residents and denied the rights of the child. They could be subject to detention and deportation. Only Korean nationals could register the birth of a child in the Republic of Korea, although the Government had received repeated recommendations by various United Nations treaty bodies to allow universal birth registration. Registration of all births should be allowed by the Republic of Korea as it was the first step to the protection of the rights of the child. All children, regardless of the parents’ status, should be able to enjoy the basic social rights without any kind of discrimination. Migrant children in the Republic of Korea could go to primary and middle school under the law, but admission into a school was entirely up to the Principal’s discretion, and there had been cases where admission was denied without any valid reason. Since 2015, more than 200 children had been detained for violation of the Immigration Act.
GongGam Human Rights Law Foundation said the refugee status determination process was used as a device not to protect refugees but to keep them out. In 2017, almost 10,000 people applied for asylum in the Republic of Korea, but only 100 were recognized as refugees. The refugee recognition rate was 1.5 per cent. One of the main reasons for this was the chronic lack of resources. Only 37 refugee status determination officers were handling those more than 10,000 refugee cases, and adequate translation and legal aid were not provided. This led to the poor treatment of asylum seekers. Persons with humanitarian status only enjoyed rights to stay and work in the Republic of Korea. The refugee status determination process operated to accept as few refugees as possible. When around 500 Yemini refugees had come to Jeju island in the Republic of Korea seeking asylum under a no visa policy, the Minister of Justice had responded by banning the Yemeni asylum seekers from leaving the island and added Yemen as a country whose nationals required a visa. This made Koreans feel that refugees were dangerous, and protests against them were held every week. Around 700,000 Koreans had signed a petition to abolish the refugee law.
Dongcheon Foundation drew attention to the flaws in the country’s refugee status determination procedure, noting that asylum seekers were not given sufficient time during interviews to explain the reasons for their requests. For one family which had not been granted asylum, it was found that the transcript of the interview was different from what the family had said. The Government had cancelled its decision when the family filed a lawsuit, and eventually the family received refugee status. This was not a standalone case. The same interviewer and interpreter had interviewed and rejected 100 asylum seeks, and the Government had later cancelled 55 of those decisions. However, no disciplinary action had been taking against these officials. The Government had recently stated its intention to amend its refugee status determination procedure to screen and prevent “abusive cranks”. The Foundation asked the Government whether there was enough to prevent “abusive decisions”.
Korean Bar Association regretted that migrants could be placed in detention without due process when it was not possible to send them back home. The law did not provide for access to legal aid for foreigners in detention, nor did it specify the length of detention. Furthermore, detained foreigners had to pay a high fee upon release. The Association also called attention to widespread hate speech in traditional and new media, despite the existence of laws prohibiting the spread of such speech through the media. For example, the Korean media had spread false news that Yemeni refugees had committed crimes on Jeju island.
Questions by Committee Experts
GAY MCDOUGALL, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for the Republic of Korea, complemented the non-governmental organizations for having briefed the Committee on the situation in the country. Had there been positive developments in the country since the Committee’s previous concluding observations?
The Experts asked civil society associations to provide data on stateless persons, domestic violence, and racially motivated crimes. They also inquired about the different types of visas issued to foreign nationals, such as the D6 visa, which was normally issued to artists, but which could be used to promote trafficking of women for prostitution, in particular when it came to women from Thailand working as masseuses.
An Expert asked for clarification regarding the lack of a comprehensive definition of sex trafficking. She also wanted to clarify whether 200 children had been detained for violation of the Immigration Act.
Another Expert inquired about equal treatment before courts and about foreign detainees’ access to consular assistance and interpretation services.
How had civil society participated in the preparation of the State party’s report? Had their opinions had been reflected in the report? What effect did the ruling by the Constitutional Court have on indirect discrimination on the country’s legal system?
On behalf of the coalition of 47 non-governmental organizations, speakers clarified that there was no specific data on domestic violence. There should be official statistics on that issue. As for trafficking of migrant women, in the past many women from the Philippines had come to the Republic of Korea on the D6 visa, whereas nowadays it was women from Thailand who came to work in massage parlours. They were afraid to report any abuse because they did not hold proper working visas. The law narrowly defined sex trafficking and it lacked provisions on victim protection. It should be brought in line with the Palermo Protocol. Turning to stateless persons, they were usually children born in the Republic of Korea but who were not registered. There might be about 10,000 de facto stateless children in the country, even though the State party had acceded to the 1954 Convention relating to the status of stateless persons. Many defectors from the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea had come to the Republic of Korea from China and they could not prove their nationality.
The humanitarian status visa was issued to those who did not fit the category of refugees, but who could not return to their countries of origin. More than 300 Yemenis had been granted humanitarian status visas, which had to be renewed every year and they could not work with that visa. The right to consular assistance was only stated in police directives and it was not binding. There was no data on racially motivated crimes, which was very problematic. Furthermore, there was no law on indirect discrimination and foreigners were not entitled to the same level of protection as Korean nationals. The level of consultation with civil society was very superficial and the Government had only approached the non-governmental organizations that toed its line.
Statements on Norway
Norwegian Centre against Racism highlighted the lack of responsible conduct by politicians, public authorities and media professionals in their public statements, in spite of the recently adopted national strategy against hate speech. There had been fewer open and crude hateful statements by political leaders since the previous report of the State party, but there had been more populist statements that encouraged xenophobia and influenced generally negative views of Muslim migrants. The organization warned of the rise of extremist movements, such as the Nordic Resistance Movement across Scandinavian countries. The Movement had organized numerous public demonstrations without proper authorization. The authorities had treated their demonstrations solely as verbal transgressions. The underreporting of hate crimes was a serious problem due to the fact that not all crimes were classified as hate crimes, and because victims did not trust the authorities to deliver justice.
Institution against Public Discrimination drew attention to ethnic profiling by the police, due to the Government’s targeting of illegal migrants. As a result, some 9,000 persons had been deported. That situation had created an atmosphere of alienation and decreased trust in the authorities. The Police Academy was currently revising its curriculum, so it was a good moment for the Committee to bring that topic on board when reviewing the State party’s report. Another problem was the examination of young girls in suspected cases of female genital mutilation, which was not based on sufficient knowledge about the situation in Norway. The heavy-handed approach to female genital mutilation was in contrast with the Government’s healthcare policy. There was a gap between research and knowledge of people’s needs. There was also little knowledge about what caused the discrimination against minorities in the labour market. The Government should do more to implement the International Decade for People of African Descent, given that Norway had a large Somali community.
MIRA Resource Centre for Women with Minority Backgrounds noted that all persons in Norway whose status was connected with immigration legislation had had rights curtailed in the past several years. Minority women experienced serious barriers in the labour market. Their unemployment rate was alarmingly high compared with the rate of unemployment of the general population, and they were overrepresented in low-paid and unskilled jobs where they were more exposed to abuse. The organization recommended an intersectional approach to address structural barriers that prevented minority women in Norway to enter the labour market. Applicants for permanent residence permit in the country had to have stable jobs and earnings of a certain level. Trafficked women and children still lacked protection and residence permits. Minority women also suffered from a high rate of partner killings.
Queer World underlined the problem of access to healthcare and family reunion for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex persons who did not have permanent residence in Norway.
Teternes Association called attention to the Government’s withdrawal of collective compensation to the Teternes, based on the argument that they had committed economic crimes, leading to the bankruptcy of the Teternes Foundation. A thorough investigation of the Government’s compensation scheme was needed, and an Ombudsperson for ethnic minorities should be established.
Norwegian Kven Association stressed that minority civil society organizations received very little funding. It also noted that the northern regions of Norway had been long inhabited by the Sami and Kven people, but that the State was aggressive in claiming property rights over those regions. Kven customs and conditions had to be considered when assessing the property rights because the loss of land had also threatened traditional Kven fishing and livelihood. The organization thus proposed that the coastal fishing quota be extended to the entire northern region of the country. Furthermore, there should be Kven-speaking personnel in healthcare, and the Kven language should be strengthened in education and media.
Romano Kher/the Church City Mission pointed out the discrimination against the Roma community in Norway, who were distinguished by their names and dressing style. In the public sector, they were often treated as belonging to a group rather than individuals. Many Roma were discouraged from reporting cases of discrimination. There should be more public awareness campaigns to combat stereotypes against the Roma. Public servants, particularly child welfare officers, often did not understand the Roma culture or language. Roma women were particularly endangered as victims of physical and psychological violence.
Sami Parliament warned of the increasing exposure of the Sami community to the outside pressure of new industries and infrastructures, endangering their pasture lands and traditional reindeer herding. The current regulations on sea salmon fishing were too restrictive and they were not sufficient in safeguarding Sami fishing rights. The Norwegian Supreme Court had recently issued two judgements that had done nothing to promote consultation with the Sami people, to protect their way of life and language. The Sami Parliament expected that the bill on effective participation of the Sami people that was agreed with the Norwegian Government would be adopted. The new law should clarify the rules for the implementation of free, prior and informed consent.
Sami Council recalled that Norway had made no progress with respect to the Committee’s several recommendations on reindeer herding, fishing and the exploitation of minerals in Sami territories. The Government was intent to interpreting provisions on indigenous peoples’ participation in decision-making below international standards. It was regrettable that the Government had limited the fishing rights of the Sami people in the coastal areas and in the Tana River. The new Tana River Fishery Agreement signed by Norway and Finland in 2016 had been adopted against the will of the Sami people on both sides of the border. The agreement should be re-negotiated in order to be viewed as legitimate and fair by the local rights holders.
Questions by Committee Experts
KEIKO KO, Committee Member and Country Rapporteur for Norway, noted that Norway had sound laws and institutions, but that the problem seemed to be in implementation. The elimination of discrimination in the labour market was imperative, particularly when it came to the Somali people. What cases of discrimination against the Sami people had actually been brought to courts?
An Expert inquired about the high school drop-out rates among immigrant children, especially among boys. What were the reasons behind the failure of the Norwegian Government to implement the International Decade for People of African Descent?
MIRA Resource Centre for Women with Minority Backgrounds noted that minority candidates were seldom given full-time jobs. The Oslo commune was the most multiracial and multicultural commune in the country, but the leadership was always ethnically Norwegian. Middle-aged women were most vulnerable because they could never cross the line and obtain full-time jobs. The Government focused a lot on providing language and skills training, instead of paying attention to discrimination in the labour market. As for the lack of implementation of the International Decade for People of African Descent, it seemed that the Government did not find it important as it had little to do with being Norwegian. When it came to the high school dropout rate among migrant children, the organization reminded that many were placed in special needs schools because they did not speak Norwegian well.
Norwegian Centre against Racism confirmed that there was definitely discrimination in the labour recruitment process, as well as lack of awareness at the workplace about discrimination against minorities. Africans were generally less employed than Europeans, but there was very little research done on the reasons behind that situation. It could be that employers found that refugees from Africa with traumatic experience would not be able to fit into the expected employment pattern.