We condemn inhumane treatment of detention centers
The Ministry of Justice must stop the attempt to expand and legalize torturing gear
15 years have passed since the tragic fire incident at the Yeosu Detention Center. Detention center’s purpose was alleged protection of foreigners, but its structure and operation were just for detaining them. In the midst of fire 10 people were killed and 17 injured as the rescue was being delayed from opening double locked doors. Survivors received medical treatment with their hands handcuffed, and some were forced to leave the country during their treatment, not to mention receiving due apology and proper compensation. In the wake of the tragedy, calls for closing the center and revamping it into a human rights prone facility were ignored.
Inhumane situation in detention centers has not changed at all after 15 years. On its website the Hwaseong Detention Center is describing itself as an ‘exclusive protection facility making an effort and taking care to treat foreigners with respect and help them to go back to their country.’ However, what is reality? At detention centers, which actually highlight the oppression of foreign migrants, state authority is arbitrarily and cruelly being wielded disregarding legitimate procedures. They are hurriedly deported against their will with little time given to arrange things before they leave. Those refusing to go back are detained indefinitely. Even children are detained. They must wear uniforms like prisoners; interviews and communication with outside are controlled; only half an hour is allowed for outdoor air. If they speak up against these unjust, degrading treatment, they are put in a solitary cell, their hands and feet are tied, and their eyes blindfolded.
Serious human rights violations have continued to occur, but the voices of sufferers have been stifled and neglected. Last year, tortures perpetrated against M were known to the public unmasking inhumane management of detention centers again. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea, on three occasions of July 2020, October 2021, and December 2021, confirmed that tortures that occurred in Hwaseong Detention Center are human rights abuses that violate the constitution and Anti-Torture Agreement. On Nov 1, 2021 the Ministry of Justice published a press release titled ‘Results of investigation of Hwaseong Detention Center human rights violation and follow-up measures,’ in which they acknowledged the violations committed and announced measures to prevent recurrence. They said that they will curb misuse of protective gears, ban the use of gears other than the ones stipulated in accordance with foreigner protection regulations, reinforce legal procedure for detainees, and transform detention centers into actual protection centers. Furthermore, they said they will earnestly listen to and include suggestions of human rights organizations.
How do you think those follow-up measures are in progress now? There has been neither effort nor attempt to communicate with human rights groups. What’s more, what the Ministry has announced for ‘prevention of misuse of protective gear’ through media on February 10th is appalling. They are trying to newly introduce 13 other gears including body strapping chair and bed, which are intended for prison inmates. Leg cuffs used in ‘shrimp posture’ torture that were not grounded in law, are said to be legalized. Strapping chair, bed, and vest that immobilize body will be able to be applied and even the simultaneous use of more than two gears will be allowed. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea acknowledged ‘shrimp posture’ torture was a human rights violation, and the Ministry of Justice admitted their wrongdoing. Yet behind the curtain they are trying to legalize instruments that will enable more severe torture. Moreover, in using these gears, review of medical profession or external monitoring is not possible. How can you claim these are preventive measures to deter misuse of protective gear and to better protect human rights? How can these be improvement measures helpful in turning detention centers into ‘protection facilities’ they suggested? How many more people should be injured, killed and traumatized by torture?
At this moment so many in detention centers are enduring indefinite detention and unjust treatment. Yesterday I got a call from a detainee again. He faxed me a letter and a petition signed by detainees. I’d like to translate that into Korean and share with you on this occasion.
“We’ve been kidnapped and imprisoned and kept in detention for 3 years without any promise for future. The detention officer says if we want freedom, agree to deportation; otherwise we have nothing but to be detained. We asked for the path to the third country where our safety can be guaranteed but were rejected. Then they said it had been decided that we would be deported to our country of origin. The indefinite detention we are suffering in Korea where we asked for protection is another persecution that puts us in more danger than the persecution we experienced back in our home countries. We are faced with suffering every day. Those who try to raise their voice are handcuffed, tied with cables, and(or) headgears are put on their heads. All these are pressures for deportation. Unless we accept deportation, these tortures and dehumanizing and humiliating treatments will continue. Our mental and physical health is deteriorating. Even if we prepared 2 million won that is asked as deposit for release, they didn’t let us out. We demand that they stop the degrading persecution we are suffering in detention centers and pressures for deportation.”
Today, a day prior to the 15th anniversary of Yeosu Detention Center fire tragedy, we remember and commemorate that day that should not be forgotten. Even after such a long time we have gathered together to share the responsibility and bring about change. We should stop the pain and suffering from occurring again. Facilities that carry out torture must be closed down. We strongly demand detention centers stop inhumane operation and the Ministry of Justice stop their attempt to expand and legalize torturing gear right away.
Written by Kim Yeonju
Translation by Chang You-jin
press conference statement in Korean: http://nancen.org/2237