13 human rights groups in Africa push South Korea to end abuses, oppression

Former President of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi

Human rights groups in Africa have called on Seoul to respect the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights (UNDHR) in dealings with its citizens.

The groups totalling over 13 from Ghana, Nigeria and other African countries want the government to end all forms of oppression targeted at the leader and members of the Shincheonji Church.

“The discrimination against the Shincheonji Church and its members specifically must be put to an end immediately. Freedom of religion must be practiced in any democratic country and South Korea should not be exempted from that,” the eight-page resolution after the summit read.

The Summit on South Korea, Covid-19 and human rights abuses was addressed by high-profile speakers such as the former President of the United Nations Human Rights Council (UNHRC), Ambassador Martin Ihoeghian Uhomoibhi, Executive Director of the Accra Human Rights Forum International (AHRFI), A. Kwabena Brakopowers and the Campaign and Advocacy Director of AHRFI, Isaac Kwame Batun.

The two-day virtual international human rights summit on Covid-19 and abuses in South Korea began on Thursday, September 10, 2020 and ended on Friday, September 11, 2020.

The treatment of 89-year-old leader of the Shincheonji Church by the South Korean government over breaches of Covid-19 protocols dominated discussions during the summit.

“We, the undersigned, having participated in the Summit on South Korea: COVID-19 and Human Rights Abuses hosted by the Accra Human Rights Forum International (AHRFI) from September 10 to 11, 2020, hereby and collectively urge that all oppression and discrimination against any minority religious group anywhere across the world should not be tolerated, especially in this critical time of the COVID-19 pandemic,” the human rights defenders said in the resolution.

Chairman Man-hee Lee of the Shincheonji Church, at age 89, was arrested on charge of obstructing the government’s COVID-19 quarantine efforts, despite his chronic condition and his age.

He was alleged to have provided false or incomplete data on all congregants, trainees, church properties, list of congregants who attended service in January and February 2020 and the attendance records of missionary centers.

Despite the confirmation by South Korea’s Prosecutor’s Office that the list submitted by Shincheonji matched the actual list of Shincheonji members, the government did not relent in its efforts to infringe on the rights of the leader and church members.

Although the human rights groups in Africa say they support any law aimed at protecting lives against the vicious virus, they were clear that Covid-19 protection should not be elevated over human rights.

“While containing the COVID-19 pandemic, we, as global citizens, do hereby pledge our undying commitment to fight discrimination and human rights abuses in whichever shape or form, for our collective benefit,” the group said.

“We collectively call on the South Korean government to reaffirm the country’s Constitution and the United Nations Declaration of Human Rights, and to accord the same protection to its citizens without fear or favour at all times. The discrimination against the Shincheonji Church and its members specifically must be put to an end immediately. Freedom of religion must be practised in any democratic country and South Korea should not be exempted from that,” the resolution read.

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