Weekly Brief: Nov. 7th – 13th

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Seoul plans to clear the air

Seoul’s poor air quality has become a big talking point in recent months. TV weather reports now often include levels for particulate matter. Before last year, most South Koreans blamed the quality on the yellow dust from China, but Greenpeace has revealed that most particulate matter comes from within South Korea. They singled out the country’s 53 coal-fired power plants as the biggest culprit. The government has now responded with a plan to halve particulate matter in the air by 2023. (See full Greenpeace report here.)

Whistle-blowers face blowback

In a culture where loyalty is often valued above transparency, it’s not surprising that whistle-blowers face condemnation from managers and co-workers alike. Laws protecting them are weak; many get demoted or reassigned to a post in a rural area, as if being exiled.

The Choi Soon-sil scandal highlights the threat that cronyism poses to democratic governance. Perhaps most problematic is the fact that this scandal wasn’t a secret to many in politics. Not only have there been government reports in previous administrations, staffers in the current administration have also voiced concerns about President Park’s close relationship with the Choi family. They met a similar fate, or worse, forced to resign or even serve prison time.

One million strong rally calls for Park’s resignation

An estimated 1 million people gathered in downtown Seoul to call for President Park’s resignation. (The police estimate was less than 300,000.) This is the third major protest in three consecutive weeks. Organizers are promising to hold another rally next Saturday if Park doesn’t step down by then. The presidential office has said that she takes the demonstrations “very seriously” but there’s nothing yet to suggest she plans to resign.

 

Media reports speculate that president Park will be questioned by prosecutors sometime this week, although there is no official confirmation yet. If the reports turn out to be true, this will be the first time a sitting President is formally questioned by prosecutors. But (as in many countries) the constitution protects her from criminal prosecution while she is in power.

With the surprising results of the U.S. election, South Korea is left in a precarious position. President-elect Donald Trump has called for S. Korea to acquire nuclear weapons, suggested pulling U.S. troops out of the country, and argued that the two countries should renegotiate the free trade agreement.

In brief

  • Job application forms continue to ask discriminatory questions. Common examples include requiring applicants to reveal their age, height, weight or parents’ jobs, or that they include a photo with their resume.
  • 30,000: The cumulative total of North Korean refugees that have now arrived in S. Korea. Life in the South is difficult for most.
  • 53%: The number of women in their 20s who use contraception on a regular basis. Experts blame the limited sex education curriculum. Conservative social morals also discourage women from preparing or discussing contraception with their partners.

In depth

  • High school students will take on Thursday the College Scholastic Aptitude Test, an important requirement for university admission. The annual tradition of criticizing South Korea’s test-focused society and calling for an alternative education system continues.
  • A long look at the realities of brokered marriages from the men’s perspectives. With over 20,000 international marriages last year alone, international couples now make up a significant portion of Korean society.

… any kind of commercialization of marriages, cannot help but be sketchy. … In the worst [cases], a woman escapes a poor homeland but becomes an unpaid sex worker, baby machine, maid and caregiver for aged parents. An international marriage can come very close to human trafficking.
– Lee Sung-Eun (Source)

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And that was the news from last week. We value your feedback. Send any questions, comments, errors, or omissions to weeklybrief@8d2.359.myftpupload.com.

Weekly Brief is a collection of the must-read articles regarding human rights and social issues in South Korea, produced in collaboration with the Korea Human Rights Foundation (KHRF / 한국인권재단). The views expressed here do not necessarily reflect those of KHRF.

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