10th ICAAP Turns Its Back On Human Rights

The Busan Police turned violent on peaceful demonstrators at the 10th International Congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific (10th ICAAP), which was attended by over 2500 delegates and one of whose main issues is to protect the human rights of populations affected with HIV/ AIDS. Activists including people living with HIV (PLHIV) from all over the world, who attended the 10th ICAAP joined Korean activists in a peaceful anti-Free-Trade Agreements (FTAs) march. Korea is in the process of signing FTA treaties with USA and the European Union (EU), and this is likely to block the production of generic medicines and increase the prices of essential medicines including antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, thus further limiting their access to those for whom they are intended.

Anti FTA activists were staging peaceful demonstrations since the day of the opening ceremony. But the situation took a very ugly turn on the afternoon of 27th August, when the police turned violent on being requested not to take photographs of the peaceful demonstrators. Around 25 policemen, some of them supposedly belonging to the special security team of the President of Fiji, who attended the 10th ICAAP, began to indiscriminately attack the delegates, and tried to arrest some of them.

When Suh Yeon Chang, a human rights lawyer (belonging to the Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group—GONG-GAW) from Seoul, protested against this, she was bodily lifted and dumped inside a closed police van, by the policemen. All the participants of the community conference present there, including PLHIV, sex workers, transgenders, injecting drug users (IDUs), and sexual minorities, lay down on the ground to stop the police van from moving. During the hour long confrontation, the police and the security guards of the conference venue physically and verbally abused several people and dragged women and transgenders. The lawyer was finally released due to efforts of the local organizing committee (LOC) of ICAAP, after a nearly three hour long detention at the police station.

Later, in a joint statement, AIDS Society of Asia and the Pacific (ASAP) and 10th ICAAP LOC condemned the ‘brutal, unjustified and unreasonable  police action’ as a gross violation of the fundamental right of the participants to peaceful assembly and  freedom of speech, and apologized to the affected communities. They also apologized to those delegates who could not attend ICAAP because of visa refusal and lack of access to Opioid Substitution Therapy (OST) medication on site, and to participants who had to endure difficulties during entry into Republic of Korea.

In an interview with CNS, the victim lawyer narrated her tale of woe. She said that she kept on asking for the reason of her arrest, but was not given any reply. She was kept under arrest at the police station for more than two hours, but the police officials present there, did not even seem aware of her detention. She was let off eventually, but not before she was left traumatized by this illegal detention. According to her, such illegal arrests are not uncommon for Korean people if they protest against the government. In fact the Korean government has not been supportive of this Congress, perhaps because of its discriminatory stance towards LGBTs and PLHIV. She said that the president of Korea is a member of the Conservative Christian Group which is opposed to the inclusion of LGBTs and PLHIV as beneficiaries of the anti discriminatory law for disadvantaged communities. There is too much of stigma in Korean society against people of alternate sexuality, especially lesbians. Gender inequality is very much prevalent in Korean society, despite the great technological advances made by the country. There are more boys than girls in elementary schools and the birth of a son is always preferred over that of a daughter.

To end this sombre issue on a lighter note, I am tempted to recall some of the overheard comments from the India transgender community (including the very flamboyant Lakshmi) attending the conference. She remarked jokingly that the 'Indian police cannot even dream of acting smart with us hijras. We will give them hell of a time. We may be facing much discrimination, but we have the freedom of speech and right to protest in democracy.'

Shobha Shukla - CNS
(The author is the Editor of Citizen News Service (CNS) and is reporting on-site from 10th ICAAP, Busan, South Korea for CNS. She is a J2J Fellow of National Press Foundation (NPF) USA. She has worked earlier with State Planning Institute, UP and taught physics at India's prestigious Loreto Convent. Email: shobha@citizen-news.org, website: http://www.citizen-news.org)

Published in:
Citizen News Service(CNS), India/Thailand
Health Dev.org, Thailand
Wikio News, Africa
Elites TV News, California, USA
Humen Rights Today.org, South Korea
Aids Space.com