The Matter of the Unified Progressive Party of South Korea

The Matter of the Unified Progressive Party of South Korea

South Korea is a robust, multiparty democracy, but this was not always the case.


Issue

South Korea is a robust, multiparty democracy, but this was not always the case. In fact, through the 1980s, South Korea was ruled by a dictator, General Park Chun-Hee, with the support of the Untied States.

All sides of the political spectrum are represented in South Korea, including a fairly robust left, robust enough to maintain a left third party alternative to the liberal and conservative parties. The biggest South Korean left party to date was known as the Democratic Labor Party ("DLP"), which carried 13% of the South Korean vote in the 2004 parliamentary election. But the DLP fell victim to in fighting, and after different iterations, eventually became the Unified Progressive Party ("UPP"), which carried about 6% of the vote in the 2012 election.

In 2013, Representative Lee Seok-gi of the UPP was accused by the government (headed by the conservative Saenuri Party) of plotting to overthrow the South Korean regime based on the contents of a speech that Representative Lee related to North Korean unification. The government accused Lee of violating South Korean's harsh National Security Law, which prohibits a wide variety of speech that the government might consider potentially seditious or sympathetic with North Korea.

Following Representative Lee's arrest, the government then brought dissolution proceedings against the UPP, arguing that the entire political party was a threat to South Korean democracy. The government’s conduct greatly chilled speech in South Korea, with people afraid to speak their minds about either Representative Lee or the UPP. Media outlets like the New York Times and The Guardian called the case “unusual” and a “test of the health of South Korean democracy,” in light of the government’s attempt to use national security laws to repress political dissent.

In December 2014, the Carter Center issued a statement calling for the release of Representative Lee.


Engagement

House Comar was engaged in 2014 by the Unified Progressive Party (UPP) in South Korea to consult on the detention of Representative Lee Seok-gi and the government-sponsored dissolution of the UPP.


Impact

House Comar provided media and legal strategy with respect to freedom of expression and assembly in Korea. House Comar’s principal, Inder Comar, was the only US-based lawyer to advocate openly on behalf of these principles.

House Comar filed opinions of law with the Constitutional Court in Korea regarding the legality of suspending a political party in a democratic system. The opinions may be found in the House Comar Library.

House Comar petitioned the United Nations to intervene, specifically, through the Protocol to the International Covenant for Civil and Political Rights, which permits individuals to petition a special UN Panel in the event that a signatory country is potentially violating civil and political rights in that country. As South Korea is a member of the Protocol, the UPP had standing to report the government's conduct to the United Nations. The petition is ongoing. The petition may be found in the House Comar Library.


Media

US lawyer questions Korean court’s right to dissolve a party

The Korea Observer – December 1, 2014

Inder Comar submitted his petition Friday to the Constitutional Court of South Korea, questioning the court’s right to decide the fate of a political party. In his petition, he argued that dissolving a party, which is unprecedented, on the basis of its political advocacy will effectively provide the Korean government new powers to control political thought and repress dissent.