Panel III: “Mobilizing Rights for the Marginalized” (2018 Signature Conference)

Panel III: “Mobilizing Rights for the Marginalized”


“The Law and Practice of Disability Discrimination Act in South Korea”

JaeWon Kim, Sungkyunkwan University

The enactment of the Disability Discrimination Act in 2007 was the most important disability rights legislation in Korean history. It was finally achieved by a concerted effort of disability communities, civic organizations and lawyers after fierce struggles. The DDA empowers persons with disabilities as the same rights-bearing subjects who can enjoy the same liberties and entitlements as abled people. Since the new legislation, the Korean disability communities and advocate groups have actively utilized the law both in and out of the courtrooms. Well over the half of the all complaints at the National Human Rights Commission in recent years are related to disabilities. Courts are now more responsive to disability rights, and published the ‘guidelines on judicial assistance for people with disabilities’. This paper critically examines the law and practice of disability related legislation in South Korea and suggests some reform measures.


“Now or Later: On Shigisangjo and Premature Politics”

Ju Hui Judy Han, University of California, Los Angeles

Despite the intensified backlash from conservative Protestant groups, or perhaps enlivened by the clamorous opposition, sexual minority/LGBT/queer politics in South Korea appear to have 4 gained a great deal of public visibility in recent years. From the two decades of annual Korea Queer Culture Festival and Parade in Seoul to the near-daily protest rallies around the country against social injustice, sexual minority activists certainly seem to have gained a seat among feminist and progressive labor and human rights advocates. Why then were queer activists shouted down and dragged out from a women’s leadership forum in Seoul in February 2017 where candidate Moon Jae In pledged to become a “feminist president” to the applause of a cheering auditorium? What were the demands of the queer protesters, and why did the audience attempt to silence them? I contend that this chilling moment revealed a great deal about the epistemic violence of shigisangjo or the idea that some concerns should be dismissed as inappropriate and premature. This paper engages with questions of queer futurity and the optics of progressive social change in discussing in particular the politics of deferment implicit in the idea of shigisangjo.


“The Movement for an Anti-Discrimination Act in Korea”

Jihye Kim, Gangneung-Wonju National University

Sungsoo Hong, Sookmyung Women’s University

In the Republic of Korea, the attempt to enact a comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act in 2007 unexpectedly brought to light the social discrimination against minority groups, notably LGBTI people. Ever since, Korea has seen a pattern that obstructs the adoption of the law: any government’s effort to adopt a law or policy that concerns non-discrimination principles was frustrated after framed and attacked as a pro-LGBTI law or policy. The tension over LGBTI could have been understood as the main burden in the movement for an Anti-Discrimination Act. This article enquires into the human rights defenders’ pursuit to take the hard route of embracing LGBTI people, forgoing the possibility of benefiting other groups by leaving them out. Exploring the last 20 years of human rights movement for a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, it aims to find the meanings and goals of the movement that Korea seeks to achieve.


“From ‘We Want Humane Treatment’ to ‘Layoff Is Murder’: The Changing Notion of Labor Rights in Korea”

Yoonkyung Lee, University of Toronto

The collective definition of labor rights for Korean workers has changed since the 1980s along with neoliberal transformation of the economy and the labor market. While workers’ demand for the respect of basic labor rights was expressed in “humane treatment” in the 1980s, labor rights in present Korea is anchored on the right to work and secure employment. Also, the methods through which workers articulate and press for their rights have moved from union-based collective action to symbolic and extreme forms of protest in recent years. This study traces these changes by analyzing the annual reports of the National Council of Labor Unions (Cheonnohyeop) and the Korea Confederation of Trade Unions (Minjunochong) for the period of 1987-2017, which chronicle organized labor’s major demands and activities.


Panel III Discussion

Eric Feldman and Sida Liu offered insightful comments and constructive feedback on Panel III: “Mobilizing Rights for the Marginalized.” In reference to JaeWon Kim’s paper, Feldman pressed for more information on what constitutes “disability” in Korea, how one understands the “abled” versus the “disabled,” and how these notions may be socially distinctive to Korea. For Sung Soo Hong and Jihye Kim’s paper, Feldman cautioned against attributing an act and a result as either causation or correlation due to temporal association (and thus recommended cleaning up the chronology). He asked for additional clarity on the actors involved in the LGBTI rights discourse such as individuals, corporations, the government, conservative Christian groups, and other religious entities. Sida Liu offered remarks on Ju Hui Judy Han’s paper, noting that shigisangjo does not necessarily equate to a denial of rights, and suggested further examination into not only the temporal but also the spatial components of LGBTI rights discourse in Korea. Furthermore, he noted the importance of not only looking at the protests and political activities of LGBTI activists, but also their everyday life and identity. For Yoonkyung Lee’s paper, Liu commended her for her attempt to provide an overview of the historical transformation of labor rights in Korea, but also highlighted how this attempt could be overly ambitious. He commented on how her paper talked more about how the government controls labor, but less about actual labor rights; furthermore, he noted that Lee should not intermix the two parallel concepts of a change in formal law and a change in labor action.