The 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics mascots and the Olympic Rings are displayed at Gyeongpodae beach in Gangneung, South Korea, October 31, 2017.

© 2017 Kim Hong-Ji/Reuters

(Seoul) – President Moon Jae-In should step up human rights reforms and amnesty jailed trade unionists as South Korea opens the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on February 9, 2018, Human Rights Watch said today.

“As the PyeongChang Winter Olympics open, the world is watching South Korea,” said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “President Moon Jae-In, a former student activist and human rights lawyer, is uniquely positioned to take up human rights as a central platform of his administration and accelerate needed rights reforms.”

Since the end of the military dictatorship at the time of the Summer Olympics in 1988, South Korea has been an open society with an active yet polarized discussion of human rights. There are frequent protests and marches, including the ones that toppled the Park Geun-Hye government.

The collaboration should be used to direct world attention toward remedying the abusive situation of North Korea’s people, not just to benefit Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda machine.

Brad Adams

Asia Director

Human rights concerns, detailed in Human Rights Watch’s 2018 World Report, include promoting and protecting workers’ rights, ensuring respect for human rights for people living with HIV, combatting anti-LGBT discrimination in the military and society, overturning punitive abortion laws that endanger women’s lives, and reforming draconian criminal defamation laws long used to silence groups and publications critical of the government. The government should also end harassment of trade union leaders and the misuse of national security laws.

In South Korea, trade unionists face obstacles to advocating fair pay and safety for workers, and many remain imprisoned. In the preparation for the PyeongChang Games, there were reports that workers involved in building Olympic sites and infrastructure had not been paid, and of three deaths on Olympic construction sites.

A delegation of 400 North Koreans will take part in the PyeongChang Games, an unprecedented engagement between North and South Korea. North Korea’s presence provides a significant opportunity to review the country’s human rights situation and spotlight the need for concrete improvements in the lives of the long-suffering North Korean people, Human Rights Watch said.

“South Korea’s decision to participate with North Korea in the opening ceremonies under a unification flag and create a joint women’s ice hockey team is a significant development,” Adams said. “But the collaboration should be used to direct world attention toward remedying the abusive situation of North Korea’s people, not just to benefit Kim Jong-Un’s propaganda machine.”