Study Tour to South Korea
--Developing Solidarity Between the Suiheisha and the Hyongpyongsa to Ensure Human Rights in East Asia into the 21st Century--

The Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute (BLHRRI) organized a study tour to the Republic of Korea as one of the commemorative projects for the BLHRRI's 35th anniversary in order to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the founding of the Hyongpyongsa. (1) The Hyongpyongsa is an organization that was formed in Chinju to liberate the Paekjung, a group in Korea that faced discrimination. More than 40 people from a wide variety of backgrounds participated in the tour, which was conducted from the 23rd through 28th of April.

One of tour members said, "I reaffirmed that the people of South Korea, who have fought hard for peace in the environment of dramatic change during the modern and contemporary periods, are now at the cutting edge of human rights promotion in East Asia. Cooperation between the Suiheisha (2) and Hyongpyongsa was not successfully achieved due to the fact that Japan rushed into the war in Asia. An internationally networked human rights protection system must be established in Japan as soon as possible in order to ensure the creation of a world in which human rights are guaranteed."

Prior to the tour on April 4, BLHRRI held a lecture meeting in Osaka to raise awareness and deepen understanding with regard to the Hyongpyong movement.(3) Professor Kim Joong-Seop of Gyeongsang National University in Chinju was invited to make presentation at the meeting. He is the author of a Korean book entitled "Hyongpyong Movement: History of Paekjung, a Korean Outcaste, and their Struggle" and one of the organizers of a series of memorial events planned on the Korean side to celebrate the 80th anniversary of the Hyongpyongsa. The Japanese translation of his book, which was published prior to the meeting, was widely introduced with him. Both prior to and after the meeting, Liberty Osaka, a Human Rights Museum near BLHRRI, displayed a set of about 60 framed sheets composed of pictures and text describing the Hyongpyong movement.

The following is a brief report of the tour written by a participant.

Day 1 (April 23)
Arrival in Korea

Tour members departed from several different airports in Japan and assembled at Pusan in South Korea.

Day 2 (April 24)
International Conference

We participated in the International Conference for the 80th Anniversary of the Hyongpyong movement at Gyeongsang National University, co-sponsored by the Hyongpyong Association, Gyeongsang National University and the Buraku Liberation and Human Rights Research Institute.

After the opening remarks, Professor Kinhide Mushakoji delivered a keynote address. In his remarks, he pointed out that today's world is one in which we are seeing the steady progression of globalization and cross-border conflicts such as terrorist attacks, which are caused as a result of the strain that developed countries place on developing countries. He stated that a renewed focus must be placed on Suiheisha and Hyongpyong movements in the Japanese colonization period. He stressed the importance of learning more about the logical linkage between the West and East, the new values that have emerged from this linkage and the struggle for human rights in oppressed conditions.

The Conference consisted of two sessions. In Session 1, two professors from Gyeongsang National University and BLHRRI director Kenzo Tomonga delivered speeches on the topic of the development of human rights in the Republic of Korea and Japan. In the afternoon, Session 2 began with the topic of human rights development in Asia in the era of globalization. Mr. William Steele of the International Christian University, Ms. Lee Jung-Ok of Taegue Catholic University and Mr. Kim Dong-Hoon of Ryukoku University explored issues such as colonization and human rights challenges in developed countries, civil society movements and international coordination, and potential paths for securing human rights in Asia. After Session 2, three scholars, two from South Korea and one from Japan, interacted with previous presentations and stimulated participation from the floor.

Day 3 (April 25)
Fieldwork in Chinju City and the Exhibition Opening Ceremony

After watching a video that introduced municipal measures for welfare and culture in Chinju City Hall, we formed two groups to conduct fieldwork in the City. Group A, guided by Professor Kim Joong-Seop, visited a former Paekjung residential area, Hyongpyong Memorial Tower and Chinju Museum. Author Chung Dong-Ju took Group B to another former Paekjung residential area where Paekjung were ordered to live (they were not allowed to reside other areas until 1863), the tomb of Mr. Kang (one of the leaders of Hyongpyong movement), and "nose tombs" (where noses of Koreans, removed by the Japanese invading army led by Hideyoshi in the late 16th century, were buried).

In the afternoon, we were present at the opening ceremony for the exhibition of the Hyongpyong movement, Dalits in India and discrimination against Buraku people in Japan at the Chinju National Museum. It was the first time for an joint exhibition on these three issues to be organized in South Korea. Many local news reporters therefore covered the event. A lecture meeting was subsequently held and Professor Kim Joong-Seop, Ms.Burnad Fathima Natesan, president of the Tamil Nadu Women's Forum, and Mr. Akinobu Tanimoto, Assistant Secretary-General of the BLL, discussed the Hyongpyong movement, discrimination against Dalits, and Buraku discrimination, respectively.

After a dinner, we enjoyed a musk dance performance with almost 200 local people. A newly composed story for the dance tells the life of Paekjung who create a movement to abolish discrimination, and succeed in freeing themselves from it.

Day 4 (April 26)
The Korean Independence Hall

We left for Chungcheongnam-do to visit the Korean Independence Hall. We formed two groups, each of which was provided with a guide to describe Paekjung in the modern and contemporary eras. We also learned about the history of Korea after the Japanese invasion, which is marked by remarkable incidents such as the Japanese annexation of Korea, liberation from Japanese rule, the Korean War, and post-war economic development. We saw an exhibition on the Hyongpyongsa as well as its relationship with the Suiheisha in building No.6 of the Hall. The display was organized with documents that were donated to the Hall from BLHRRI 15 years ago.

Day 5 (April 27)
Seodaemun Prison History Hall

We enjoyed a visit to the reconstructed Changdeokgung and antique street Seodaemun in Seoul. In contrast to this, tour participants were shocked by an exhibition in the Seodaemun Prison History Hall, which was organized to reproduce how Japanese authorities tortured political dissidents.

Day 6 (April 28)
National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea

The National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea occupies seven floors of a building in central Seoul and has about 200 secretarial staff. A small number of tour members, including the director of BLHRRI, paid a courtesy call to the President of the Commission, Mr. Kim Chang-Kuk. A staff member of the Commission subsequently briefed us on their activities.

The Commission has dealt with issues such as attacks within troops, human rights of migrant workers and an incident where two teenage girls were crushed to death by a US army vehicle.

Having faced a Parliamentary debate on the question of whether or not to support the War against Iraq waged by the US and UK, the Commission issued a statement calling for the Government and Parliament to deliberate bearing in mind the anti-war principles of peace and human rights. In the statement, the Commission clearly presented its stance to oppose the war, which was initiated by the US and UK despite the lack of UN resolutions and threatens the lives and safety of the Iraqi people. The statement provoked hot debate. While the Parliament agreed to support the War, the President respects independence of the Commission and recognizes its right to present opinions that differ from those of the Government.

The Commission has not successfully fought for all human rights issues, but it seems to have played an important role as an independent organ through its actions with regard to major human rights concerns. Future challenges for the Commission may be in areas such as personnel numbers, resource collection, dissemination of information, and arrangement of regional organs. Cases such as those concerning US forces where recommendations by the Commission have been disregarded are another concern.

(1) Hyongpyongsa

Hyongpyongsa was established a year after the Zenkoku Suiheisha was formed. The word 'hyong' and 'pyong' literally mean a pair of scales and equality respectively. The Japanese colonial government successfully damaged the Hyongpyong movement through an arrest of a hundred of young affiliates by a false charge in the 1930s. The Hyongpyong movement substantially died when it changed its name to Taedongsa in 1935 and turned to an organization being cooperative with Japanese authority.

(2) Suiheisha

The Zenkoku Suiheisha (National Levelers' Association) was founded in Kyoto, Japan, on the 3rd of March 1922, in order to work towards eradicating discrimination against Buraku people. The word 'suihei,' meaning horizontal or level, is employed as a call to realize a society that is uniformly even and without discrimination. As an association for such aims, the name Suiheisha ('sha' means association) was used. At the time, the term was synonymous with autonomous Buraku liberation organizations. "National," prefectural or district proper names, were placed at the front of the term as appropriate.

(3) Hyongpyong movement is a movement led by the Hyongpyongsa.