I. Name of Victim
First name: Paraluman Michelynne
Middle name: Pedragita
Name used: Michel Catuira
Title: President, Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants Trade Union
II. Status of Victim as a Human Rights Defender
Michel Catuira, has been active in the movement for migrants’ human and labor rights in South Korea since 2007, and has served as the president of the Seoul-Gyeonggi Incheon Migrants Trade Union (MTU) since 2008. MTU is a union founded for and by migrant workers (documented and undocumented) in South Korea in 2005.
As president of MTU, Catuira has been at the forefront of work to address violations of the rights of migrants in South Korea. He has spoken out against restrictions placed on migrant workers’ freedom to change workplaces and other problems in Employment Permit System (EPS), which lead to rights violations. He has also vocally criticized the governments’ policy of immigration raids and the deportation of undocumented migrant workers, which has led to countless injuries, deaths and other human rights abuses. In the summer of 2010, President Catuira led a sit-in protest in opposition to the government’s concentrated crackdown on undocumented migrant workers carried out in preparation for the G20 Summit (held in Seoul in November 2010). During this time, President Catuira carried out a month-long hunger strike.
In November 2010 President Catuira participated in protests and other activities organized by MTU and other migrant rights organizations in response to the death of a Vietnamese migrant worker, who fell from a second story window while fleeing immigration officers during a raid. These activities included a protest visit to the Immigration Service, during which immigration officers told President Catuira that, as a migrant worker, he had no right to raise a complaint with them.
III. Alleged Violations
The South Korean government, in particular the Ministry of Employment and Labor and the Immigration Service under the Ministry of Justice, are using investigations of President Catuira’s status under the Immigration Control Law as a means to interfere with his union activities. President Catuira is a documented Filipino migrant worker, employed under the EPS. If he is found to be in violation of the Immigration Control he will lose his visa and become immediately deportable.
b. Specific violations
Under the EPS, President Catuira must maintain an employment relationship with a registered employer in the manufacturing sector as a condition of legal residence in South Korea. President Catuira has fulfilled this requirement and is employed by a company in the Seongsu district of Seoul. Nonetheless, the government has raised questions about his employment status as a means to stop his lawful union activities. When MTU carried out the sit-in protest in the summer of 2010, the Ministry of Employment and Labor’s East Seoul Job Center called him and his employer to the center for questioning, raising suspicions about the validity of their employment relationship. Finding no legal problem, the center continued to pressure President Catuira through his employer by sending a notice to the employer telling him to file to have President Catuira transferred to a different company.
Pressure has increased in the wake of activities carried out to protest the the death of the Vietnamese migrant worker as the result of an immigration raid. On November 23, President Catuira received a summons from the Immigration Service telling him he must appear before the Immigration Service’s investigation team before December 3 to be questioned based on “suspicion of violations of the Immigration Control Law in the course of applying for a workplace transfer and with relation to actual performance of work duties at present.” Inquiry by a lawyer working with MTU has revealed that the investigation team is also planning to raise suspicions that President Catuira is conducting political activities in violation of the Immigration Control Law. If the investigation team finds against President Catuira, he will lose his visa and become immediately deportable.
c. Nature of the violations
The Immigration Service’s investigation of President Catuira is clearly aimed at intimidating him in an effort to undermine MTU’s legitimate union activities. It is similar in form to past acts of repression against MTU, in which the South Korean government uses the vulnerable immigration status of migrant officers to prevent their union activities, in particular through arrest and deportation. The Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders and the Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants have taken note of this pattern of repression. On 18 January 2008, the Special Rapporteur on the Situation of Human Rights Defenders sent a letter of allegations in relation to the arrest and deportation of three MTU officers, expressing concern that these measures were “directly related to their work in defense of human rights” (A/HRC/10/12/Add.1 para. 1516-1519). Similarly, on 16 May 2008 the two Special Rapporteurs sent a joint urgent appeal in relation to the arrest and detention of two additional MTU officers expressing concern that these measures represented “an attempt by the authorities to prevent [the officers] from carrying out peaceful activities in the defense of human rights” (A/HRC/10/12/Add.1 , para. 1520-1526.)
In addition, the UN Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights and the ILO Committee on Freedom of Association have both issued recommendations calling on the South Korean government to desist from using immigration procedures such as the arrest, detention and deportation of migrant union officers, as a means of interfering with union activities.
d. Current status
MTU’s lawyer has asked that the date of President Catuira’s appearance before the investigation team be delayed. President Catuira is waiting to hear back from the Immigration Service and has not yet appeared for questioning. He will have to do so very shortly, however. It is thus important that intervention occur quickly if it is to be impactful.
The perpetrators include the Seoul Immigration Service, the Ministry of Justice, which houses the Immigration Service, the Ministry of Employment and Labor, and the South Korean government, which has in the past stated its intension to stop MTU’s activities, and which can be seen as ultimately responsible for the investigations against President Catuira.
V. Action by Authorities
Given that the perpetrators are the relevant state authorities, there is no need or reason to inform them of of these violations. Information has been sent to international human rights organizations such as Amnesty International, and representatives at the UN and ILO. MTU is also receiving assistance from the Korean Confederation of Trade Unions, of which it is an affiliate.
VI. Link between the Violation and Human Rights Work
It is clear from the timing of the investigations and the past pattern of using immigration status as a means for targeting MTU, that these measures are being used to prevent President Catuira and MTU’s work to defense human rights.
This Appeal is being submitted by the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrant Trade Union.
Office: 82-2-778-4001(2); Fax: 82-778-4006; Cel: 82-10-5003-8419; MTU email: firstname.lastname@example.org;