Tuesday, September 04, 2012

Save Jeju Now

It only takes a moment, please sign this petition in order to protect the natural beauty of Jeju Island, South Korea.

More information on Jeju and Gangjeong is pasted below.


From: Robert Redford
To: All of your people
Subject: Tell Environmentalists & IUCN : No Base on Jeju Island

Dear Friends of Jeju Island,

From September 6-15, some 10,000 environmentalists will converge on Jeju Island to attend the World Conservation Congress (WCC) organized by the oldest environmental organization, the International Union of the Conservation of Nature (IUCN). The IUCN’s slogan is that it promotes “a just world that values and conserves nature.” If recent actions are any indication, nothing could be further from the truth.

The WCC will take place only a few minutes away from Gangjeong where the construction of a naval base is threatening one of the planet’s most spectacular soft coral forests and other coastal treasures, assaulting numerous endangered species and destroying a 400-year old sustainable community of local farmers and fishers.

Unfortunately, the IUCN leadership has ignored or whitewashed the naval base.

Instead of condemning the South Korean government’s actions, IUCN Director-General Julia Marton-Lafevre praised its seriously flawed “Environmental Impact Assessment” (EIA) for the base project, which ignored critically endangered species, missed crucial impacts upon 40 species of soft coral, including nine that are seriously endangered, and five that are already protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This naval base is being built just 0.13 miles from a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Tiger Island.

Take action now and sign this petition to the IUCN Director-General, Julia Marton-Lefevre urging the IUCN to condemn the base construction.

While Gangjeong villagers trying to protect their treasured natural resources are subjected to daily police beatings and arrests, the IUCN has still failed to acknowledge the environmental or human-rights violations. One can’t help but wonder if this is because the WCC convention is partly financed by the very corporations building the military base, notably Samsung. Learn more about how you can help support an independent EIA and the villagers' struggle at http://www.savejejunow.org.

Instead of inviting dialogue, the IUCN conference organizers have suppressed it. In an official letter from IUCN leadership – with no explanation -- it blocked the villagers from even having a small information booth at the conference.

You can help give voice to the Gangjeong villagers who have been beaten and silenced by their own government, and now kept out by the world’s largest environmental organization. Add your name to this letter to IUCN Director-General, Julia Marton-Lefevre, to be hand delivered by Gangjeong village Mayor Kang Dong-kyun at the IUCN Congress.

For peace and protection of our planet,

Robert Redford

Actor, Director and Environmental Activist

P.S. Gangjeong village Mayor Kang Dong-kyun needs thousands with him when he delivers the petition to the IUCN Director General. Take one minute now and stand with him and the villagers fighting for the endangered species, coral reefs and their 400-year ecologically sustainable village! http://signon.org/sign/iucn-stop-environmental?source=s.icn.em.cr&r_by=417614&mailing_id=5784
The following statement with 131 signatories, is the 1st of 3 open letters mailed to the leadership of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was originally posted here.

OPEN MEMO TO:  All Leadership, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)
FROM: Undersigned Environmental/NGO/Academic Leaders

THE IUCN 2012 WORLD CONSERVATION CONGRESS (WCC), scheduled for September 6-15 at Jungmun Resort on Jeju Island, was apparently planned several years ago by IUCN leadership without full awareness of current circumstances on Jeju—circumstances that display values and behaviors exactly opposite to the historic goals of IUCN.

The IUCN describes the Congress as “the world’s largest and most important conservation event,” aiming “to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.” Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to sustaining those values than the environmental and social assaults now underway only minutes away, along the nearby coastline, and in the traumatized Gangjeong Village. That is where construction has begun on a huge new military base, rapidly devastating a region of rare beauty, vibrant soft-coral reefs, pure freshwater springs, numerous endangered species, and traditional sustainable cultures and villages, and where police actions are brutalizing local populations who attempt to oppose the development.

The undersigned believe it would be massively ironic, contradictory, and scandalous, for the IUCN to ignore the attacks on living nature, and on traditional sustainable culture, that are daily underway a few miles from the scheduled IUCN meeting.  Holding a conference in the face of such nearby, ongoing devastation, would destroy the credibility of IUCN, and be an eternal embarrassment for all participants at the meeting.

We therefore insist that the leadership of IUCN demand that the government of South Korea immediately stop this appalling development, remove its military, and free the local population trying to recover the environment and traditional culture that is being actively destroyed.  In lieu of that, IUCN should immediately cancel its meeting in Jeju, and reschedule in a timely manner, in another place with values that are aligned with the organization’s mission.  Details follow.

Crimes Against Nature:
Five years ago, the South Korean government announced that it would begin blasting Gangjeong’s rare lava-rock coastline, the only rocky wetland on Jeju Island, to make way for a new naval base intended to berth South Korean and U.S. Aegis missile-carrying warships, a thinly veiled threat against China. The base project is located 1.7 km away from sacred Beom Islet (Tiger Isle), which is a UNESCO biosphere preserve.

Coastal blasting began in earnest in March 2012, despite continuous passionate protests from local Gangjeong residents.  It has already transformed an extraordinary coastline into an ecological disaster area.  Uniquely beautiful soft-coral reefs, with very high levels of native biodiversity, extend widely across the area, directly in front of the base project.  They are now being aggressively destroyed. Environmentalist and actor Robert Redford recently reported on the 57 four-story-tall caissons poised to drop on miles of soft coral reefs.

The coastline features a single massive Andesite bed rock, with year-round fresh water streams and springs.  Bubbling through the lava for millennia, these precious waters have now been contaminated by the dynamiting of the coastline.  The blasting and construction are also shattering the rare ecosystem in places where fresh spring water mixes with sea water.  The brackish water’s life-giving qualities are recognized by villagers, who call it “grandmother water.”

These places provide unique habitat for many endangered species, including the narrow-mouth toad (Kaloula borealis), which is, ironically, on the IUCN’s critical Red List! Other endangered species threatened by the destruction include the red-foot crab (Sesarma intermedium); the Jeju fresh water shrimp (Caridina denticulate keunbaei); and mollusks such as the Gisoogal godong (Clithon retropictus).

Another endangered species doomed by the development, are Jeju’s last 100 Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) which are still visible in island coastal waters.

Crimes Against Humanity
Clearly, this base construction is not only a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity. In a single blow, the base will destroy not just ecosystems and endangered species, but also resilient livelihoods within a thriving traditional village. The reef, the farms and the spring water have provided for the local village for centuries. And yet, the government has razed many acres of tangerine farms, and removed people from their land and their reefs in order to make room for a military base.

The Los Angeles Times has reported:  “The new base will subsume the picturesque harbor, and its security perimeter will shut out fishermen and women who for generations have fished for abalone, sea cucumber and brown seaweed.”

One “haenyo” (traditional woman sea diver) says that pollution from the naval base has already turned the clean seawater to gray, threatening the haenyos’ livelihoods. “The Naval base will destroy the natural resources.  I see cranes and large machinery at the base. I can’t believe it.”

The villagers were recently notified that the government will be seizing more land to build housing for 600 military personnel who, with their families, will outnumber the 1,930 villagers. New businesses will open to service the newcomers: Big box stores will replace village gardens; parking lots will replace farms; bars and prostitution will replace Jeju’s women divers. Gangjeong, as it has miraculously existed for centuries, will be wiped off the face of the Earth.

According to a Jeju newspaper, the base controversy has caused increased suicide rates in Gangjeong. Last year, one villager drank pesticide in a failed attempt to kill himself. He said he couldn’t live with all the destruction.

Finally, this development is also a crime against democracy. Ninety-four percent of villagers voted against base construction in a recent referendum, but local wishes are ignored by the Korean government. The mayor of Gangjeong and fellow villagers have hosted numerous press conferences in Jeju City, citing continuing environmental violations by the construction crews. The Navy is never punished. Instead, the government sends hundreds of riot police to arrest protestors every day for holding prayer vigils at the gates to the construction site. They are charged with “obstruction of government activities.” The mayor himself was jailed for three months.

Our Demand
The undersigned strongly assert that it would be highly contradictory for the IUCN to ignore such startling social and environmental realities as described above, while it claims to convene global environmental leaders to protect and restore natural systems.  If the 2012 World Conservation Conference proceeds as currently planned, it would permanently damage the credibility of IUCN, and be a major embarrassment for all participants. This situation must be faced, and stopped. To participate as if everything is fine will cast a black mark across the conference and all its attendees.
IUCN leadership must immediately demand that the Republic of Korea cease, at once, these unconscionable crimes against the Earth, humanity and democracy. If the government refuses, IUCN should postpone the conference and reschedule at another time and place consistent with IUCN’s urgent mission and stated values. This would be in keeping with IUCN statements on the prime necessity to act on behalf of survival of the Earth and culture.

Thank you for your attention.


The following statement is the 2nd of 3 open letters mailed to the leadership of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was originally posted here.

Does IUCN Director General Accept Korea’s Environmental Destruction?

Below you will find a disturbing history, prepared by 62 leading activist organizations in South Korea, who have, for many years, been trying to gain attention for environmental devastation taking place in their country.

For example, on the idyllic Korean island of Jeju, construction has begun on a huge new navy base, that is rapidly devastating a region of rare beauty, vibrant soft-coral reefs, pure freshwater springs, numerous endangered species such as Jeju’s last 100 dolphins, and traditional sustainable cultures, and where police actions are brutalizing local populations who attempt to oppose the development.
The letter below explains how the government is also pushing nuclear power plants on unwilling communities, as well as a horrific boondoggle known as the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project.  Four Rivers has nothing to do with “restoration,” but, rather, is a sweetheart deal for the nation’s largest construction conglomerates to “straighten” Korea’s major rivers and its most loved riparian habitats into concrete canals.

 In an astounding display of irony, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will convene its quadrennial convention this September only a few kilometers away from where biodiverse habitats are being blasted to make way for a military base.

As reported in the letter below, the IUCN’s Director General, Julia Marton-Lefevre, has unwisely turned a blind eye to the government’s actions and its distorted descriptions, and has even seemed, in some statements, to condone them. The IUCN has thereby made itself effectively complicit in the continuation of the ecological destruction.

The question remains as to whether IUCN will make firm efforts to speak out and to challenge the Korean government on these dire matters, starting now.

Please read the letter below, and then email the IUCN, demanding that it call on the South Korean government to put an immediate halt to the construction of the Jeju Island navy base, a halt to the construction of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, and a halt to Korea’s development of nuclear power.


July 10, 2012
We, civic environmental groups in South Korea, denounce the IUCN and the World Conservation Congress that have overlooked and misrepresented environmental and social conflicts in South Korea

1. In September 2012, the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN) will organize the World Conservation Congress (WCC) at ICC JEJU in Jeju Island, which is expected to be attended by more than 10,000 people from over 1,100 organizations in 180 countries.

We, civic environmental groups in South Korea, have a high regard for the international cooperation projects executed by the IUCN, which endeavor to help develop and implement policies that contribute to protecting the environment. We also recognize that IUCN is globally influential; the organization carries significant weight over the registration of UNESCO World Heritage Sites, sets criteria regarding internationally endangered species and develops conservation plans.

We also respect the milestones achieved by the IUCN, including the Ramsar Convention in 1971; the World Conservation Strategy in 1978, which proposed the concept of “sustainable development”; the Convention on Biological Diversity in 1992, and the Resolution on Biodiversity, passed at the 1996 World Conservation Congress in Montreal. In addition, we recognize that it was the IUCN which enabled numerous technological advancements which are currently in use in the field to protect biological ecosystems, such as the Technical Guidelines on the Management of Ex-situ populations for Conservation.

2. Meanwhile, the Lee Myung-Bak administration has destroyed four major rivers, continues to blindly pursue nuclear power, and continues to forcefully construct a naval base at Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, despite fierce opposition, both locally and nationally.

Against this backdrop, civic environmental groups and activists in South Korea continue to denounce the administration and are taking action against its destructive projects. We call for the South Korean government to halt its construction work at the four rivers and allow nature to reclaim it. We also oppose the Lee administration’s policy of promoting nuclear power under the guise of Green Growth and exporting it to the Third World. Furthermore, we are vehemently against the government’s execution of a plan to build a naval base on Jeju Island, which is destroying biodiversity and brutally violating human rights in the name of national security.

Given the above, civic environmental groups in South Korea state the following to the IUCN, the organizer of the World Conservation Congress (WCC) in 2012, and its Organizing Committee:

3. The World Conservation Congress will be held this year in South Korea, yet the Congress gravely neglects or misrepresents environmental and social conflicts in the host country. Because the Congress is financed by the Lee Myung-Bak administration and sponsored by industrial conglomerates, there is growing public concern that the WCC is promoting policies of the Lee administration without examining whether they are truly designed to preserve the environment.
This year – 2012 – is the fifth, and last, year of President Lee’s tenure, in which his administration is taking advantage of the WCC to justify his poor environmental, peace, and labor policies. The South Korean government is using the convention to advocate for its questionable “Low Carbon Green Growth” campaign, its appalling Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, as well as its policy of prioritizing nuclear power and favoring corporate construction conglomerates.

We are concerned that the IUCN Secretariat is not addressing any of the current environmental issues in South Korea among the themes for the upcoming WCC. Rather, Director General Julia Marton-Lefevre of IUCN faithfully endorses the Korean government and its dubious policies.

The Director General said “Korea’s green growth policies and Four Major Rivers Restoration Project are the results of the efforts to ensure nature conservation and sustainable development” during a meeting with President Lee on June 4. In an interview with a Korean reporter, she described the rivers project as “reasonable.”

4. We civic environmental groups of South Korea raise this question: Are members of the IUCN and its Director General aware of the grave implications of the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project?
Under the Lee administration, South Korean society has endured tremendous social tensions and environmental conflicts. The government has prioritized development at the expense of wreaking havoc on the environment and the health of its citizens.

For example, in 2008, the 10th Meeting of the Conference of the Contracting Parties to the Convention on Wetlands was held in Korea. At that meeting, President Lee publicly declared to withdraw a plan to build a “Grand Canal” in Korea, only to re-allocate its budget to execute the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project, which has devastated the nation’s four crucial rivers. Sixteen dams were built at the rivers, destroying habitats for endangered species, critical biological diversity, and nearby wetlands. The rivers project violated several national laws, such as the National Budget Law, the River Law and the Environmental Impact Assessment Law. Construction contracts for the rivers project are reported to total around $900 million.

Before its Director General asserted that the Four Rivers project was “reasonable,” the IUCN should have conducted an on-the-ground assessment of the project, which would have shown how it is, in fact, undermining the organization’s hard work of preserving biological diversity. In December 2002, the Technical Guidelines on the Management of Ex-situ populations for Conservation were approved at the 14th Meeting of the Programme Committee of Council, in Gland, Switzerland. Nonetheless, the South Korean government’s Four Major Rivers Restoration Project has been committing gross violations of IUCN guidelines, by decimating the habitats of several endangered species, including the Danyang aster (Aster altaicus var. uchiyamae). Does the IUCN, the international environmental steward, recognize that the rivers project has utterly destroyed a haven for migratory birds’ – the Haepyeong wetland located at Gumi City, Kyeongsangbuk-do province in a flagrant breach of the Ramsar Convention? Is the IUCN aware that organic farmers in Paldang, Dumulmeori, continue to defend their farmlands against forced evictions by the Lee Administration?

5. We respectfully ask for the position of IUCN on these critical matters. Is the IUCN aware that 3,000 university professors and five leading religious groups in South Korea oppose this project? The environmental organizations in South Korea are united in opposition to this project, demanding punishment of those responsible, the removal of the dam, and the restoration of the rivers. We respectfully ask for your official position on this dire situation.

We, the civil environmental organizations of the South Korea, challenge the IUCN Director General’s position on the Four Major Rivers Restoration Project and therefore request the IUCN to clarify its position.

6. In addition, we express deep concern with the IUCN’s support of the construction of a naval base in Gangjeong village, Jeju Island. Last April, based on false information provided by the South Korean government, the IUCN issued an official position stating that “construction of the naval base in Gangjeong is valid according to legitimate processes.” It is questionable whether the IUCN put any effort into verifying the credibility of the data provided by the South Korean government.

The IUCN’s statement on the Gangjeong naval base contradicts its earlier resolutions regarding the negative impacts of military bases on the environment. At the General Assembly in 2008, the IUCN adopted “the Recommendation for protection of dugongs in Henoko, Okinawa, Japan” and at the General Assembly in Buenos Aires in 1994, passed a resolution addressing the relationship of “military base to conservation area.” The IUCN’s objective to protect global ecosystems cannot coexist with the goals of increasing militarization at the regional or global scale. We oppose the IUCN’s position regarding the naval base project in Gangjeong village, on Jeju Island.

7. The civil environmental organizations of South Korea, which seek peaceful coexistence on the Korean peninsula and with all our Northeast Asia neighbors, urge IUCN to express its clear position. Specifically regarding the naval base project in Gangjeong, we would like you to clarify whether the IUCN is aware of the serious violations of environmental laws, which have led to the destruction of species which are assigned as “endangered” by the Korean government. These endangered species include the red-footed crab (Sesarma intermedium) andClithon retropietus V. Martens. We ask you to clarify how the IUCN arrived at its conclusion that the naval base construction “is valid according to legitimate processes.”

Just to clarify, the naval base is being built at a UNESCO Biosphere Conservation Area (designated in 2002), and was designated a Cultural Protection Zone by the South Korean government in 2000 and 2004. In 2002 the government’s Ministry of Land designated it a Marine Ecosystem Conservation Area; in 2006, the government of Jeju Island designated it a Marine Provincial Park; in 2006, the Ministry of Environment designated it an “Ecological Excellent Village”; in 2007, the Jeju Island government designated it an Absolute Retention Coastal Area; and in 2008, the Ministry of Environment designated it a Natural Park. We ask you to please clarify how the IUCN would consider a project as “legitimate,” when the government mobilizes both public and private police forces against residents who have committed no crime other than to object to the project’s desecration of this precious conservation area.

Gangjeong village in Jeju is an area that must be conserved in accordance with the values of the IUCN. That would mean that the military base construction must be blocked. The IUCN must actively seek to halt the naval base construction at Gangjeong and to restore and preserve the area’s natural ecosystems through a resolution at the WCC General Assembly.

8. We, in the spirit of peace on our Korean peninsula, are besieged by the South Korean government’s arbitrary administration of law in regard to the environment, and its dictatorial push for national projects for whom only the nation’s largest corporations benefit. Since President Lee took office, his administration has expressly weakened laws which had protected South Korea’s environment.
South Korea environmentalists are gravely concerned that the government will take advantage of the WCC General Assembly proceeding this September in Jeju to advance its illegitimate national projects. We therefore demand a clear explanation of the IUCN’s position regarding the Four Rivers Restoration Project and the Gangjeong Naval Base project. We formally request the IUCN and the 2012 WCC Organizing Committee’s clear position and response, which will be a central factor to the position taken by the Korean civil environmental organizations at the WCC General Assembly.

9. In keeping with the IUCN’s prodigious achievements toward preserving the biodiversity of the planet, we expect the IUCN and the WCC Organizing Committee to show significant efforts to resolve environmental disputes and related social conflicts in the Republic of Korea, the host nation of the WCC.

As funicular cable cars on the sacred mountains of Jiri-san and Seorak-san threaten Asiatic Black Bears; as sustainable farmers from Gangwon province struggle with the seizure of their land to build a golf course; as tidal power plants at Incheon Bay and Garolim Bay threaten the livelihoods of local fishermen; as residents battle nuclear power plants in Gori, Youngduk and Samcheok; as the farmers and fisherpeople of Jeju Island cope with the destruction of their reef and farmland in order to build a navy base; as country folk struggle to exist after their villages were subsumed by water to construct dams on Mt. Jiri and Youngju; as laborers strike against brutal working conditions at SSangyoung Motors– As these manifold violations take place, we shall, with our partners in the international community, take actions to expose the daily brutality levied upon the environment and the people of South Korea, and to correct the wrong doings of the Lee Myung-Bak regime.

We wish for a peaceful resolution to these many environmental and social conflicts, and request that the IUCN and the WCC Organizing Committee clarify their position on these issues as soon as possible.


The following statement is the 3rd of 3 open letters mailed to the leadership of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was originally posted here.

TO:   IUCN Leadership, Participants, and Global Environmental Organizations
FROM: Emergency Action Committee to Save Jeju Island

IUCN leadership still refuses to criticize Korea’s destructive naval base, though construction work is killing rare soft corals, numerous endangered species (including from IUCN’s Red List), and destroying indigenous communities and livelihoods. This stance from IUCN defies its traditional mission, conserving nature and a “just world.”


ABOUT A MONTH AGO, this committee was joined by dozens of co-signers from around the world, in circulating open letters to the leadership of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN), and its associated members. The statements were remarking on recent actions of IUCN that directly conflict with its important historical mandates.

While continuing to proclaim its devotion to protecting Nature, including the planet’s endangered places and species, IUCN leadership has ignored or whitewashed projects that are assaulting these wonders, and undermining human rights and sustainable livelihoods. For example, the organization inexplicably planned its giant September convention only a few minutes’ bus ride from one of the world’s great current outrages—the construction of a large new naval base near the village of Gangjeong, on Jeju Island, the “jewel” of South Korea.  The naval base project, meant to become home-port for Korean and U.S. missile-carrying warships 300 miles from China, is threatening one of the planet’s last great soft coral reefs, and other coastal treasures, killing numerous endangered species (including one on IUCN’s famous Red List), and destroying centuries-old sustainable communities of local farmers and fishers. The Gangjeong villagers have been protesting the base project for years, and are being met with daily police brutality.  Such activities represent all that IUCN has traditionally opposed.

Then, a few days ago (August 22), an official letter arrived from IUCN leadership informing the indigenous villagers that their application to host a small Information Booth at the convention was denied, though dozens have been granted for corporations and other groups. No explanation was offered. (More details below.) 

In our earlier communiques we referred to public statements from IUCN Director-General, Julia Marton-Lefevre, supporting the Korean government’s environmental policies, including its decisions vis-à-vis the military base and the infamous Four Rivers Project (also discussed below.)
Her praise encompassed the government’s seriously flawed “Environmental Impact Assessment” (EIA) for the base project.  This, despite that the EIAignored three of the most critically endangered species at Gangjeong, the Red-footed Crab,Sesarma intermedium; the Jeju Freshwater ShrimpCaridina denticulata keunbaei), endemic to Jeju Island, and the Boreal Digging Frog pictured here (an IUCN Red-List species.)  It also ignored effects upon Korea’s only pod of Indo-Pacific Bottle-nosed Dolphins which swim regularly through the area.  Neither did it explore crucial impacts upon 40 species of soft coral, including nine that are seriously endangered, and five that are already protected by CITES (Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species of Wild Fauna and Flora). This activity takes place only 250 meters from a UNESCO Biosphere Reserve, Tiger Island.
(In an upcoming letter we will report on a far more authoritative environmental impact statement now being conducted, secretly, by a team of well-known, non-governmental volunteer scientists from several countries—some with prominent IUCN member organizations. They have already documented a spectacular enormous coral garden, 7.4 hectares large, within a mile of where the destruction is now advancing. The only other place in the world where there may exist a soft-coral forest of this magnitude is in the Red Sea.  (The divers are operating secretly because the government deported several prior researchers.)

On a related matter, the Director General has praised the government’s “Four Rivers Restoration.”  Alas, however, this is not “restoration.”  As the Korean environmental community has made clear, it’s a re-routing of Korea’s four great wild, winding rivers into straight-line channels, partly encased in concrete, combined with extensive dam building, and dredging, to make them more business-friendly. The effects on riparian communities are devastating. In four years the population of Korea’s migratory birds, such as white-naped cranes, has been reduced by two-thirds and in many areas, the rivers have become algae-infested cesspools.  At the recent Ramsar Convention in Bucharest (July, 2012), the World Wetlands Network announced a “Grey Globe Award” to the Four Rivers project, ranking it among the five worst wetlands projects in the world. The IUCN community should publicly denounce it, too.

Throughout the run-up to the Convention, neither Director-General Marton-Lefevre, nor President Ashok Khosla, has expressed any disapproval of the above ongoing assaults on Nature. Neither have they made mention of the police beatings and arrests of the indigenous protestors from Gangjeong village who are trying, every day, to protect Nature’s treasures from being destroyed—activities that the IUCN was actually created to protect.

The response to our earlier e-mailers was enormous, with at least 90% of respondents supporting our positions—including many from mid-level IUCN leadership.  In a brief burst of democratic openness, the IUCN’s web-page reprinted our letters, while responding with generalities about its great concern for Nature, and democratic process,  and it opened the page for public comments.  But after the first 20 comments appeared, all of them critical of IUCN’s position, the responses were erased off the page. On the other hand, the Korean government’s manifesto on its dubious “green” development policies continues to be displayed. So much for democracy.

IUCN also announced that it will propose that attendees pass a proclamation (“Nature+”)concerning the glories of Nature, but which still does not mention what’s going on ten minutes away, and while also denying permission for the local community to formally state their views in the Congress meetings.  Up to this moment, the leadership of IUCN continues to avoid any expression of concern or even awareness of the impacts on Nature and community, just down the street, though such concerns are central to the organization’s mandate.

Why is IUCN leadership remaining so silent?   For the leadership, it may be more of a financial and political matter than one of conservation or social justice, which is what IUCN was supposed to be about. There is also an underlying reality:  A large percentage of the cost of this WCC convention in Jeju is being covered by the very people building the military base. Those would be the Korean government, and several giant global corporations, notably Samsung.

Having accepted the funding, it is difficult to criticize the funders.

IUCN’s top leadership has apparently determined its best course now is to avert its gaze while the government kills the shrimps and the frogs, destroys the corals, and jails the protesting local farmers.  Meanwhile, IUCN can freely proceed with its great meeting next door to save Nature.

But the organization has gone still further.  IUCN has granted the Korean government (the “Korean Organizing Committee of the 2012 WCC,” the chair of which, is Lee Hongkoo, the former Prime Minister of Korea, a supporter of the base) approval-power over any South Korean organizations wanting to present alternative views.  These include whether to grant permission to speak on the issues at the meeting, even when they are invited to do so by bona-fide IUCN member organizations, or merely to host an information table at the event. (See #2 below.) IUCN has also agreed to partner with its Korean financial sponsor in constructing and presenting the formal program of the Convention.  So now, the government, eager to advertise its green initiatives, will be represented on every one of the five “prime-time” plenary panels of the convention, either by government or corporate officials. It is  the only country in the world to be so privileged.  None of those panels will focus on the Gangjeong military base construction, or the Four Rivers fiasco.

Finally, the questions become these: Whose IUCN is this? Does the complicity of IUCN leadership truly represent IUCN membership?  Can anything useful still be achieved at the WCC in Jeju?  On the latter point, we actually think YES, there still is. We call upon the IUCN participants to use the occasion to take stands on the following:


 #1.  Assembly Resolutions:  Shut the Base; Make a New EIA; Stop the Four Rivers Project.
Since our prior letters, our committee has become aware of the great work of several independent groups of environmental attorneys, representing IUCN-member organizations.  They are working toward a series of Draft Resolutions to be presented at the WCC Assemblies, including all members.  Among them are these:

Shut the Base. The first Resolution will demand that Korea end its military base construction, and that all ravaged lands be restored to their former condition. The Resolution will speak in behalf of the endangered species, the rare soft corals, the sacred sites, and the local villagers who are putting their lives on the line to protect these treasures.

The once-celebrated southern Jeju coastline is now being covered in concrete, thanks to the Korean government, Samsung corporation, and the silence of IUCN.

It will also describe the many IUCN rules and prior decisions that have been violated. These include, for example, the important principles of the Earth Charter passed by the 2004 Congress, as well as the UN Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples, the Convention on Biological Diversity, the World Heritage Convention, the UN Declaration on Human Rights, the International Covenant on Economic and Social Rights, among many others.

New Environmental Impact Assessment.  A second Resolution may demand preparation and acceptance of a new Environmental Impact Assessment of the naval base construction near Gangjeong—free of government control and censorship—that will include a truly accurate assessment of the dredging and other impacts on the soft coral reefs, and the killing of rare species that are all absent from the government’s document. (As indicated above, a new independent EIA is already being prepared by several outraged IUCN scientists.)

End The Four Rivers Project.  A third Resolution will demand that Korea immediately discontinue its notorious Four Rivers Restoration project, and begin to actually restore the great rivers to their prior condition.

There is one potential complication.  Unsurprisingly, the attorneys were told by some IUCN management not to bother with these motions. They will be “too late,” past deadline, they were told. And yet, the historical record of IUCN offers many examples of last minute submissions.  They have always been permitted if they raise new, urgent, unforeseen issues, and if at least ten IUCN members co-sponsor the request. There are already more than ten willing IUCN co-sponsors.  And they certainly qualify as urgent new matters for IUCN. If we don’t stop this destruction now, by the time IUCN meets again in four years, the corals, the Boreal Digging Frogs and other species, and many local people will be dead. We must not let that happen.

#2.  Let the Gangjeong People Speak.  

Information Booth Crisis.  As briefly mentioned above, the Gangjeong villagers, working to save habitats, biodiversity, and the Red-List species from the military’s destruction, applied a few months ago through official IUCN channels for permission to set up one “information booth” among the dozens of others that have been okayed within the convention center throughout the meeting.  That would seem a benign enough request, but a runaround ensued. Instead of routinely okaying the application, the IUCN passed it to the Korean government (the KOC, mentioned above) which is heavily invested in silencing any and all opposition to the base or the Four Rivers project. Korean newspapers have also been silenced on these matters.  Repeated efforts over recent weeks to confirm permission for the information table were ignored. Finally, a few days ago, they received an official letter from the Director of IUCN’s Constituency Support Group, Enrique Lahmann.  He said this:  “Unfortunately, we are not able to accommodate your request for an exhibition booth at the WCC.”  That’s it. No reason was given.  And no explanation of how this fullfills official IUCN proclamations of democracy and inclusiveness.

No Protest Allowed Within Two Kilometers.  Meanwhile, the Korean government announced that it would not permit any demonstrations or even picketing within two kilometers of the Convention.  So, no information table inside. No demonstrations outside.  Where are we again?  Isn’t South Korea supposed to be a democracy?

During the upcoming Assemblies, IUCN leaders must at last denounce the government for these appalling moves, and permit the villagers, who are actually doing IUCN’s work, to not only have their information table inside the convention, but if they so choose, to go ahead and demonstrate freely outside, just as if this were a democratic society.

Addressing the Full Assembly.  All of the above is not enough.  The Gangjeong community should be permitted —-no, invited by IUCN leadership—to address the opening and/or closing plenary of the IUCN convention, to provide the full story of this local disaster and what they are going through.  If the government resists, the IUCN leadership should insist.  We all need to hear from the indigenous local farmers and fisher-people, and the custodians of the sacred sites, about what they have seen and experienced.  Everyone needs to hear this. After all, we are meeting on their indigenous soil, on their island, on the coast that has nurtured them for thousands of years.   So, our own group inquired as to the possibility of the villagers speaking at the assembly, but we were told by IUCN officials, as above, that all South Korean presenters have to be approved by the government.

Here’s some good news.  Several IUCN member groups have already (quietly) invited local leaders to participate in some of the groups’ own scheduled workshop panel time to tell the Gangjeong story. (In our next letter, we will brief you on who is speaking and at what time. By delaying this announcement, we hope to avoid government crackdowns against the groups.)

#3.  Go Visit the Destruction Sites, and the Sacred Sites.
Members of our committee, and our Korean colleagues, will be arranging tours of Gangjeong village, the sacred sites that are threatened, and the front-lines of the ongoing confrontation between the villagers and the police at the construction site. It is horrifying and inspiring. (If you want to join those outings, please respond gangjeongintl@gmail.com.) It’s very easy to get there—ten minutes by local bus.

#4   Institutional Self-Examination.
Finally, we suggest that all IUCN members take this moment to assess what is happening in Jeju, and to initiate a process of institutional self-examination, questioning and re-organization.  None of us can afford to lose the moral and ethical leadership of one of the world’s greatest organizations. We need to do whatever is necessary to assure that IUCN will revive its historical mandate to place Nature first, and to protect social justice.

Thank you for your attention.


No comments:


Related Posts with Thumbnails