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South Korea States ‘Law Criminalizing Abortion Unconstitutional’, May Strike Down Abortion Ban

Only eight new cases of illegal abortion were prosecuted in 2017, down from 24 in 2016, according to South Korean judicial data.

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South Korea
South Korean acting Constitutional Court's Chief Judge Lee Jung-mi (center) and seven judges during final ruling of President Park Geun-hye's impeachment at the Constitutional Court in Seoul, South Korea, March 10, 2017.VOA

South Korea’s Constitutional Court said Thursday a law criminalizing abortion was unconstitutional, a landmark ruling that will overturn a ban on abortion that had been in place since 1953.

The court said in a statement the outright ban on abortion, as well as a law that made doctors who conduct abortions with the woman’s consent liable to criminal charges, were both unconstitutional.

However, the court said the current law would remain in effect until the end of next year, after which it will be scrapped.

The court had previously upheld the abortion law in 2012 in a closely divided decision, dividing the eight justices evenly.

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The law also states that medical professionals including doctors who engage in abortion at the request of the woman will serve a prison sentence of two years or less, and have their license suspended for seven years. Pixabay

Law dates to 1953

“The law criminalizing a woman who undergoes abortion of her own will goes beyond the minimum needed to achieve the legislative purpose and limits the right of self-determination of the woman who has become pregnant,” the court said in its ruling.

South Korea’s ban on abortion dates from 1953, when the country’s criminal law was first enacted after the 1950-1953 Korean War, and had not changed materially since.

The law states that a woman who undergoes abortion will serve a prison sentence of one year or less, or pay a fine of 2 million won ($1,756.08) or less.

The law also states that medical professionals including doctors who engage in abortion at the request of the woman will serve a prison sentence of two years or less, and have their license suspended for seven years.

Exemptions

There are exemptions, with current law allowing abortions within 24 weeks of becoming pregnant for medical purposes such as a hereditary disease or the pregnancy causing grave danger to the health of the mother, or in the case of pregnancy through rape.

“If the case does not fall under an exemption, the law forces the pregnant woman to maintain the pregnancy completely and uniformly without exception even in cases where there are circumstances causing conflicts about abortion due to diverse, widespread societal and economic reasons,” the court said.

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“The law criminalizing a woman who undergoes abortion of her own will goes beyond the minimum needed to achieve the legislative purpose and limits the right of self-determination of the woman who has become pregnant,” the court said in its ruling. Pixabay

The court’s ruling reflects the trend toward decriminalizing abortion, as the number of actual cases where abortion was criminally punished had been falling.

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Only eight new cases of illegal abortion were prosecuted in 2017, down from 24 in 2016, according to South Korean judicial data. Out of the 14 abortion cases that were decided in lower courts in 2017, 10 postponed a ruling on condition that no crime be committed for a certain period.

The number of abortions in South Korea has been dropping as well, with the estimated number of abortions among women aged 15 to 44 at 49,764 in 2017, down from 342,433 in 2005 and 168,738 in 2010, because of the increased use of birth control and a drop in the total number of women aged 15-44, according to Korea Institute for Health and Social Affairs. (VOA)

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Strict Conservation Laws Result in Eviction of Hundreds of Indigenous Karen People in Thailand

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to "take back the forest" and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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Salween River
A view of the Salween River is seen from a small Thai-Karen village on the Thai side of the river, Nov. 17, 2014. VOA

Hundreds of indigenous Karen people in Thailand face evictions from a national park that authorities wish to turn into a World Heritage Site, joining millions in a similarly precarious situation as authorities worldwide push tough .

The Kaeng Krachan is Thailand’s biggest national park, sprawled over more than 2,900 square kilometers (1,120 square miles) on the border with neighboring Myanmar.

Renowned for its diverse wildlife, it is also home to about 30 communities of ethnic Karen people, who have traditionally lived and farmed there — and is on a tentative list of world heritage sites.

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Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land. Pixabay

The United Nations’ cultural agency (UNESCO) had referred the submission back to the Thai government in 2016, asking it to address “rights and livelihood concerns” of the Karen communities, and get their support for the nomination.

The Thai government plans to respond later this year, according to campaigners.

“The communities have not been consulted or reassured on their access to the forest,” said Kittisak Rattanakrajangsri of advocacy group Asia Indigenous Peoples Pact.

“The communities are not opposed to the heritage status,” he told Reuters. “They are just asking that they not be evicted, and that their land rights are secure — because if the park gets heritage status without that, there will be a great many more evictions.”

A spokesman for the forest department did not respond to requests for comment.

A spokesman for the U.N. human rights office (OHCHR) in Bangkok said they had recently facilitated a meeting between a rights organization working with the Karen, and Thai officials.

Worldwide, more than 250,000 people were evicted from protected areas in 15 countries from 1990 to 2014, according to Washington D.C.-based advocacy group Rights and Resources Initiative.

In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected.

‘No legal rights’

Since Kaeng Krachan was declared a national park in 1981, hundreds of Karen — a hill tribe people thought to number about 1 million in Thailand — have been evicted, according to activists.

Last year the country’s top court ruled that about 400 who had been evicted in 2011 had no legal right over the land.

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In India, more than 1.9 million indigenous families face evictions after their forest rights claims were rejected. Pixabay

“The security of indigenous people in Thailand is so tenuous because they have no legal rights, and no recognition of their dependence on forests,” said Worawuth Tamee, an indigenous rights lawyer.

“The laws have made them encroachers,” he said.

A 2010 Cabinet resolution had called for recognizing the Karen people’s way of life and their right to earn a livelihood the traditional way. But this has not been implemented, said
Tamee.

After the military government took charge in 2014, it vowed to “take back the forest” and increase forest cover to about 40 percent of the total surface area from about a third.

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This has resulted in hundreds of reclamations from farmers and forest dwellers, according to research organization Mekong Region Land Governance.

“It is the biggest challenge facing indigenous people,” said Tamee. “Parks are not just for the enjoyment of city people and tourists. They are also the home of poor, indigenous people who have nowhere else to go.” (VOA)