‘Save Jeju’ Action

9th August 2012 - by Patrick Cunningham

Church groups – including Columbans – were among thousands of people involved in last week’s five-day march for peace around Jeju Island, where the South Korean government is building a military base.


Bishop Peter Kang of Cheju, President of the Korean Bishops’ Conference, launched the ‘March for Peace’ with Mass in the Jeju village of Gangjeong, where blasting has started. Irish Columban priest Pat Cunningham, who was at the packed Gangjeong Peace Center, reported that “Bishop Kang reminded everyone that people and activists in the village are experiencing the sad reality of state violence with the destruction of the community and the environment”. Pat Cunningham walked with diocesan and missionary priests, religious and lay Catholics, describing the march as “hot, but inspiring”.

Yet, despite the protests over the base, Columbans based in Korea are horrified that the World Conservation Congress (WCC), co-hosted by the IUCN (International Union for Conservation of Nature), is to hold a conference on Jeju in September. The conference is held every four years, and Jeju will be the location 6-15 September 2012. The Columbans and other ‘Save Jeju’ activists feel it is quite extraordinary that the world’s biggest environment event will be held only 7 km away from Gangjeong village where the UNESCO- protected area is being seriously damaged by the construction of the naval base. It is also extremely hypocritical that the base’s lead construction contractor, Samsung, is co-sponsoring this event.

There is a call from the organizing committee for the support of the international community to highlight these ironic if very sad inconsistencies and to organize solidarity events in your area during an international solidarity week from 2-9 September.

A very practical way we in Britain can help is by sending the following letter to IUCN –     and copy to



To the IUCN and the World Conservation Congress

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.

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.

They 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.

However, 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. They are calling for the South Korean government to halt its construction work at the four rivers and allow nature to reclaim it. They 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, they 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:

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.

They 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.”

The 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.

The civil environmental organizations of South Korea 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 civil environmental organizations of South Korea, which seek peaceful coexistence on the Korean peninsula and with Northeast Asia neighbors, urge IUCN to review its position. Specifically regarding the naval base project in Gangjeong, they would like clarification as to 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. They wonder how the IUCN arrived at its conclusion that the naval base construction “is valid according to legitimate processes.”

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.

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 agree with their concerns and our specific request is that IUCN distances itself from supporting the construction of a naval base on Jeju.