Stop the shipment of South Korean tear gas to Turkey

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South Korean activists protest a shipment of tear gas to Turkey
South Korean activists protest a shipment of tear gas to Turkey

In recent years, Turkey has repeatedly abused the rights of protesters with the weaponised use of tear gas at demonstrations. But despite human rights concerns, South Korea has authorised a huge shipment of tear gas to Turkey. On 10th February, Ban Tear Gas Initiative (Turkey), Campaign Against Arms Trade (UK), War Resisters' International and World Without War (South Korea) carried out actions in Seoul, Istanbul and London to stop the shipment! (see photos).

At the action in Istanbul protesters were met by riot police.  In the words of one of the organisers: "In front of the Korean embassy, two full buses of armed riot police, one water cannon vehicle and ten cars of undercover cops were waiting. The consulate general is in a plaza and they didn't let us in. After the protest, the police tried to block us from entering but we reached Korean embassy employees and delivered the letter to them. Too many press were with us!"

According to the information disclosed to Rep. KIM Gwang-jin, a National Defense Committee member of South Korean National Assembly, Defense Acquisition Program Administration (DAPA), the South Korean export control authorities, issued export licencses granting the export of nearly 1.65 million tear gas canisters and grenades to Turkey. The licensces were issued throughout November and December of 2014, and the first batch shipment of tear gas shipment is believed to have been completed by the end of January. At this moment, the schedule for the rest of the consignment remains unknown.

International society has witnessed the Turkish government's abusive use of police force and especially its indiscriminate use of tear gas against peaceful protestors and bystanders. Many international NGOs, including Physicians for Human Rights, Amnesty International and Human Rights Watch, have documented human rights violations by Turkish security forces. They show Turkish forces used tear gas as a weapon on a massive scale. Police shot tear gas canisters directly at demonstrators at close range and intentionally used tear gas in confined spaces. According to Ban Tear Gas Initiative, between 2007 and 2014 at least sixteen people have been killed and thousands have been injured by tear gas in Turkey.

On multiple occasions, the European Court of Human Rights (ECHR) has found that the Turkish government has violated human rights by misusing tear gas. The court recently emphasized that “so long as the Turkish system did not comply with the requirements of the European Convention, the inappropriate use of potentially fatal weapons during demonstrations was likely to give rise to violations similar to that in the present case.”  

As the Turkish general election in May approaches, it is feared that Turkish authorities are likely to repress any protests with brutal force around the election. The authorities’ call for tenders for 1.9 million tear gas products in the last quarter of 2014 seems to indicate the government's willingness to use tear gas against its own people.

DAPA claims that it put conditions on the export license by securing an assurance from Turkish authorities that it would observe safety regulations and not commit human rights violations but overwhelming documentation by multiple NGOs and ECHR indicates that those are empty promises. By supplying the tools of repression, the South Korean government is fuelling repression in Turkey.

Among the 1.65 million tear gas canisters and grenades licensed to be shipped to Turkey, Daekwang Chemical is believed to be supplying 1.45 million items. This company is the largest supplier of tear gas products in South Korea. It is being investigated for tax evasion, the smuggling of gunpowder, the illegal manufacturing of gunpowder and many other charges according to an anonymous informant.

We therefore demand that the South Korean authorities:

  • revoke all tear gas export licenses to Turkey;

  • suspend all shipments of tear gas to Turkey, at the very least pending the ongoing investigation against Daekwang Chemical;

  • suspend all future tear gas exports and consider a policy of introducing a moratorium on tear gas export.

We know that international action can make the difference: just last year, co-ordinated action between Bahraini, South Korean, and UK activists stopped another huge shipment of tear gas from being sent to Bahrain!

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