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FOCUS March 1996 Volume 3

National Security Act Conference

An international conference on National Security Laws in the Asia-Pacific was organized in Seoul from 22 to 24 November 1995. The conference, hosted by KOHRNET, a network of human rights NGOs in South Korea, was aimed at creating renewed awareness on the question of national security regimes in the Asia-Pacific region in this post-Cold war era.

The conference, with more than 30 human rights activists and experts from 15 countries, was convened in a country where the national security ideology is still being actively used to oppress those who express opposition to government policies and programs. This was clearly demonstrated by the arrest of a leader of an independent trade union, Kwong Young-kil, on the second day of the meeting.

The number of people who decided to come to the meeting and the quality of papers presented in the course of the meeting show the serious concern the international human rights community has on this issue.

In the course of the discussion, two major observations emerged. One is about the developmentalist nature of the States in the region. These States actually use the national security ideology to justify their control over the development process. The other is a need to re-define the concept of security itself so that "human security" instead of national security will be a focus for development.

An important contribution was also made by Leandro Despouy, United Nations Special Rapporteur on the State of Emergency, on the minimum legal requirement for "legitimate state of emergency" according to which most of the national security laws in the region are not qualified.

It was generally agreed among participants that Asia-Pacific NGOs should play greater role in addressing this issue especially before the United Nations human rights mechanisms.