World Conservation Congress convenes in Jeju amid protests, deportations, and repression, while the state of Hawaiʻi aims to host the event in 2016

There has been a raging political struggle between the villagers of Gangjeong village on Jeju Island, South Korea and the Korean government over the construction of a naval base that is destroying pristine coast line, sacred sites and cultural treasures.  The conflict has intensified with the World Conservation Congress taking place this week in Jeju which will draw tens of thousands of environmentalists, scientists, and government officials from around the world, including a 39-person, $200,000 delegation sponsored by the State of Hawaiʻi.  The Honolulu Star Advertiser reported last week that “State aims to bring global event here” (August 31, 2012):

A Hawaii committee seeking to host a large international nature conservation gathering in 2016 will spend about $220,000 of private and public funds to market the state at this year’s event in South Korea.

The delegation, which includes Lt. Gov. Brian Schatz and 39 other leaders in education, government, meetings, tourism, culture and conservation, is traveling to South Korea next week to participate in the Sept. 6-15 event in what is shaping up to be the state’s most significant post-Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation campaign.

But you wouldn’t know from reading the Star Advertiser article that there was a major environmental controversy a few minutes away from the Congress.   Apparently, the state sponsored delegates have been instructed to not express their support of the Jeju struggle. Could it be that they fear the South Korean government will not allow entry for anyone sympathetic to the Jeju islanders?  It is certainly a possiblity.   Imok Cha, a California physician and leader in an international Jeju solidarity network, was forcibly deported after arriving in Incheon. To date, 16 international supporters of the Jeju people have been denied entry to Korea.

But another reason for the silence from the Hawaiʻi delegation may be that the State of Hawaiʻi wants to downplay the contradictory role of the U.S. military as one of the worst polluters in Hawaiʻi.  This attention would be especially embarrassing for the state since the South Korean government has been touting Hawaiʻi’s “harmonious” relationship between militarization and conservation as a model for the Jeju base construction.  Hereʻs my response to the comparison of militarization of Jeju and Hawaiʻi.

Meanwhile, Jeju islanders and their international allies have rallied tremendous support and visibility to call on the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN) to declare its support for the Gangjeong villagers and to include their voices in the conference. A beautiful and informative new website has come online:   However, the IUCN blocked the Jeju villagers from having an informational table at the event.  (See the international statement to the IUCN below)  The most recent Jeju solidarity newsletter can be found here.

And Robert Redford had this to say to the attendees of the WCC:

From:    Robert Redford
To:     All of your people
Subject:    Tell Environmentalists: No Base on Paradise 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

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!

Here is the open letter to the IUCN from the Emergency Action Committee to Save Jeju Island:



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.”



Police crack down on Gangjeong villagers protesting navy base construction a few minutes from the IUCN convention site.

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.)

Navy base construction is destroying habitats of numerous endangered species, including Kaloula borealis, the Boreal Digging Frog.

Her praise encompassed the government’s seriously flawed “Environmental Impact Assessment” (EIA) for the base project. This, despite that the EIA ignored three of the most critically endangered species at Gangjeong, the Red-footed Crab, Sesarma intermedium; the Jeju Freshwater Shrimp Caridina 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.

A vast array of rare, highly threatened corals are being killed to make way for the navy base. Most were ignored by the government’s EIA.

(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 to: 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.

Please let us know if you want to see the proposed resolutions; we will forward you the final texts when they are complete. We can also forward you the new independent Environmental Impact Assessment, when it is completed. And you can sign up for a visit and tour of Gangjeong Village and the military construction site. (OUR EMAIL ADDRESS IS BELOW.)



Christine Ahn, Global Fund for Women; Korea Policy Institute

Imok Cha, M.D.,

Jerry Mander, Foundation for Deep Ecology; International Forum on Globalization

Koohan Paik, Kauai Alliance for Peace and Social Justice


Maude Barlow, Food and Water Watch, Council of Canadians (Canada)

John Cavanagh, Institute for Policy Studies (U.S.)

Vandana Shiva, Ph.D., Navdanya Research Organization for Science, Technology and Ecology (India)

Douglas Tompkins, Conservation Land Trust, Foundation for Deep Ecology (Chile)

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz, Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ International Centre for Policy Research and Education (Philippines)

Anuradha Mittal, Oakland Institute (U.S.)

Meena Raman, Third World Network (Malaysia)

Walden Bello, Member, House of Representatives (Philippines)

Tewolde Berhan Gebre Egziabher, Environmental Protection Authority (Ethiopia)

Lagi Toribau, Greenpeace-East Asia

Mario Damato, Ph.D.,Greenpeace-East Asia

Debbie Barker, Center for Food Safety (U.S.)

Pierre Fidenci, Endangered Species International (U.S.)

John Knox, Earth Island Institute (U.S.)

David Phillips, Int’l Marine Mammal Project, Earth Island Institute (U.S.)

David Suzuki, The David Suzuki Foundation (Canada)

Robert Redford. Actor, founder of Sundance Institute (U.S.)

Mary Jo Rice, Int’l Marine Mammal Project, Earth Island Institute (U.S.)

Bill Twist, Pachamama Alliance (U.S.)

Jon Osorio, Ph.D.,Chair, Hawaiian Studies, Univ. of Hawaii (U.S.)

Sue Edwards, Institute for Sustainable Development (Ethiopia)

Galina Angarova, Pacific Environment (Russia)

Bruce Gagnon, Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space (Int’l)

Andrew Kimbrell, Center for Food Safety (U.S.)

Jack Santa Barbara, Sustainable Scale Project (New Zealand)

Gloria Steinem, Author, Women’s Media Center (U.S.)

Medea Benjamin, Code Pink, Global Exchange (U.S.)

Randy Hayes, Foundation Earth (U.S.)

Noam Chomsky, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (U.S.)

Renie Wong, Hawaii Peace and Justice (Hawaii)

Kyle Kajihiro, Hawaii Peace and Justice and DMZ-Hawaii (Hawaii)

Terri Keko’olani, Hawai’i Peace and Justice and International Women’s Network Against Militarism (Hawaii)

Wayne Tanaka, Marine Law Fellow, Dept. of Land & Natural Resources (U.S.) (signing independently)

Tony Clarke, Polaris Institute (Canada)

Sara Larrain, Sustainable Chile Project (Chile)

John Feffer, Foreign Policy in Focus (U.S.)

Victor Menotti, International Forum on Globalization (U.S.)

Arnie Saiki, Moana Nui Action Alliance (U.S.)

Nikhil Aziz, Grassroots International (U.S.)

Lisa Linda Natividad, Guahan Coalition for Peace and Justice (Guam)

Rebecca Tarbotton, Rainforest Action Network (U.S.)

Kavita Ramdas, Visiting Scholar, Stanford U., Global Fund for Women (India)

Raj Patel, Institute for Food and Development Policy/Food First (U.S.)

Alexis Dudden, Author, Professor of History, Connecticut University (U.S.)

Timothy Mason, Pastor, Calvary by the Sea, Honolulu (U.S.)

Katherine Muzik, Ph.D., Marine Biologist, Kulu Wai, Kauai (U.S.)

Claire Hope Cummings, Author, Environmental attorney (U.S.)

Ann Wright, U.S. Army Colonel, Ret., Former U.S. Diplomat (U.S.)

Buffy Sainte-Marie, Ph.D., Educator, Singer-Songwriter (U.S.)

Yong Soon Min, Professor, University of California, Irvine (U.S.)

Eugeni Capella Roca, Grup d’Estudi I Protecció d’Ecosostemes de Catalunya (Spain)

Jonathan P. Terdiman, M.D., University of California, San Francisco (U.S.)

Evelyn Arce, International Funders for Indigenous Peoples (U.S.)

Brihananna Morgan, The Borneo Project (Borneo)

Frank Magnota, Ph.D., Physicist (U.S.)

Delia Menozzi, M.D., Physician (Italy)

Aaron Berez, M.D., Physician (U.S.)

Begoña Caparros, Foundation in Movement: Art for Social Change (Uganda)

Antonio Sanz, Photographer (Spain)

Cindy Wiesner, Grassroots Global Justice (U.S.)

Gregory Elich, Author, “Strange Liberators” (U.S.)

Joseph Gerson, Ph.D., American Friends Service Committee (U.S.)

Piljoo Kim, Ph.D., Agglobe Services International (U.S.)

Peter Rasmussen, He-Shan World Fund (U.S.)

Wei Zhang, He-Shan World Fund (U.S.)

Harold Sunoo, Sunoo Korea Peace Foundation (U.S.)

Soo Sun Choe, National Campaign to End the Korean War (U.S.)

Angie Zelter, Trident Ploughshares, (UK)

Ramsay Liem, Visiting Scholar, Center for Human Rights, Boston College (U.S.)

Kerry Kriger, PhD, Save The Frogs (U.S.)

Marianne Eguey, Jade Associates, (France)

Claire Greensfelder, INOCHI-Plutonium Free Future (U.S.-Japan)

Laura Frost, Ph.D., The New School (U.S.)

Chris Bregler, Ph.D., New York University (U.S.)

David Vine, Assistant Professor, American University (U.S.)

Simone Chun, Assistant Prof., Gov’t Department, Suffolk U., Boston (U.S.)

Matt Rothschild, Editor, The Progressive magazine (U.S.)

Henry Em, Professor, East Asian Studies, NYU (U.S.)

Eric Holt-Gimenez, Institute for Food and Development Policy (U.S.)

Maivan Clech Lam, Professor Emerita of Int’l Law, CUNY (U.S.)

Mari Matsuda, Professor of Law, Richardson Law School, Univ. of Hawaii (U.S.)

Beth Burrows, The Edmonds Institute (U.S.)

Aileen Mioko Smith, Green Action (Japan)

Susan George, Ph.D., Transnational Institute (The Netherlands)

Marianne Manilov, The Engage Network (U.S.)

S. Faizi, Institute for Societal Advancement, Kerala (India)

Syed Ashraf ul Islam, Ministry of Food & Disaster Management (Bangladesh)

Manaparambi Koru Prasad, Kerala Local Self Government Department (India)

Hernán Torres, Director, Torres Asociados Ltda. (Chile)

Carlo Modonesi, Environmental Biologist, Parma University (Italy)

Andrej Kranjc, Secretary-General, Slovenian Academy of Sciences and Arts (Slovenia)

Ning Labbish Chao, Bio-Amazonia Conservation International (U.S.)

Perumal Vivekanandan, SEVA (India)

David Newsome, Environmental Science and Ecotourism, Murdoch University, Perth (Australia)


Korean Federation for Environmental Movement and

Citizen Institute for Environmental Studies (South Korea)


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