The Case of Tae Sook Park
Currently, Ms. Park's case is being appealed; her story raises some important issues. Politicians should not be above the law. The political and social power given to them should demand they live by the very standards they preach. Also, why was it so easy to abuse the rights of an immigrant worker, and how do we help to change this?
By helping Ms. Park, you would help to highlight this kind of negligence and create a rising social awareness. For more information, please contact Danny Park @ KIWA, 213. 738. 9050.
By Cristiana Baik
In late 1998, a woman by the name of Tae Sook Park arrived in San Francisco to reside under the household of Bong Kil Shin and Mee Sook Shin. In China, Ms. Park had worked over two years for the Shins, doing household chores, which included looking after the Shin’s three children. Although she initially declined the offer, she eventually agreed to move to San Francisco. What eventually happened to Tae Sook Park shows the legal/social vulnerability of many immigrant workers, as well as the abuse of power practiced to perfection by politicians.
An ominous precursor for things to come occurred when the Shins confiscated Ms. Park’s passport. They briefly returned it back to Ms. Park at an airport in China, only to take it right back. An assortment of circumstances made Ms. Park’s situation particularly unbearable: her unfamiliarity of labor laws as well as inability to understand or speak English fluently and an absence of familial ties. These circumstances acted to isolate her within the household, creating both fear and confusion, obvious by the fact that there were no valid choices to be made: all of the choices would numb and dehumanize. The Shins realized Ms. Park's social vulnerability and preyed on it: she was severely underpaid, verbally abused, and purposely isolated within the quarters of the household in order perpetuate her feelings of isolation and helplessness. When she became ill, Ms. Park asked the Shins several times to be taken to the hospital. Each time she was ignored or declined. With ongoing health problems and growing discontentment, Ms. Park was fired on September 25th, 2000. Although Ms. Park's case is not rare, what made her case stand out was the fact that Mr. Shin was the Deputy Consulate General of the Republic of Korea.
What's interesting about this case was the fact that the Shins never denied their reprehensible actions against another human being. In other words, they’ll admit that they dehumanized and inexcusably objectified Ms. Park. But what is more reprehensible is the fact that both Mr. and Mrs. Shin chose to hide under the clock of diplomatic policy in order to avoid paying for their atrocious actions. Under a protocol from the Vienna Convention (1963), legal immunity is given to all consular employees and family members. As a result, the case against the Shins was eventually dismissed.
What are the implications of such policies? Surely, the forty-third article of the Vienna Convention was not meant for diplomats to circumscribe law in such a manipulative way, showing their very lack of discernment for the law? Perhaps the question that should be addressed concerns not the validity of the protocol, but rather, the political validity of those individuals who choose to interpret the law in such a way as to create legal loopholes, to avoid responsibility for their actions which made another person’s life incredibly difficult and painful.
KIWA (Korean Immigrant Workers Advocates, based in Los Angeles) pursued a campaign against the Shins and began a letter drive in mid-October, 2001, describing Ms. Park’s desperate position. The letter demanded for economic retribution, a formal apology addressed to Ms. Park from the Consulate, and for Mr. Shin to be adequately reprimanded for his actions. Although none of these demands have been met, there has been growing communal support for Ms. Park. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs has received many letters concerning Ms. Park's case, mostly written by concerned and angry individuals. This campaign is still ongoing.
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