She understands socially alienated people, keeps an eye on them, and if necessary works for them with an all-out effort. What kind of job would she have? A social welfare organizer? A human rights activist? Neither. She, Lee You-Jung (’86, Law), is a lawyer who performs many tasks related to human rights.
Lee has been working as a legal advisor to several committees working for human rights. She has also written many articles dealing with socially underprivileged classes, such as women workers, foreign workers and women engaged in the sex industry whose rights are often violated.
“I did not, actually could not, study when I was in university,” cam the surprising answer when asked what kind of student she was. Lee continued with a long face, “I enrolled school in 1986, and during this period, the political situation was far different from that of today. Large scale student movements against the dictatorship were happening everywhere, but these soon were crushed by the military. The famous June uprising when Koreans called for democracy also occurred during this period.” She notes that late 1980s were known as a period when citizens actively resisted serious violations of human rights by the dictatorial government. “I was even sentenced to jail in my freshmen year for a while. Witnessing and even experiencing all the violations, I decided to have a career which could realize my ideal and what I believe.”
Lee has taken parts in many cases protecting human rights, including the most momentous case, the renewal of the procedure of the People’s Revolutionary Party (inhyukdang). The inhyukdang incident is known as a notorious violation of human rights practiced by the former government. Innocent people were executed or sentenced to jail for allegedly forming a pro-North Korean political party, which the dictatorial Park Jung-hee regime claimed was plotting to overthrow the government. Families of victims lost their parents, husbands, and sons. The incident had been covered up as a mere past occurrence unworthy of further investigation. Lee, however, applied for a retrial in the year 2000. In the year 2005, the application was accepted and proceeded to retrial the following year. It has take five years just to start the retrial. “I could not give up,” she recalls, “There were many moments that made me feel that this retrial would never happen. However, whenever I met the families of victims who experienced over thirty years disgrace and misery, I kept a firm hand on myself that this must be solved. I believed the past examples of infringements on human rights should not be overlooked.” Finally, in the year 2007, the Seoul Central District Court acquitted individuals related with the incident. It was the day that 32 years of the family’s sorrowful life was compensated, at least partially.
Even if Lee left her footprint as a lawyer protecting human rights, she modestly denies any words of praise. “It is the duty of the people who works in the field of law to always take care of the voice of minorities and the socially disadvantaged. These people do not know ways to save their own rights, which means lawyers can be a great help and may change their lives. After all, a society which neglects the rights of the weak can not be called as a just society.”
Having talked about the tragic event and social duties, a somber expression shadowed on Lee’s face. However, when she was told that many Ewha students are interested in the field of law, she cheerfully offered advice, from the importance of foreign language skills to gaining competitiveness in the field. She also warmly requested that students regard university life as a chance for concentrated learning, one which will never be experienced again. To students who aspire to be a lawyer, Lee says, “Please always question the law. A code is not a complete and fair rule for everyone. Many times it is influenced by the relation of power, which means weaker ones cannot really be protected by the law. Consideration for others is the most important quality for lawyers.”