Minbyun Lawyers for a Democratic Society
Minbyun - Lawyers for a Democratic Society is an NGO aiming to promote democracy in South Korea using litigation, research, and investigative tools. It works with local law firms and organizations to form a human rights advocacy network. Minbyun was formed in 1988, one year after the collapse of the military government, and focused on freedom to protest and labor rights. It has since expanded and advocated for a wider range of civil and political rights as well as socioeconomic cases, including especially labor rights, consumer rights, women’s rights, and economic rights. Minbyun’s financial sustainability relies on annual membership fees. They use a sliding scale, according to which public interest lawyers receive a discount. Most of the public interest and pro bono law firms in South Korea are affiliated with Minbyun as members.
Theory of Change
Supporting and cultivating public interest legal work ensures more effective representation and coalition-based advocacy for vulnerable communities.
Minbyun’s membership provides opportunities for coalition building across the public interest law networks. Minbyun brokers cases to their network member attorneys based on expertise. Member lawyers offer pro-bono legal services and advise civically minded NGOs. Minbyun works with legal and educational institutions to prompt interest in human rights law and initiate discourse regarding public interest law. Minbyun hosts forums, run public awareness campaigns on social justice issues, and advances joint activities with other organizations to protect human rights. Network members and volunteers join Minbyun’s 15 committees to work on pressing social issues - labor rights, women’s rights, media, and press freedom, minorities’ rights, children’s rights, environmental and labor rights, reparations, US military and reunification issues, etc. Minbyun has been pivotal in coalition building within South Korea and internationally. They serve under special consultative status for the United Nations Economic and Social Council and contribute to reports on human rights issues. Minbyun lawyers have been vocal supporters and signatories to the international campaign to protect legal professionals persecuted by the state in the Philippines.
Minbyun has increased membership every year. Over 1,100 lawyers from all parts of South Korea are members of the network. Besides the headquarters in Seoul, Minbyun has branches in eight other cities in South Korea. Minbyun has formed legislation reform movements, led advocacy efforts, and taken legal action on the most pressing human rights issues. For instance, along with other civic organizations, Minbyun took legal action to establish accountability for oil spills, violations of environmental protections, and illegal deposition of military waste. In addition to the lawsuit, Minbyun advocated for compensation for citizens harmed by the oil spill accident, resulting in payment of compensation to those affected.