The following statement with 131 signatories, is the 1st open letter mailed to the leadership of the International Union for the Conservation of Nature. It was originally posted here.

OPEN MEMO TO:  All Leadership, the International Union for the Conservation of Nature (IUCN)

FROM: Undersigned Environmental/NGO/Academic Leaders

THE IUCN 2012 WORLD CONSERVATION CONGRESS (WCC), scheduled for September 6-15 at Jungmun Resort on Jeju Island, was apparently planned several years ago by IUCN leadership without full awareness of current circumstances on Jeju—circumstances that display values and behaviors exactly opposite to the historic goals of IUCN.

The IUCN describes the Congress as “the world’s largest and most important conservation event,” aiming “to improve how we manage our natural environment for human, social and economic development.” Nothing could be more diametrically opposed to sustaining those values than the environmental and social assaults now underway only minutes away, along the nearby coastline, and in the traumatized Gangjeong Village. That is where construction has begun on a huge new military base, rapidly devastating a region of rare beauty, vibrant soft-coral reefs, pure freshwater springs, numerous endangered species, and traditional sustainable cultures and villages, and where police actions are brutalizing local populations who attempt to oppose the development.

The undersigned believe it would be massively ironic, contradictory, and scandalous, for the IUCN to ignore the attacks on living nature, and on traditional sustainable culture, that are daily underway a few miles from the scheduled IUCN meeting.  Holding a conference in the face of such nearby, ongoing devastation, would destroy the credibility of IUCN, and be an eternal embarrassment for all participants at the meeting.

We therefore insist that the leadership of IUCN demand that the government of South Korea immediately stop this appalling development, remove its military, and free the local population trying to recover the environment and traditional culture that is being actively destroyed.  In lieu of that, IUCN should immediately cancel its meeting in Jeju, and reschedule in a timely manner, in another place with values that are aligned with the organization’s mission.  Details follow.

Crimes Against Nature:

Five years ago, the South Korean government announced that it would begin blasting Gangjeong’s rare lava-rock coastline, the only rocky wetland on Jeju Island, to make way for a new naval base intended to berth South Korean and U.S. Aegis missile-carrying warships, a thinly veiled threat against China. The base project is located 1.7 km away from sacred Beom Islet (Tiger Isle), which is a UNESCO biosphere preserve.

Coastal blasting began in earnest in March 2012, despite continuous passionate protests from local Gangjeong residents.  It has already transformed an extraordinary coastline into an ecological disaster area.  Uniquely beautiful soft-coral reefs, with very high levels of native biodiversity, extend widely across the area, directly in front of the base project.  They are now being aggressively destroyed. Environmentalist and actor Robert Redford recently reported on the 57 four-story-tall caissons poised to drop on miles of soft coral reefs.

The coastline features a single massive Andesite bed rock, with year-round fresh water streams and springs.  Bubbling through the lava for millennia, these precious waters have now been contaminated by the dynamiting of the coastline.  The blasting and construction are also shattering the rare ecosystem in places where fresh spring water mixes with sea water.  The brackish water’s life-giving qualities are recognized by villagers, who call it “grandmother water.”

These places provide unique habitat for many endangered species, including the narrow-mouth toad (Kaloula borealis), which is, ironically, on the IUCN’s critical Red List! Other endangered species threatened by the destruction include the red-foot crab (Sesarma intermedium); the Jeju fresh water shrimp (Caridina denticulate keunbaei); and mollusks such as the Gisoogal godong (Clithon retropictus).

Another endangered species doomed by the development, are Jeju’s last 100 Indo-Pacific bottle-nosed dolphins (Tursiops aduncus) which are still visible in island coastal waters.

Crimes Against Humanity

Clearly, this base construction is not only a crime against nature, but a crime against humanity. In a single blow, the base will destroy not just ecosystems and endangered species, but also resilient livelihoods within a thriving traditional village. The reef, the farms and the spring water have provided for the local village for centuries. And yet, the government has razed many acres of tangerine farms, and removed people from their land and their reefs in order to make room for a military base.

The Los Angeles Times has reported:  “The new base will subsume the picturesque harbor, and its security perimeter will shut out fishermen and women who for generations have fished for abalone, sea cucumber and brown seaweed.”

One “haenyo” (traditional woman sea diver) says that pollution from the naval base has already turned the clean seawater to gray, threatening the haenyos’ livelihoods. “The Naval base will destroy the natural resources.  I see cranes and large machinery at the base. I can’t believe it.”

The villagers were recently notified that the government will be seizing more land to build housing for 600 military personnel who, with their families, will outnumber the 1,930 villagers. New businesses will open to service the newcomers: Big box stores will replace village gardens; parking lots will replace farms; bars and prostitution will replace Jeju’s women divers. Gangjeong, as it has miraculously existed for centuries, will be wiped off the face of the Earth.

According to a Jeju newspaper, the base controversy has caused increased suicide rates in Gangjeong. Last year, one villager drank pesticide in a failed attempt to kill himself. He said he couldn’t live with all the destruction.

Finally, this development is also a crime against democracy. Ninety-four percent of villagers voted against base construction in a recent referendum, but local wishes are ignored by the Korean government. The mayor of Gangjeong and fellow villagers have hosted numerous press conferences in Jeju City, citing continuing environmental violations by the construction crews. The Navy is never punished. Instead, the government sends hundreds of riot police to arrest protestors every day for holding prayer vigils at the gates to the construction site. They are charged with “obstruction of government activities.” The mayor himself was jailed for three months.

Our Demand

The undersigned strongly assert that it would be highly contradictory for the IUCN to ignore such startling social and environmental realities as described above, while it claims to convene global environmental leaders to protect and restore natural systems.  If the 2012 World Conservation Conference proceeds as currently planned, it would permanently damage the credibility of IUCN, and be a major embarrassment for all participants. This situation must be faced, and stopped. To participate as if everything is fine will cast a black mark across the conference and all its attendees.

IUCN leadership must immediately demand that the Republic of Korea cease, at once, these unconscionable crimes against the Earth, humanity and democracy. If the government refuses, IUCN should postpone the conference and reschedule at another time and place consistent with IUCN’s urgent mission and stated values. This would be in keeping with IUCN statements on the prime necessity to act on behalf of survival of the Earth and culture.

Thank you for your attention.



Christine Ahn

             Global Fund for Women; Korea Policy Institute  

Imok Cha, M.D.


Jerry Mander

            Foundation for Deep Ecology; Int’l. 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, Conservacion Patagonica (Chile)

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.)

Victoria Tauli-Corpuz

Tebtebba Indigenous Peoples’ Int’l. Centre for

              Policy Research and Education (Philippines)

John Knox

Earth Island Institute (U.S.)

David Phillips

Int’l Marine Mammal Project, Earth Island 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)

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.)

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)

Renie Wong

           Hawaii Peace and Justice (Hawaii)

Kyle Kajihiro

           HawaiÊ»i Peace and Justice/DMZ-HawaiÊ»i (Hawaii)

Terri Keko’olani

          Hawai’i Peace and Justice/DMZ-Hawai’i (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.)

Lenny Siegel

           Center for Public Environmental Oversight (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 RightsBoston 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.)




Kangho Song, Ph.D.

          Leader, Save Our Sea Team, Gangjeong village

          (Presently in prison for civil disobedience)

Youngdeok Oh

          Korea Federation for Environmental Movement of Jeju

Ho Myong

          Eco Horizon Institute

Jingu Yeo

          Korean Environment Education Network

Myungrae Cho

          Citizens’ Movement for Environmental Justice   

Kyeongjo Park

          Green Korea United

Yoonmo Yang

Film critic

          (Imprisoned for civil disobedience for four months in 2011)

Stephen Wunrow, Martha Vickery

          Publisher/editor of Korean Quarterly

Seonghwan Min

          Korean Ecoclub

Youngsun Ji

          Korea Foundation for Environmental Movements

          (Friends of the Earth, Korea)

Youngsuk Pak

         Korean Women’s Environmental Networks

Raegun Park

         Human Rights Foundation, Saram

Mihyuk Kwon

         Korean Women’s Association United

Sunghee Choi

         Global Network Against Weapons and Nuclear Power in Space 

          (Imprisoned for civil disobedience for two months in 2011)

Giryong Hong

          Jeju Peace Human Rights Center

Chuyoung Chang

           Minbyun-Lawyers for a Democratic Society

Eunkyung Oh

           Jeju Women’s Assocation

Gwisook Gwon

           Jeju National University

Hyekyoung An

           Director, Jeju Women’s Film Festival

Jeonghae Park, Ph.D.

           The Academy of Korean Studies

Gilchun Koh

           Jeju artist

Misun Kang, Ph.D.


Jungjin Lee


Hyungtae Kim

        Catholic Human Rights Committee

Hunjung Cho

        Chun Tae-Il Foundation

Giyoung Hyun

        Jeju People on Mainland who Love Gangjeong

Hongsik Kim

        Jeju People on Mainland who Love Gangjeong

Moonheum Yang

        Jeju People on Mainland who Love Gangjeong

Sangsoo Heo

        Jeju People on Mainland who Love Gangjeong

Chansik Park

        Jeju People on Mainland who Love Gangjeong

Youngjin Kim

        Korea Democratic Street Venders Confederation (KDSC)

Yoonjae Cha

        Masan YMCA

Boowon Nam

        National Council of YMCAs of Korea

Geunyeom Chang

        Peace Ground

Wooksik Cheong

        Peace Network

Hyunbach Chung

People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

Regina Pyon

        Korean House for International Solidarity 

Hyangyoon Mee

        The Korean Council for the Women Drafted

         for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan

Rev. Haehak  Lee

The National Council of Churches in Korea

        Committee of Justice and Peace

Hyesook Yeo

Women Making Peace

Youngjun Choi

         Workers’ Solidarity All Together

Yeook Yang

         World Without War

Jungmin Choi

         World Without War

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