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Human Rights Commission’s Controversial Advice

Posted April. 15, 2005 23:19,   


In the morning of April 15, Minister of Labor Kim Dae-hwan addressed an audience at a lecture meeting. He said, “Yesterday’s comments of the National Human Rights Commission on the bill for temporary workers were a politically unbalanced act,” adding, “I don’t understand why the commission went beyond its power when the Tripartite Commission is engaged in dialogue on the matter in the National Assembly.”

The Human Rights Commission recommended points of improvement to the chairman of the Civil Service Commission (CSC), saying, “It constitutes a discriminatory act to make retirement-age differences among civil servants according to their position.” In an immediate response, the CSC issued a press release that refutes the assertion and declared that it cannot accept the recommendation.

Meanwhile, as the Human Rights Commission expressed its displeasure with capital punishment on April 6, Minister of Justice Kim Seung-gyu disagreed, saying, “Punishment is aimed at giving penalties as well as guidance. Koreans feel that it is natural to make murderers pay for what they have done, even if that means taking the offender’s life.”

When the commission pointed out that it is against the protection of human rights to make students submit their diaries at elementary schools, the Ministry of Education retorted, “The commission has ignored the educational importance of keeping a diary.”

The commission raised questions about the authorities requiring information on physiques for references in hiring some public-sector workers such as police officers, fire fighters, prison officers, juvenile protection officers, and railway security officers. And yet, the National Police Agency protested, saying, “The physical qualifications should be an important part of consideration because of the nature of police officers’ job, like capturing criminals.”

On April 15, the Human Rights Commission issued another recommendation to the justice minister. In the recommendation, the commission demanded that prisoners such as narcotics traffickers and gangsters should not be coerced into making written promises that they will not refuse to work in prison. The commission sees the practice as a violation of their rights.

On the same day, the commission argued, “The election authorities apply the same size limit to raised-letter campaign bulletins as they do to ordinary materials. This is discrimination against the blind.” They advised the speaker and National Election Commission chairman to revise relevant provisions.

If organizations opt not to embrace the commission’s advice, they need to state their excuse in a written form. However, recommendations or expressions of opinion are not legally binding.

For the last three years up to November 2004, 92.2 percent of recommendations have been accepted. Still, an official of the Human Rights Commission explained, “They tend to follow our advice if it’s less burdensome to implement it, like on human rights or education issues.”

Although the commission has mentioned the abolition of the National Security Law and the setup of unmanned security devices such as closed circuit TVs, it has not received a response on the issue.

In fact, the Human Rights Commission Act does not state when institutions are required to produce responses to the commission’s recommendations. Therefore, if they indefinitely ignore the advice, there is no way to make an issue of it.

For this reason, the commission is considering including into the pending Human Rights Commission Act ways of limiting the “response period” to 60 days, and imposing fines if there is no reaction from advisees.

Regarding the displeasure of government departments and agencies, Jeong Gang-ja, a permanent member of the Human Rights Commission, said, “The commission offers guidelines on principles and direction. Details have to be decided on by the organizations themselves. This is our underlying attitude.”

Another member of the commission commented, “Now, the time has come for us to think about whether it is right for all parts of the government to voice the same thing. The Human Rights Commission ought to do what it is supposed to do in view of protecting human rights.”

During a recent inaugural interview, Human Rights Commission chairman Cho told reporters, “Human rights protection is part of state affairs. The commission’s main role is to inspect and monitor against government organizations encroaching on human rights.”

Yi-Young Cho lycho@donga.com