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Biased Human Rights Recommendations?

Posted December. 19, 2005 03:04,   


It was confirmed on December 18 that the National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) headed by Cho Young-hwang issued its recommendations for the national action plan on human rights (human rights NAP). The commission recommends the expansion of political activities of public servants and teachers, the termination of the government’s role as a mediator in case of strikes, and the abolition of death penalty, the Security Law, and the probation system.

The government is likely to embrace the recommendations because the proposals themselves largely reflect the government’s opinion. Nonetheless, most of them are sensitive issues that have been put forward by progressive members of the government. So the suggested amendments or abolitions are expected to be quite controversial.

The recommendations to which the Dong-A Ilbo was given access are actually a 130-page A4 document, which consists of three sections and 27 categories. The first section concerns the protection of citizens’ political rights, which is divided into nine categories. The second section covers the promotion of economic, social and cultural rights, which includes seven categories. The third section is about the protection of rights of the underprivileged and minorities, which is composed of 11 categories.

The recommendations call for the revision of the law that imposes a complete ban on public servants’ participation in politics to give public servants and teachers more political freedom. The amendment will run squarely counter to the Constitutional Court’s ruling that defines the ban on teachers’ political activities as constitutional.

The NHRC has drawn up its agenda to enhance labor rights. Its priorities are the abolition of the mediation system regarding labor disputes, less severe criminal and civil punishments for strikes, restrictions on lockouts and the replacement of non-union workers with unionized ones, and a reduction in the number of government-designated industries that are thought to serve the general public.

The commission also advises the government to guarantee temporary workers the same level of wages, working hours, welfare benefits and working conditions as given to regular workers if work of the two groups is worth the same. Resistance from the business community against this would not be surprising.

In addition, the NHRC argues for alternative military service for conscientious objectors to secure freedom of thought and religion.

The commission says that the deletion or amendment of the provision that governs assembly and demonstration, a rule that regulates where, when, and how assemblies and demonstrations are held. Concerning such a proposal, some are expressing their worries that assemblies might disturb the peaceful lives of citizens.

As part of the effort to promote freedom of thought and religion, the national commission decided to grant each student the right of choice when it comes to religious elective courses and denominational events at private schools. This is the part that could cause much controversy and dispute along with the recently revised private school law.

With regard to the protection of the underprivileged and minorities, the NHRC redefines the criminal concept of rape so that even sexual minorities such as homosexuals and transgendered people are protected from sexual assaults. Currently, rape cases can be built only if the victim is “female” and there has been “sexual intercourse.”

“If enacted, the human rights NAP would dramatically improve the human rights environment in Korea,” an official on the NHRC said.

Early next year, the recommendations will be discussed among all members of the NHRC. Then they will be reported to the government, which will establish a detailed schedule in line with the proposals to implement the human rights NAP between 2007 and 2011.

Jae-Myoung Lee egija@donga.com