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Reasons for S. Korea’s loss of UN Human Rights Council membership

Reasons for S. Korea’s loss of UN Human Rights Council membership

Posted October. 14, 2022 07:38,   

Updated October. 14, 2022 07:38


South Korea lost the UN Human Rights Council membership election, failing to serve the second consecutive term. Four seats were distributed to the Asia-Pacific States, and South Korea gained 123 votes and stood fifth. For the first time, South Korea lost its UN Human Rights Council membership since 2006, when it was elected as the founding member of the Council. Indeed, it is shocking that South Korea fell behind countries such as Bangladesh and Vietnam, which can hardly be considered countries that uphold human rights standards.

The UN Human Rights Council is one of the three major councils in the United Nations. Its importance is growing with increased human rights violations worldwide, including China’s crackdown on ethnic minorities, discrimination against women in Iran and the Middle East, and human rights atrocities in Ukraine following Russia’s invasion. Losing membership at the UN Human Rights Council means that South Korea can no longer speak up for global human rights issues, even in relation to the Korean Peninsula, such as resolutions on human rights abuses in North Korea.

The loss of membership is partly attributable to South Korea’s passive attitude toward raising its voice against human rights abuses in North Korea. South Korea has not participated in the group of nations adopting resolutions on the human rights situation in North Korea four times in a row since 2019. On the domestic front, South Korea enacted the so-called anti-leaflet law. It pressed to pass press arbitration-related laws, which brought about severe resistance from international human rights groups.

Another cause of defeat is the government’s complacency towards the election. Although the competition for membership is fierce, the South Korean government did not have a decent strategy to win the seat. There are 14 international organization elections that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs has decided to run for. The government, however, squandered its assets in the ILO Secretary General election, where South Korea gained only two votes and exhausted all its resources that could have been used for other key elections. Yet, it is reported that the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations had no idea it would lose the election, which raises doubt about its competency.

The election result will inevitably influence the government’s pursuit of “value diplomacy,” which highlights freedom and human rights. The world will be torn apart amid the new Cold War geopolitical environment. The resistance from third-world countries against human rights policies shaped by advanced nations will intensify. There is no time to blame. The government must rigorously examine where the responsibility for the loss of membership lies, which is truly a disappointing result given South Korea’s standing as the world’s No. 9 donor to the UN regular budget. This is necessary for South Korea to play its role as a key pillar nation in international society.