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KHIS Monitoring Report on the NHRCK

May 27, 2011 Leave a comment

Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS) Monitoring Report on the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)

January~May 2011

Notice : The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHCRK), established in 2001, has been internationally spotlighted since it has repeatedly shown rapid improvement in a short period of time. However, since Lee Myung Bak’s Government came to power in 2009, the NHRCK has failed to perform its own functions. In order to circulate the current situation of the NHRCK, the KHIS will publish newsletters once every two or three months from now on. The first newsletter will be published in this month and it will cover the news about the NHRCK from January to May of 2011.

The NHRCK has been so fare criticized because of its malfunction since inauguration of the Lee Government in 2008 and Mr. Byung-Chul Hyun as Chairperson in 2009. In 2009, the NHRCK was coercively reduced by 21% by the Government and inexperienced persons had been appointed as the Commissioner of the NHRCK so far. The NHRCK were refrained from dealing with politically sensitive issues and they have not even been attempting to explore more of human rights issues needed to be discussed. As a protest against the Commission’s series of inappropriate operation, three Commissioners of the NHRCK, Moon Kyung-Ran, Yoo Nam-Young, and Cho Gook, resigned and 61 members of the special committees of the NHRCK resigned as well. In addition, former Commissioners, former staffs of the NHRCK, about 600 NGOs, and 300 lawyers and law professors published a statement to criticize the NHRCK and the winners of human rights award given by the NHRCK refused to receive the awards.

Such realities of the NHRCK have not been changed at all in 2011. In February 2011, the NHRCK canceled the contract with an employee, who was a vice leader of the NHRCK’s labor union. However, in fact, it is assumed that the NHRCK intentionally fired her, since the NHRCK has usually extended the contract so far as long as there had been no particular reason for disqualification. This employee, who had worked for the NHRCK since its establishement in 2001, was an expert who had dealt with many significant incidents of human rights violations and discrimination. This dismissal is because she had criticized the crippled operation of the NHRCK since the inauguration of Mr. Hyun. In fact, the NHRCK’s union made a statement: “the NHRCK which is supposed to rectify discrimination of irregular workers fired one of its worker because of her position as a member of union. It is an absurd incident that intended to suppress the union”. In addition the union raised an appeal against the NHRCK regarding this incident as “discrimination on employee because of her activities in the union.” In fact, he NHRCK had to receive an appeal from the NHRCK itself. The NGO’s Collaborative Action to Put the NHRCK in its Place (NHRCK-Watch) also strongly urged that the dismissal should be abandoned. (see the NGOs’ Statements attached: NHRCK Chair HYUN Byung-chul and Secretary-General SOHN Shim-gil Are Eager to Seize Full Control of the NHRCK, Firing Staff and Running Counter to NHRCK’s Own Duties, 17 February 2011)

On the other hand, the Human Rights Solidarity for New Society, a Korean human rights NGO, submitted a report which criticized the NHRCK since it does not cooperate with external human rights experts. Last March, the NHRCK prepared an opinion on the issue of Bill of Criminal Procedure, but only two consultations from external experts have been received. It can be assumed that this is because many human rights experts actually refused to cooperate with the NHRCK. This also showed the crippled operation of the NHRCK at the moment.

In addition, even an international conference which was organized by the NHRCK was not properly prepared with the cooperation with NGOs. The NHRCK announced that it would host the ‘Consultation of International Civic Groups to Strengthen the United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body System’ from April 19th to 20th. As the title of the conference indicated, the Conference should be organized and prepared with close cooperation and consultations with human rights NGOs. However, the NHRCK asked NGOs to attend the conference only a month before the conference. 57 Korean human rights NGOs severely criticized this attitude of the NHRCK regarding the conference and announced that they would refuse to attend the conference. Furthermore, those NGOs sent a letter which criticized the NHRCK to international NGOs which were scheduled to participate in the conference and even held an another informal meeting with them.

In this situation, NHRCK restricted citizen’s activities of vigilance. Mr. Hyun revised regulation for public admission to the committee of the NHRCK. According to the regulation, applications for admission should be submitted 3 hours in advance of the meeting. Recording and filming is also prohibited. Furthermore, an audience who are withdrawn by causing a commotion is not permitted to go to the committee for 3 to 6 months. The Human Rights Solidarity for New Society paradoxically made a petition against the NHRCK to the NHRCK last April that the revised regulations has violated the people’s right to know and ‘principles of open proceedings’ under the NHRCK Act. (Article 14: “The proceedings of the Commission shall be made public. That they may not be made public if deemed necessary by the Commission or a subcommittee.”)

Meanwhile, Mr. Hyun has conducted an inspection of employees who staged one-man demonstrations to protest unfair dismissals last February. One-man demonstration is regarded as a legally legitimate way of expressing one’s opinions according to Korean law so that people can state one-man demonstrations without any legal procedure. Nevertheless, Mr. Hyun has performed the inspection and is now considering disciplinary actions against those who were involved in the demonstrations. Needless to say, the NHRCK’s duty is to protect human rights against violators. However, the NHRCK itself is now playing a role as a human rights violator.

In addition, some lawmakers of the National Assembly called for resignation of Mr. Hyun. The NHRCK reported its activities to the National Assembly last April and several lawmakers strongly criticized the crippled operation of the NHRCK by mentioning the dismissal of an employee and the international conference held by the NHRCK. This led to calling for resignation of Mr. Hyun. However he replied that the inspection against the staffs who are involved in the demonstration should not be stopped and the NHRCK is now working very well.

Futhermore, the delegation of the Asian Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) made an official visit to Korea in order to investigate the NHRCK. This was conducted from 11th to 12th May by having interviews with those who are related to the NHRCK. However, the ANNI failed to meet the Chairperson and some Commissioners, and an interview with the Government which is responsible for the downsize of the NHRCK in 2009 was also rejected. The delegation recognized many problems that has been so far raised by Korean human rights NGOs, such as the independence of the NHRCK and appointment process of commissioners. (see the attached file: MEDIA RELEASE: FOR PUBLICATION – ANNI delegation concludes mission on the National Human Rights Commission of Korea). In addition, Korean Branch of Amnesty International published its “Annual Report 2011 in May. This reports shows deep concerns about human rights in Korea and the crippled operation of the NHRCK.

The NHRCK, which was regarded as a model institution of the world, can hardly perform its functions now. In particular, its independence, one of the most important elements for national human rights institutions, was severely damaged so that the NHRCK is not effectively watching the Government at the moment. Although many human rights NGOs is now pointing out that human rights conditions of South Korea has been getting worse since the inauguration of the Lee Government, the NHRCK has failed to work properly and to play its role as a watch-dog for the Government. Unfortunately, there seems to be no improvements in the near future.

http://www.khis.or.kr

**Above article taken from KHIS directly

Overweight? Here’s the pink slip

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Sangmin Lee

A 31-year-old researcher at an electronic parts company filed an appeal to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) about his resignation due to stress from coercive weight reduction pressure from his company in July 2010.

As soon as he joined the firm last April, he was classified one of five obese employees and forced to join an exercise program. The company conducted employees’ physical checkups and required them to do mandatory daily jogging in the wake of the examination. In addition, the company’s vice-president ordered department directors to monitor slimming efforts and send updates via email and urged obese employees to submit resignations in advance in case they failed to meet the target weight loss.

The company refuted these claims, denying the fact that the company forced employees to reduce their weight, and argued that participation in those activities was voluntary and for leisure. Rather, the company insisted that it provided a wide variety of activities as part of its long-term health-benefits for employees.

However, the NHRCK determined that the applicant’s resignation was made while being under excessive pressure. Penalizing overweight employees for failing to lose weight is employment discrimination based on personal appearance. In this sense, the NHRCK ordered the company to pay five million KRW (4,480 USD) in compensation and recommended measures to prevent any similar recurrence.

No ‘Human Rights’ at the NHRCK

April 8, 2011 Leave a comment

Tae-young Kim, an investigator of NHRCK stages a relay of one-man protests to remonstrate the unfair dismissal.

Bichi Lee

“The duty of the National Human Rights Commision of Korea (NHRCK) is to make society a better place in which people can live like a decent human being. But NHRCK does not consider people important. They unfairly dismissed and suggest ‘there’s no labor union’. Please, reconsider it before it is too late”

Tae-young Kim, an investigator of the NHRCK carried signs in front of the building of the NHRCK in the Jung-gu district of Seoul on February 14, 2011. Kim is a public certified labor attorney who handled the paperwork on the Right to Work. On February 8th Kim submitted a written resignation in protest of the unfair dismissal of In-young Kang, an investigator at the NHRCK. In-young Kang was the second manager of the Anti-Discrimination Division and handled documents on sexual discrimination.

Kim stated, “I can’t just sit back and watch my colleague be wrongfully fired. As a person that is in charge of labor, I advised NHRCK to withdraw the unfair dismissal of temporary positions.  Regardless, my coworker was wrongfully fired. Byung-Chul Hyun, chairperson of NHRCK should withdraw it.”

Beginning with Kim, commissioners of the NHRCK started to stage a series of one-person protests to demonstrate against the unfair dismissal by Chairman Byoung-Chul Hyun and Secretary General Sim-Gil Son.

It was the first time in the history of the NHRCK that its Commissioners took to the streets in protest. Apart from the labor union, the Commissioners will be continuing the relay of the one-person protests for three weeks during lunch breaks.

News Brief March 15, 2011

March 16, 2011 Leave a comment

HRM News Briefs

March 15, 2011

 

NHRCK Establish Center to record North Korean Human Rights Violations

National Human Rights Commission of Korea has released a statement stating that they will be establishing a center to investigate and record North Korean Human Rights infringements. Through investigations with North Korean defectors the center plans to archive infringement for future policy making and human rights reform in North Korea.

Documentation of North Korean human rights infringements were mostly done by local NGO’s. This is the first time that a national governmental agency has taken the initiative to archive the infringements.

 

Jungmi Lee, Second Female to be Appointed Constitutional Courtship Judge

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Since the establishment of the constitutional courts in South Korea in 1988 only one female has thus far been appointed to the constitutional courtship. This has changed on March 14, 2011. It was announced that Jungmi Lee was appointed to the courtship making her the second female on the panel. 

The chief justice of the supreme court, Yonghoon Lee, stated on January 31, 2011 that Lee was nominated as an appropriate candidate to the public’s request for a non Seoul National University graduate, female judge that will protect the social minorities.

 


 

North Korea condemns NHRCK Again

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Moonhee Kim

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea’s (DPRK) online propaganda toward South Korea, uriminzokkiri (Only between Korean Peoples), condemned the vote for the installation of the Special Committee on North Korean Human Rights by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK).

The NHRCK held their annual first plenary meeting on Jan. 10th and decided to install the Special Committee on North Korean Human Rights. It is necessary for South Korea to get ready for the rapidly changing circumstances of North Korea, such as the succession program for Kim Jung-Un, the Cheonan incident, and the Yeonpteong Island shelling. The SCNKHR will be organized with three to five people and the duration of the work will be a year, starting from this January. Thus, the duration can be extended via vote of the NHRCK. It is the third attempt by the NHRCK to organize a special committee for strengthening the capability to cope with issues related to North Korean human rights, following the year of 2005 and 2008.

Uriminzokkiri, however stated that South Korea’s move towards installing the special committee is pouring cold water to the improvement of the relationship between South and North Korea, making any confrontations between the two more intensified. Thus, the DPRK insists that bringing up North Korea’s human rights issue again only shows that South Korea is engrossed in slandering and scheming the DPRK, while they are trying to take steps to make better relationship between South and North Korea.

NHRCK Prohibits Discrimination Based on Health

January 26, 2011 Leave a comment

By: Yuri Yi

On December 31, 2010, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has advised the chief of hospital X, name not stated for protection purposes, to remedy his decision of refusing to hire a medical laboratory technologist on the basis of being positive for Hepatitis B.

Mr. B, who remains anonymous for his protection, was disqualified from the hiring process due to his medical condition and petitioned NHRCK to have hospital X withdraw the decision. He said, although I passed all the tests including the final interview, my carrier state disqualified me from the job.”

On the other hand, hospital X argued that “we couldn’t help limiting his employment because the disease is contagious. Due to the nature of the job of a medical laboratory technologist such as managing blood of patients, he was an improper applicant.”

However, NHRCK judged that “It is an excessive limitation to reject him for the reason of infectiousness. According to the opinion of specialist, hepatitis B is an illness not easily caught through normal cohabitation, if there is no blood or sexual contact. Working in hospital with people belongs to the case of normal cohabitation.”

One of the officials at NHRCK explained that,a hospital would be able to prevent dangerous situation from happening by letting Mr. B obey the pollution prevention regulations like other medical laboratory technologists. There are enough alternatives such as temporary suspension of duty which might be able to transmit the virus through blood.”

Mr. B has work experience at a hospital in Gangwon Province, Korea.

News Brief January 21-24, 2011

January 25, 2011 Leave a comment

News Briefs                                                                                                                                                   January 21, 2011

Pastor Gets 9 Years for Multiple Child Rape 

65 year old pastor Kang was sentenced to 9 years for raping an 11 year old girl and sexually molesting three other under-aged members of his congregation. Kang was also accused of taking sexual pictures of the victims and beating and threatening them. The court ruling stated that, “the defendant assaulted five teenagers by coercing them with his religious authority… He left serious, untreatable scars on the young victims.”

Labor Activists Continue Sit-ins through Subzero Temperatures 

The Korean Confederation of Trade Unions (KCTU) is protesting against Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction (HHIC) in an attempt to force HHIC to end layoffs. Kim Jin-suk, a member of the direction committee of KCTU’s Busan office, is sitting-in a 35-meter high vessel crane at HHIC’s Yeongdo shipyard in subzero temperatures. HHIC received a court ruling to remove Kim from the site; however, Kim refused to end the protest. Friday marked Kim’s 15th sit-in day.

Government to Provide IT Training for Multicultural Families 

The Ministry of Public Administration and Security and the National Information Society Agency plans to provide IT training for 2,300 marriage migrants and 330 multicultural families. This new program is designed to aid migrants and multicultural families in adjusting to life in Korea by giving them the tools and opportunities needed.

NHRCK Calls for Human Rights in North Korea 

Korea’s National Human Rights Commission wishes to introduce legislation on North Korean human rights and enact an independent archive to investigate, collect, and record human rights violations in North Korea. A bill on situating and contextualizing human rights in North Korea remains pending in the National Assembly; however, human rights activists insist the bill is far too moderate to insight any actual changes in North Korea.

January 22, 2011

Government Rejects NHRCK’s Labor Recommendations 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor (MoEL) recently rejected the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s (NHRCK) recommendation to reduce excessive governmental interference in labor union establishment procedures and the criteria on valid union members. In rejecting NHRCK’s recommendations, the government plans to continue to only permitting labor union activities within a stringent and restrictive framework. President Lee’s administration has also been accused of abusing current labor unions in using the system to suppress unions the administration does not agree with. The Seoul Administrative Court ruled in line with NHRCK’s recommendations; however, the MoEL remains adherent to its intolerant approach.

Former ‘Comfort Woman’s’ Last Wish 

Lee Ok-sun, 84, was 15 when she was kidnapped by the Japanese military and drafted to become a sex slave during Japan’s invasion of the Korean peninsula. IN 1996, Lee decided to publicize her experiences and began traveling the world, giving lectures on the sufferings of the ‘comfort women.’ Now, like most other former ‘comfort women,’ Lee is ailing; her heart and kidneys are failing, and her vision and hearing are impaired from the beatings she endured during her time as a ‘comfort woman.’ Lee’s last wish before she dies is to receive an apology from Japan to her and all other surviving former ‘comfort women.’

January 23, 2011

Lonely ‘Mart Kids’ Deprived of Proper Care 

Children playing in supermarkets during winter vacation were found to be lacking in proper parental care. Children staying at supermarkets from morning to late evening tended to avoid social contact and experts report that such children are shown little affection or care at home. Supermarket employees worry over the children’s safety as there are no adults with the children; employees also fear that the children may be more vulnerable to crime as they remain unprotected throughout the day and evenings.

North Korean Defector Turned Freedom Fighter through Art 

Song Byeok, 42, defected in 2002 and now uses his artwork to depict difficulties of life in North Korea. Song stated that he was now free of the ‘brainwashing’ he experienced in North Korea. “For a long time, I honestly believed Kim was a great leader and that my country was better off than others,” Song said. Song’s art often caricaturizes North Korean leader Kim Jong-Il and his regime; Song stated that he now wants “to devote [his] art to letting the world know that everyone, including North Koreans, deserves to be free.”

January 24, 2011

Budget Cuts for Seoul’s Cultural Programs 

The Seoul Metropolitan Government stated that foreigners wishing to participate in Seoul’s cultural programs will have to wait as Seoul’s cultural programs receive budget cuts. The programs will be available for 1,740 foreigners through 30 events this year, down from 2,591 available slots for 37 events last year. This year, the government will combine several programs together in order to accommodate budget cuts.

Ministry of Employment and Labor Rejects Recommendation from NHRCK 

The Ministry of Employment and Labor has recently released a statement rejecting the recommendation submitted by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) to include the unemployed and recently laid off employees in the National Labor Union and Relations Law. The Ministry replied stating that including this group the law would lose its exclusiveness in protecting those working.

Gwangju to Build Democratic and Peace Human Rights Center on Former Prison Site 

On the 21st of January, over 100 members of various civic organizations met in Gwangju, city in Southwest of Seoul, to present the “Human Rights City Gwangju Proposal”. The proposal states the various programs it plans to carry out to make Gwangju the main hub representing Human Rights in South Korea. As the first steps it was proposed to build a Democratic and Peace Human Rights Center on a former prison site in Gwangju.

NHRCK Propose Letter Exchange Program Between Separated Families  

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) released a statement on the 21st that they plan to promote a letter exchange program between separated families in South and North Korea. It was indicated that the letter exchange program goes along the lines of their “Roadmap for the Improvement of North Korean Human Rights” released earlier this year.