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Uniformity on the bench: Supreme Court continues to be dominated by elite males

March 4, 2011 Leave a comment

Sangmin Lee

Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon has recommended to President Lee Myung-bak candidates for the new Supreme Court; however there is criticism that the recommendations lack diversity because all four are men whom graduated from Seoul National University (SNU) School of Law which is the nation’s top university.

“Diversity on the bench” is the golden rule in the United States of America. It is necessary to reflect various voices from all levels of society for achieving democratic justification.

After Barack Obama became president of the U.S., he appointed Sonia Sotomayor, a former judge in the Court of Appeals one of the first Hispanic and third female to take the seat. Along with Elena Kagan the former president of Harvard Law School who was appointed associate justice of the Supreme Court to the United States and the fourth female. Both nominations were followed by the principle of bringing more diversity and perspective.

In comparison to the United States Supreme Court, the South Korean Supreme Court lacks diversity in terms of the composition of its members. Currently, the fourteen sitting Supreme Court justices, including the eight Constitutional Court, only Kim Ji-hyung justice comes from a University that is not SNU; he’s from the Wonkwang University of Law. Taking a closer look at the origin, twelve of the fourteen justices are career judges, and one is a former prosecutor and the other a former law professor. Justice Chon Soo-an is now the only female judge on the court after the other woman on the court, Justice Kim Young-ran, retired last August. Kim was appointed as the first female Justice of the Supreme Court in 2004, reflecting the demands of diversity on the bench. These patterns are most prevalent in states’ highest courts.

A lawyer stated “Most of the Supreme Court justices are men aged between the late 50’s and early 60’s that spent most of their lives reading lawsuits and judged in the courtroom. Accordingly, under the influence of similar backgrounds and experiences, the decision of the court also has been almost identical.

The Korean Women’s Association United (KWAU) announced a statement about the recommendation of Supreme Court’s candidates. “It is a matter of sincere regret that none of women candidates were nominated. In order to solve an imbalance between men and women, nominating commissioners should recommend at least 50% of women candidates and the president also gives the priority to the women in appointing justice at both the Supreme Court and the Constitutional Court.”

The Human Rights Solidarity for New Society announced a statement of censuring the recommendation of four candidates and requiring entire reformation of the process of nomination.

The causes for this lack of diversity vary. First, nominating commissioners may underestimate, consciously or unconsciously, the ability of women candidates. Korea was traditionally patriarchal society. It has been dramatically changed in many respects, with the increase of the entry of women in public affairs compared with the past. But the formidable barriers in a famously conservative sector of public services still exist.

Second, it is closely related to typical Korean culture, “elitism”. Korea society is a slave to the ‘first place’ in most areas. It leads to pursuing an elite education system. The Korean proverb “The end justifies the means” shows one of the aspects of Korean society. The rules of seniority are also largely respected underlying the society in selecting and promoting adequate candidates.

There was a voice that this year can be the “most opportune for varying the composition of the members of the court with different backgrounds in the highest judicial authority” in situations which five Supreme Court justices, including the Chief Justice and 3 justices in the Constitutional Court’s term is nearing expiration. However, Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon’s decision to recommend four new judges is going against the current of the times.

When those courts don’t consider the demands of the diversity on the bench, they can hardly obtain the credibility from the people.

Courtesy of Joongang Ilbo

National Human Rights Commission of Korea stopped abuse use of police’s handcuffs

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

By MyungJin Lee

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) has stopped police abuse of handcuffs on potential suspects. According to the NHRCK’s recent decision, it has determined that the unnecessary use of handcuffs and ropes violates personal freedom as guaranteed under Article 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.

Under law police officers are required to not violate the human rights of arrested and detained suspects, particularly the right to self-defense without being psychologically strained during investigation conducted by law enforcement officials. Therefore, such devices like handcuffs and ropes should only be used when there are evident risks of flight, violence, disturbance, self-injury, and so forth.

However, Lee, one of the victims who filed complaints to the NHRCK last January, was handcuffed without reasonable doubt last January when he visited a police station in Gyeonggi province. When entering, Lee had no idea that he was turning himself into law enforcement officers as he was “wanted” for failing to pay a 700,000 won fine ($700). Lee felt shame and believed his rights were disturbed by police officials, particularly as he was handcuffed for failing to pay a fine and not for any serious offense. One of the police officers said in the interview with Korea Herald that he handcuffed Lee because “he seemed possible to flee.” However, there were no circumstances substantiating that the complainant was about to flee or injure himself while being questioned as a suspect.

In a similar case to Lee, another complainant, Kim, was handcuffed because of smoking in a police station and refusing to answer questions during his investigation. His right to refuse to make any self-incriminating statements was violated. Furthermore, applicable regulations prohibit police officers from using police devices on such grounds.

The NHRCK additionally figures that many police stations including other Seoul branches violate detainees’ human rights in similar cases, and has ordered the police department to strengthen human rights education for its law enforcement personnel and admonish the police officers who are related to this matter. The NHRCK expects this strong decision to prevent further recurrences.

“Big Brother is Watching You”: You might be the victim of the government surveillance

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Myungsun Kim

The prime minister’s office explained it was simply a “mistake.” They called the government’s alleged inspection on a civilian named Kim Jong-ik who posted on his blog a video image of slander against President Lee Myung-bak and his policies—a “mistake.” Kim said to the press during prosecutorial inspection that “[his life] is totally destroyed by the government power” and that they knew he was only a civilian. The “mistake” has resulted in a tragic effect on the life of a civilian and his family and friends; however he is not the only one to face governmental action.

According to the MBC “PD Notebook” which released an episode titled “Why this government inspected me?” Government employee Lee In-Kyu and his team searched Kim’s office where he worked as a subcontractor of a major bank and pressured the bank to stop doing business with Kim. The case was then transferred to the police who interrogated Kim on charges of embezzlement and libel against the president.

The prime minister’s office defended itself by explaining that they mistakenly thought Kim was working at a government-run bank and by attacking Kim for being a central figure of Nosamo, an internet-based group organized as a fan club of the former President Roh Moo-hyun, for purportedly helping Lee Kwang-jae, the elected Governor of Gangwon Province who coincidently shares the same hometown with Kim.

Against the office’s claim, Chung Yong-in, a journalist of the Weekly Kyung-hyang raises questions in his article dated July 16: “But what if Kim had really worked at a government-run bank? What if Kim was actually a central figure of Nosamo and helped Governor Lee? Can the government’s illicit investigation on a civilian be justified then?”

After a few unsuccessful efforts to cover up the issue, the prime minister’s office faced a prosecutorial investigation for the first time on July 9. Four of its staff members were referred for a prosecution probe, including Lee In-kyu, a senior official in charge of inspecting ethics-code violation by public officials. The special investigation unit of the Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office will summon Lee In-kyu on July 19 for further investigation.

The Kim Jong-ik case is only the tip of the iceberg?

Hong Soon-chang, who took part in the Patriotic Candle National Solidarity and Convention of Democratic Citizens of All Parts, said to the Weekly Kyunghyang that he felt goose bumps when he found out the informational evidence of how much he spent at a restaurant on a date was prepared for his investigation when he was summoned by the prosecutor’s office. “At that time we did not know about it but they were stalking us and collecting every speck of information…There were people who asked me to remove their phone numbers from my cell phone.”

Joongang Daily presents a similar account in which the government abused its investigative power. A fifty-year-old who is in a printing business made a video last June commemorating former President Roh’s death. After three months someone who proclaimed himself to be a member of the “Seoul Central Prosecutor’s Office” asked him whether he was part of Nosamo or whether he was a “Chin-Roh” (a Korean acronym indicating a person who is in favor of former President Roh). The man then “threatened” that he could be legally charged with violation of patent law, and the crime of embezzlement and libel.

According to the article, the Democratic Party also publicized some of the provided accounts on the government’s illegal inspection of civilians on July 12. Among these was an account in which the private firm that hired the officials who had worked for the Roh Administration received pressure and eventually fired them.

On May UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Speech and Expression, Frank La Rue, was probed and shadowed by a car, which was revealed to have been the property of the National Intelligence.

Is there a future for people with disabilities to work?

September 29, 2010 Leave a comment

Sun 11 July 2010

By Mirae Kang

The Act on Employment Promotion and Vocational Rehabilitation for Disabled Persons was passed on June 4, to promote employment for the disabled. Through this new law, the government sponsors employment agencies with job placement programs and education. The law also establishes that companies with over 50 employees are required to hire a certain number of disabled people.

But a recent report provided by the Ministry of Employment and Labor shows that the job market for the disabled still remains bleak. The Ministry stated that, “despite increasing social awareness last year during an economically difficult time, a low figure of 1.87 percent of people with disabilities were hired compared to the total population of people with disabilities being 4.86 percent within the country.”

Under the new law, 3 percent of the government workforce and 2.3 percent of any other institution must hire people with disabilities. Failing to meet these requirements may subject companies to a penalty fine. Despite these laws and regulations, statistics show that only public institutions have complied with the legal requirement to staff 2.1 percent of employees with disabilities. Also, about 30 conglomerates in Korea still choose to pay fines instead of hiring people with disabilities.

Prior to this act, several domestic laws to improve life and prohibit acts of discrimination on people with disabilities have been implemented, these include: The Welfare of Disabled Persons Act, Act on Convenience Promotion for Persons with Disabilities, Act on Mobility Promotion for Persons with Disabilities, Anti-Discrimination against and Remedies for Persons with Disabilities, and several more.

The plethora of acts has increased social awareness but despite being a country which has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities in December 2008, the issue of equal treatment and opportunities since remains a topic often dealt with by the media.

——

Korea Human Rights Foundation HRM writer Myung Jin Lee contributed to this report.

Categories: Disability, Labour, Rule of Law

Homosexuality is No Longer a Sin in the Society but is Still a Crime in the Military

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Tues Jun 15

Hyoyeol Chong

On June 12, the 11th Korea Queer Culture Festival titled “Outing,” took place in Cheonggyechon, Seoul. Within the Festival there were information booths from religious groups, political groups and NGOs. A parade took place with special guests including Seok-chon Hong, one of the first Korean actors to declare his homosexuality, and Theodore W. Jennings, a professor from the Chicago Theological Seminary and advocate of Church-LGBT relations.

Aside from this festival, dramas, movies and music videos about homosexuality are becoming more and more common in Korea. A Korean drama, titled “Beautiful Life,” depicts love between two men and their difficulties in society, and the drama has become a sensation in Korean society. Expressing different sexualities openly has been taboo for a very long time in Korea; however Koreans have slowly started to accept homosexuality within society. Movies such as, “The King and The Clown,” “Ssanghwajeum” and “No Regret,” each depict homosexual love and the difficulties of it within the conservative mood of society, have also contributed to the change and the decline of prejudice.

In regards to this changing climate Seok-chon Hong said, “Some people should have told this kind of story beforehand. I appreciate that homosexuality is being dealt in mass media and I want people to know homosexuals can be our friends or family members.” Another participant in the festival would state that, “Mass media is much more effective than our sixteen years of effort. It is obvious that we gays can show up in the society compared to the past.”

Changing perspectives of society on sexual minorities is evident due to mass media and festivals like these acknowledging the presence of homosexuality in Korean society. However, discrimination of homosexuals still exists, particularly within the military. There is controversy over clause 92 of the Military Criminal Law, which states that, “a person who commits sodomy is sentenced under one year imprisonment.” Sexual intercourse between a man and a woman is subject to disciplinary action but sodomy is unconditionally punished. The Court for Armed Forces argues that clause 92 infringes gay rights.

On one hand, there is a welcoming movement among people towards homosexuality in civilian society. On the other, homosexuals are treated as psychopaths and punished with legal penalties in the military. This means that there is no agreement in Korean society whether same-sex love should be dealt as pathological or another form of human love and it remains a roadblock for homosexual rights  in Korea.■

Contributed by HRM intern Ji-Su Park

NHRCK to stop police abuse of handcuffs

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Tues June 15

Myungjin Lee

According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea’s (NHRCK) recent decision, it determined that any unnecessary use of handcuffs and ropes violated personal freedom as guaranteed under Article 12 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea.

The law has required police officers not to violate arrested and detained suspects’ human rights such as a right to self-defense, particularly without being psychologically strained during investigation conducted by law enforcement officials. Therefore, such devices like handcuffs and ropes should be used only when there are evident risks of flight, violence, disturbance, self-injury, and so forth.

However, Lee, one of the people who filed his complaints to the NHRCK last January, was handcuffed without reasonable doubt last January when he visited a police station in Gyeonggi province. When entering, Lee had no idea that he was turning himself in: as he was “wanted” for failing to pay a 700,000 won ($700) fine. Soon enough, Lee was arrested and handcuffed by several police officials. In an interview with the Korea Herald, one of the police officers said that he handcuffed Lee because “he seemed possible to flee.” Furthermore, there were no signs that the accused was about to flee or injure himself while being questioned as a suspect.

In a similar case to Lee, another complainant Kim was handcuffed because of smoking in a police station and refusing to answer questions during his investigation. Because it is the right of a criminal suspect to refuse to make any self-incriminating statements the police extend themselves beyond their power in this situation as well. Therefore, applicable regulations prohibit police officers from using police devices on such grounds.

NHRCK additionally figures that many police stations including other Seoul branches violate detainees’ human rights in similar cases, and has ordered the police department to strengthen human rights education to its law enforcement personnel and reprimand the police officers related to this matter. As such, the NHRCK expects this strong decision to prevent further recurrences and protect the overall rights of citizens from police brutality. ■

Categories: Rule of Law

Amnesty International Report 2010 on South Korea: “Silence on the Streets Does Not Mean Peace”

September 27, 2010 Leave a comment

Tues, June 8

Ji-Su Park

On May 27th, Amnesty International (AI) released their annual 2010 report revealing situations of human rights abuses in 159 countries, including serious problems of human rights violations prevalent in South Korea throughout 2009.

Amnesty International in South Korea (AI Korea) held a conference at the Korea Press Center in Seoul to discuss the 2010 International Report and the organization’s official stance on several controversial events in Korea today.

In specific, the South Korean government was criticized for violating freedom of expression in an attempt to control the media and use fear in politics with regards to the deadly sinking of Cheonan, a South Korean naval ship believed to be an act of a North Korean torpedo.

Regarding the teachers of Korean Teachers and Education Workers’ Union facing mass dismissal for joining the Democratic Labor Party (DLP), an opposing political party, AI said that the government is excessively violating the freedom of political participation, assembly, and expression.  The ministry has decided to dismiss a total of 134 public school teachers for having paid membership fees to DLP.  With the G-20 Summit scheduled to be held in Seoul this coming November, the government seems to be restricting rights and freedoms even more by passing the G-20 martial law.

Nam Young-jin, the chairman of AI Korea, wrote in the chair’s report, “Some words that were often used back in the 1980s such as ‘freedom of the press,’ ‘freedom of expression,’ ‘dictatorship and democracy,’ and ‘national security and military on alert at the border’ are being used again in South Korea today.”  Nam clearly pointed out that South Korea’s human rights situation has gone backwards.

The report is in accord with the criticisms made by Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Expression who visited South Korea on May 14 to investigate human rights conditions.  AI Korea warns the government, stating that “silence on the streets does not mean peace.”  ■

Specific problems in South Korea mentioned in the Report

  • Foreign migrant workers who are vulnerable to unfair treatment, discrimination, sexual harassment, and abuse as a result of the current Employment Permit System (EPS)
  • Blogger Park Dae-sung or “Minerva” arrested and accused of spreading malicious rumors to destabilize the economy
  • Four producers and a writer at Munhwa Broadcasting Corporation (MBC) accused of distorting facts regarding the dangers of US beef in the television program PD Notebook and thus stimulating the candlelight protests against US beef imports
  • Arbitrary arrests and detentions under the National Security Law (NSL)
  • The death penalty
  • The downsized National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)
  • Low recognition of state recognition of refugees and asylum-seekers