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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.

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.