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South Korea: Need To Show More Commitments To Human Rights

October 31, 2012

A Statement from People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

South Korea: Need To Show More Commitments To Improve Its Human Rights

A Joint Commentary by the Korean NGO Coalition for the 2nd Cycle of the UPR on the Republic of Korea

(31 October 2012, Seoul) On 25 October 2012, the Republic of Korea was reviewed under the Universal Periodic Review (UPR), which is a process to review the overall human rights situation and records of all 193 UN Member States. Unfortunately, the Government did not make a positive response to most recommendations made during the UPR session except withdrawing reservation on the Article 21(a) of the Convention on the Rights of the Child and taking concrete steps to ratify Palermo Protocols. Korean civil society organizations are deeply concerned that the Government did not show its full commitments to improve human rights during the UPR session, and urge the Government to work in conformity with the objective of the UPR which is to improve human rights situation in the country.

Sixty-seven States raised questions about human rights situation in the Republic of Korea and made recommendations accordingly. The recommendations cover various issues including enactment of the Anti-Discrimination Act, guaranteeing freedom of opinion and expression, preventing sexual violence and domestic violence, protecting and promoting rights of child and juvenile, revising a birth registration system, ratifying two core international human rights treaties (ICRMW, CPED), optional protocols, and four ILO Core Conventions, withdrawing reservations, and protecting and promoting rights of migrant workers. Most of all, abolishing death penalty, revising/repealing the National Security Act and providing alternative military service for conscientious objectors were repeatedly recommended by the international society including at the 1st cycle of the UPR in 2008. Rather than sincerely showing its efforts to improve human rights situation on the ground, the Government has been consistently repeating same replies to these recommendations.

France and Poland raised concerns on the violation of freedom of peaceful assembly and association, and excessive use of force against peaceful protestors. In response, the Police Agency said that "the assemblies and demonstrations are limited only for the purpose of the national security and maintenance of public orders, and as for the act of violence during assemblies and demonstrations, police force is mobilised in compliance with international human rights standards." On the contrary to this response, in Gangjeong village, Jeju Island, excessive uses of police forces against and arbitrary arrests of peaceful protesters opposing the construction of naval base are ongoing. On 30 May 2012, the Special Rapportuers on the promotion and protection of the right to freedom of opinion and expression, on the rights to freedom of peaceful assembly and of association, and on human rights defenders sent an allegation letter to the Government asking for clarification on the continuously reported human rights violations in Gangjeong village. Yet, the Government has not sent replies. Having said that, it is clear that the reply made by the Police Agency does not reflect what happens on the ground. The Police Agency should answer on what international human rights standards that it is following while mobilising police forces, and what violence that peaceful protesters and Gangjeong villagers have used to justify its excessive use of force.

The United States of America recommended "to review the possibility of repealing laws that criminalise on the basis of sexual orientation within the military". In response, the Ministry of National Defence mentioned that "the Article 92(5) of the Military Criminal Act which stipulates sodomy and sexual molestation act be punished is intended not for discrimination against homosexuality but for the public interest that is to encourage wholesome environment and discipline in the military society. Therefore, it is inappropriate to repeal or revise such provision at this point." The Ministry of National Defence clearly affirmed that homosexuality brings negative impact to the wholesome environment and public interest while arguing that the Ministry is doing its best to protect the rights of LGBTs in the military. It is a self-contradictory attitude.

The United States of America, Germany and six other countries recommended introducing alternative services for conscientious objectors. The Ministry of National Defence replied that due to special national security circumstances of the Republic of Korea and since there is no social consensus, limitations do exist to introduce alternative military services for conscientious objectors. In 2007, the Government said that they would introduce alternative military service for conscientious objectors, but there have been no further updates on this matter. Currently, more than 100,000 people are already serving in public services instead of military service according to the criteria defined in the Military Service Act. The criteria includes physical or mental deficiencies, level or quality of academic achievements, special family circumstances or being skilled in a special or unusual profession. However, this form of alternatives to military service includes four weeks of mandatory basic military training which makes it difficult for conscientious objectors to accept. Considering the current situation, it is hard to say that conscientious objectors who are only around 600 people per year affect to the national security threats. The Government must immediately introduce alternative services for conscientious objectors.

Eight countries including Japan and the United Kingdom recommended the Government to guarantee freedom of opinion and expression. The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) replied that the Korean Communication Standards Commission (KCSC) is an independent and non-governmental organisation, and the corrective orders issued by the KCSC are mailed in the form of recommendation which does not have any legal force to service providers. However, statistics show that almost all online articles that received corrective orders by the KCSC between 2008~2010 were removed from the website. This shows that the KCSC's corrective orders exert a significant degree of authority over intermediaries in regulating online contents. Mr. Frank La Rue, the UN Special Rapporteur on Freedom of Opinion and Expression, also made recommendation in his report that the KCSC should be transferred to an independent body which is free from any political, commercial or other unwarranted influences.

The abolition of death penalty has been repeatedly recommended by the international society to the Government and was raised again during the 2nd cycle of the UPR Working Group by 19 countries including Belgium, Slovenia and Argentina. In response to this, the Ministry of Justice said that death penalty required a broad consensus at the national level and various aspects should be considered in a comprehensive manner, such as criminal justice, social conditions and public opinion. This is exactly same reply as what the Government said during the 1st cycle of the UPR. It is a clear example exposing the unwillingness of the Government in abolishing death penalty.

Revising or repealing the National Security Act was also recommended by several governments. The National Security Act is a typical unjust law that threats freedom of expression. The Government again repeated same reply as it gave during the 1st cycle of the UPR that it affirmed the National Security Act should not be misused or interpreted arbitrarily. The Government also shared that the average number of people who are detained under the National Security Act is around 20 per year. However, the Government missed a number of people who have been charged under the National Security Act. It has been increasing as 40 in 2008, 70 in 2009 and 151 in 2010. This proves that the Prosecutors Office misuses the National Security Act and applies it arbitrarily. Most of all, a number of websites that were closed down under the reason of violating the National Security Act are increased four times over the last four years. There is no doubt that the National Security Act threats freedom of expression on the Internet.

In addition to abovementioned recommendations, eight countries including Chile recommended to adopt a comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act that covers all discrimination criteria including sexual orientation. Four countries including Australia recommended ensuring the National Human Rights Commission is fully mandated and resourced. Also, concerns and recommendations were made on the issues such as domestic violence (5 countries including Italy), marital rape (Canada, Costa Rica), sexual harassment in the workplace (Netherlands), single mothers (5 countries including Norway) and children's rights (12 countries including Germany). Most of all, 10 countries including Canada recommended to review birth registration system to prevent secret adoption and child-trafficking, and to protect rights of child regardless parents' legal status.

Eleven countries including Indonesia showed its great concerns on the poor human rights situation of migrants and migrant workers. The Government was also recommended to ratify human rights treaties including the Palermo Protocol on the prevention of trafficking in persons especially women and children, the Convention on the rights of migrant workers, the OP-CAT, the Hague Convention on inter-country adoption, the Third OP on the CRC on communications, and the UN Convention on Transnational Organised Crimes. Above all, the ILO Core Convention No. 29, 105(forced labour) and No. 87, 98(right to organise) are not ratified yet while it was one of the Government's voluntary pledges and commitments in 2006 and 2008.

Korean civil society organisations deeply deplore by the response of the Government during the UPR Session, as it did not show its full commitments to improve human rights situation on the ground. The Government did not share implementation status of laws and policies, and presented statistics selectively that gives only partial information about reality of human rights situation in the country. Since the Government is going to run for the 2013 UN Human Rights Council election, it must put more efforts to promote and protect human rights in the country and improve the human right situation by accepting recommendations made during the UPR session. Korean civil society organisations will continue its efforts to urge the Government to accept recommendations given during the UPR by following up its implementation, holding meaningful national consultations and suggesting polices to implement recommendations.

# # #
About AHRC: The Asian Human Rights Commission is a regional non-governmental organisation that monitors human rights in Asia, documents violations and advocates for justice and institutional reform to ensure the protection and promotion of these rights. The Hong Kong-based group was founded in 1984.

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