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NGOs urge South Korean government to provide policy measures to act on UPR recommendations

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Human rights NGOs have criticised the South Korean Government for neglecting to address the aim of the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) to review the overall fulfillment of their human rights obligations and commitments. They have urged the government to acknowledge the seriousness of a range of key human rights issues and to provide concrete policy measures and sincere commitments based on the recommendations provided by the UPR working group.

Press release

South Korean NGOs Coalition for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR)

UPR on South Korea: Korean Government Provided Unclear and Misguiding Answers

The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea and the United States Stand United against National Security Law Recommendations by Member States on Key Human Rights Issues in South Korea, including the Abolition of the Death Penalty and the Protection of Human Rights of Migrant Workers

1. The UN Human Rights Council held its interactive dialogue for the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) on the Republic of Korea on Wednesday, 07 May, 2008 in Geneva, Switzerland. The UPR is a new human rights mechanism established by the UN Human Rights Council to review the overall fulfillment of human rights obligations and commitments by each member state of the United Nations. The interactive dialogue was made on the key human rights issues in the Republic of Korea, including the death penalty, freedom of assembly, National Security Law, the Discrimination Prohibition Bill, discrimination against persons with disabilities, migrant workers, migrant women of international marriage, conscientious objection to military service, violence against women and domestic violence, corporal punishment of children, and non-regular workers.

2. Numerous states recommended the abolition of death penalty in an immediate and timely manner. Reminding the fact that the 15th, 16th, and 17th National Assembly failed to pass the Bill for the abolition of death penalty, The United Kingdom asked if the Government had the intention to submit the Bill to the upcoming 18th National Assembly. Luxemburg inquired about the concrete measures that the Government had taken to bring public consensus for the abolition of the death penalty. The Netherlands in its recommendation emphasized that the Bill should be adopted by the upcoming National Assembly. However, the Government delegation avoided providing a concrete timetable for the abolishment of the death penalty noting that the issue was still in the process of creating public consensus. (Note: The issue of the death penalty was raised by 11 states: France, Belgium, Netherlands, UK, Germany, Italy, Mexico, Australia, Turkey, Luxemburg and Denmark.)

3. States addressed on multiple occasions questions and recommendations regarding the rights of migrant workers reflecting their concern for the protection of migrant workers’ rights as it appeared in the recent series of crackdowns targeting the leaders of the Migrant Workers’ Trade Union (MTU). The UPR working group urged the Government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families (ICMW). The Philippines noted that migrant workers’ rights should be respected regardless of their legal status and requested the Government to make substantive efforts to protect the rights of undocumented workers.  The Korean delegation avoided providing concrete answers to those questions by merely reaffirming that the Government was doing all its power to counteract discrimination against migrant workers. (Note: The issue of migrant workers was raised by 11 states: Algeria, Indonesia, the Philippines, Egypt, Bangladesh, Peru, Pakistan, Mexico, Canada, and Denmark.)

4. Concerns about the retrogression of the freedom of assembly and demonstration since the debut of the Lee Myung-Bak government were also raised. Algeria, Brazil and Canada addressed the problem of excessive repression against demonstrators and asked if the Government respects the freedom of assembly and demonstration in a substantial manner. The Korean delegation, contrary to the recent statement by the Justice Minister during a policy report to the President mentioning the wide attribution of immunity for police officers when arresting demonstrators, replied that “the Government is taking strict measures to respect the freedom of assembly and to avoid any excessive restriction of the right”.

5. The Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, the United States of America and the United Kingdom unanimously recommended the revision or the abolishment of the National Security Law. The UN Human Rights Committee (Committee on Civil and Political Rights) had repeatedly recommended that the National Security Law is in violation of the ICCPR. The United Kingdom recommended that “National Security Law could be integrated into Criminal Law or be revised to meet the international standards.” The United States addressed the need for reform by indicating the “possibility of abuse due to the abstract wordings.” In the context of the expanded application of National Security Law through communication censorship, the fact that DPRK and the U.S. are taking a common position against the National Security Law has a particular significance.

6. The Korean delegation presented the submission of the Discrimination Prohibition Bill to the National Assembly as a major human rights achievement. Member States, including France, Czech Republic and Netherlands, commended the submission but also raised doubts about the effectiveness of the Discrimination Prohibition Bill, which excludes important elements such as sexual orientation.

7. In parallel with the criticism by the Korean public on the Resident Registration System following the Auction case where the personal information of more than 10,000,000 individuals was hacked, Canada recommended that “Resident Registration System should be used in strictly limited circumstances such as public service.” Korean human rights groups have constantly urged for the revision of related laws to prevent the violation of privacy and abuse for national intelligence activities, however the Korean delegation remained silent even vis-a-vis the questions of the working group.

8. Part of the answers provided by the Government delegation clearly reflected the lack of understanding and awareness of the Korean government on human rights. Concerning the question by the Czech Republic about the high level of suicide in places of detention and if it is due to torture or ill treatment, the Korean delegation avoided the heart of the questions by noting that “suicide rate in places of detention are not seriously different from the overall suicide rate in South Korea” and pointing out that authorities “are controlling potential suicides based on the medical records of inmates.” The delegation neglected the critical fact that South Korea has the highest rate of suicide among all OECD members. Concerning Slovenia’s question on the current criminal code and the Special Law on Sexual Violence defining sexual crime as a crime requiring a complaint from the victim, the delegation expressed the Government’s intention not to abolish the provision by explaining that sexual crime investigation in the absence of a victim’s complaint can be a source of violation of privacy or personal defamation.

9. The South Korean NGOs Coalition for the UPR announced that “key human rights issues of South Korean society were identified and reaffirmed through the questions and recommendations of the UPR working group and observer states”. The NGOs criticized the Korean Government for providing unclear and misguiding answers as well as neglecting the main purpose of the UPR to improve the human rights situations of states by reviewing the overall fulfillment of their human rights obligations and commitments. They also strongly requested the Government to acknowledge the seriousness of key human rights issues as hereby addressed and to provide, prior to the Council Session in June 2008, concrete policy measures and sincere commitments based on the various recommendations provided by the UPR working group.

For further information:

Eun-kyung Cheon, People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy (PSPD), [email protected]
Myung-Sook, SARANBANG Group for Human Rights,
[email protected]
Yeong-Suk Chang, MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society,
[email protected]
Giyoun Kim, FORUM-ASIA,
[email protected], 079-595-7931