WORLD/SOUTH KOREA: Independence of National Human Rights Commission of Korea is threatened

A recommendation made by the Chairperson of the Presidential Transition Team to bring the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) under the immediate control of the President threatens the independence of this commission. This commission was established in 2001 with the consensus in Korea to prevent the repetition of the human rights violations that had taken place during the time that Korea was ruled under military dictatorships. The NHRCK is an important landmark in Korea’s development as a democracy. At attack on the independence of this commission will therefore be a serious setback in the country’s struggle for democracy and human rights.

On 16 January 2008, the Chairperson of the Presidential Transition team, Lee Kyung-sook published a draft of the restructuring of the government’s organisations for the purpose of minimising the functions of government and increasing its effectiveness. The team is designed to address various practical tasks to pave the way for the next administration before it is officially inaugurated.

The draft states that the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) is to be under the immediate control of the President. It further states that there are three reasons for this: 1) there are a large number of committees within the government and they impede the responsible administration and prevent  speedy decision making; 2) it violates the principle of separation of the three powers stipulated by Korean Constitution because NHRCK has an independent status which does not belong to either the administration, legislature or judicature; 3) the NHRCK has to transit in order to normalise the NHRCK’s status which has been too much high.

The NHRCK was established on 25 November 2001 after several discussions by various sectors in Korea over a three year period. While the military government followed by the Japanese colonial had ruled the society for several years, the prosecution, as an investigating agency, had played a leading role in violating human rights and the judicature had not fulfilled its role as a last resort to protect and promote the human rights of the people in the country. With the acknowledgment of this situation, people participating in the discussion of the establishment of the NHRCK had agreed to guarantee its independence from any government powers.

The act on the National Human Rights Commission also provides the authority of the NHRCK to monitor the human rights violation by the law enforcement agencies. There is no exception to this by the administration or the President. However if the NHRCK is to be under the direct control of the President, there is the possibility of the pursuit of political decisions of the President. The debate on its independence originally comes from the “Paris Principles”, which was adopted by General Assembly resolution 48/134 on December 1993. There is no doubt that independence is the cornerstone of its effectiveness and its very existence.

The team also declared one of its reasons to be the “separation of three powers”. However it is ensured as a relationship for checks and balances of the power which does not violate the Constitution. As human rights is considered as one of main principles either by the Constitution or all government institutions including the legislation, administration and judicature, the independence of the national human rights institution out of necessity, monitors the state power and the substantial “separation of powers”.

The Asian Human Rights Commission calls upon the new President-elect of the South Korea, Lee Myung-bak, to abandon the planned transition of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. The making of arrangements for the evaluation of the NHRCK’s role on the promotion and protection for human rights in accordance with international norms and standards should be discussed under the National Assembly. It is of the opinion that positioning the NHRCK under the president will seriously affect the independence to the national human rights institution. It is also an action to derogate the status of the South Korea in the field of human rights, domestically and internationally.

The Asian Human Rights Commission wishes to remind the President-elect, Lee Myung-bak of the fact that the NHRCK was established under the agreement of the social consensus and opposing this consensus calls for debate. It also wishes to point out that the UN Commission on Human Rights has been changed to the UN Human Rights Council and its role and status have been raised from the ECOSOC to the General Assembly in 2006. The Secretary-General of the assembly is Mr. Ban Ki-moon whom the government of South Korea has been also very proud of, when he was elected in 2007. Now in 2008, the new government of South Korea is attempting to control the national human rights institution.

Document Type : Statement
Document ID : AHRC-STM-017-2008
Countries : South Korea,