SOUTH KOREA: How can we expect the NHRCK which blames civil society rather than stepping up its efforts for improvement fulfill its mandates as a NHRI?

For more information or inquiries, please contact Ms. Eun-ji KANG by email (khis21[at] from Korean House for International Solidarity.

– Chairperson Hyun Byung-cheol should reflect on himself whether he is qualified as the head of a NHRI of A status

In the Plenary Committee meeting on 12 January 2015, Hyun Byung-cheol, chairperson of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (hereafter the NHRCK) is reported to say “while NGOs in other countries don’t complain (about their NHRIs to the ICC), Korean NGOs are challenging too much up to causing the split in public opinion.” We are not going to reiterate how many times we have been frustrated by his remarks and acts since he first took office. However one thing is clear that the NHRCK which was once praised as the best practice in Asia is now in the crisis of being downgraded. It is not about whether the national status of Korea in the international community has fallen or not. We have to ask under whose leadership the NHRCK became criticized of not fulfilling its mandate as the commitment to the promotion and protection of human rights.

It has been already fully proved that chairperson Hyun is not eligible for not only the head of the NHRCK but also any high-rank public official. The flaws revealed in the process of the last confirmation hearing for his second term were more than enough to make Korean civil society ashamed of the international community to find out who the chairperson of the NHRCK is. What is more frustrating is that those who are even more unqualified than chairperson Hyun have been appointed as the NHRCK commissioner. That is why Korean civil society has recently concentrated its efforts in raising questions on the qualifications of other commissioners: it is not because Hyun is believed to be qualified for the NHRCK chairperson. Nevertheless, chairperson Hyun seems to misinterpret it, which concerns us. We would like to ask chairperson Hyun once again. Do you also recognize that it is a dishonor that the reaccreditation of the NHRCK has been deferred twice and there is a possibility for the NHRCK to be downgraded to B status during your term? Do you really believe that the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (hereafter the ICC) deferred the NHRCK’s reaccreditation only because of Korean NGOs’ complaints? If you think the ICC does not guarantee fairness and objectivity, why do you keep participating in meetings organized by the ICC and claiming the engagement and cooperation with the ICC as your main achievements?

If chairperson Hyun wants to maintain his position as the head of the NHRI of A status, the first thing to do is identifying the relevant facts. NGOs in different Asian countries have published the monitoring reports on each country’s NHRI annually for a long time and the monitoring and participation of NGOs have been highly encouraged by the ICC. The reports (ANNI Report on the Performance and Establishment of National Human Rights Institutions in Asia) have been delivered to the NHRCK also. If the NHRCK asks more copies of the report, we are always ready to provide them.

Moreover, we have serious concerns over the perception of chairperson Hyun that Korean civil society is challenging so much to split public opinion. We are deeply disappointed and disconsolate over the situation that we may have to explain the most obvious thing to the chairperson of the NHRCK that challenging whenever necessary is what NGOs are for. For your reference, a survey conducted by the Youido Institute, the ruling Saenuri Party’s affiliate think tank in 2012 showed that about 80% of the nation had a negative opinion about chairperson Hyun’s consecutive appointment. The fact that the person whose reappointment as the chairperson of the NHRCK was opposed by 80% of the nation blames NGOs for the ICC’s deferral of its reaccreditation is a clear explanation why the ICC deferred the reaccreditation of the NHRCK.

After the ICC Sub-Committee on Accreditation (hereafter the ICC-SCA) first deferred the reaccreditation of the NHRCK for several reasons including the lack of transparent selection procedure for its commissioners in March 2014, the NHRCK created the Guideline Regarding Principles and Procedures on the Selection/Appointment of Commissioners of the NRHCK and reported to the ICC as there had been progress. However, the Guideline has been proved not effective as the ICC-SCA also criticized. In November 2014 when the reaccreditation of the NHRCK was deferred second time, President Park Geun-hye appointed Choi Ee-woo as a commissioner though he had been engaged with activities justifying discrimination against sexual and gender minorities. The appointment made Korean civil society doubt whether the government and the NHRCK was really aware of the seriousness of the ICC-SCA’s deferral. In this regard, Korean LGBT NGOs also submitted the letter of opinion to the ICC-SCA in December 2014, mainly criticizing the appointment of Choi with concerns over the increasing hatred to sexual minority groups in Korean society. If chairperson Hyun really wants to maintain A status, he should first explain how the person who advocates for discrimination against sexual minorities could be found qualified for the NHRCK commissioner. As far as unqualified persons including chairperson Hyun remain to be commissioners of the NHRCK, it cannot and should not be reaccredited with A status. The ICC-SCA already delivered its recommendations to the NHRCK. The NHRCK’s failure to implement the recommendations will only lead to its downgrading. And chairperson Hyun should be responsible for the result.

As a civil society, we are responsible for monitoring and facilitating the NHRCK to fulfil its mandates. We will not overlook the NHRCK’s failing to function as a NHRI, favoring only the interest of the people in power and ignoring the set back of human rights and human rights violations of the socially weak.

14 January 2015

The NHRCK-Watch (Korean NGOs’ joint network) consisting of

Women’s Association, Gwangju Women’s Association United, Korean House for International Solidarity (KHIS), Disability Discrimination Act of Solidarity in Korea, Center for Military Human Rights, Korea Association of Christian Women for Women Minjung, Dasan Human Rights Center, Daegu Kyoungbuk Women’s Association United, Daegu Women’s Association, Disabled People’s International Daegu (DPI Daegu), Daejeon Women’s Association for Democracy, Democratic Legal Studies Association, Busan Counseling Center against Sexual Violence, Busan Women’s Associations United, Busan Women Education Center, Buddhism Human Rights Committee, Saewoomtuh, National Solidarity for Solving Prostitution Issues, Suwon Women’s Association, Korea Women’s Center for Social Research, Ulsan Women’s Association, Ulsan Solidarity for Human Rights, Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy, Human Rights Education Center ‘Deul’, Protesting against Poverty & Discrimination Solidarity for Human Rights, Sarangbang Group for Human Rights, Disability and Human Rights in Action, Information & Culture Nuri for Disabled Koreans (South Korea), Solidarity against Disability Discrimination, Jeonbuk Women’s Associations United, Solidarity for Peace & Human Rights, Jeju Women’s Association, Jeju Women’s Human Rights Solidarity, Jeju Human Rights Center, Korean Progressive Network Jinbonet, National Association of Parents for Cham Education, Korean Catholic Women’s Community for a New World, Catholic Human Rights Committee, Youth Human Rights Action Asunaro, Network of Youth Human Right Activists, Chungbuk Women’s Association, Women Making Peace, Pohang Women’s Association, Korean Gay Men’s Human Rights Group Chingusai, Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, Korean Women Workers Association, Korean Women’s Association United, Korean Womenlink, Korea Women’s Studies Institute, Korea Women’s Hotline, Korean Differently Abled Women United, Women Migrants Human Rights Center, Korea Human Rights Foundation, Housewives Meeting Together Hamjumo, etc.

Rainbow Action against Sexual-Minority Discrimination (Korean LGBT NGOs’ joint network) consisting of

Christian Solidarity for World without Discrimination (Chasegiyeon), Collective for Sexual Minority Cultures (PINKS), Daegu Queer Culture Festival, Human Rights Law Foundation, GongGam, Korea Queer Culture Festival, Korean Gay Men’s Human Rights Group (Chingusai), Korean lesbian community radio group (Lezpa), Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC), Lesbian commuity group (Gruteogi), Lesbian Counseling Center in South Korea, LGBTAIQ Crossing the Damn World (Totally Queer), LGBTQ Student Alliance of Korea (QUV), Network for Glocal Activism, Sexual Minority Committee of the Justice Party, Sexual minority Human Rights Group of Ewha Womans University (Byunnal), Sexual Politics Committee of the Labor Party, Solidarity for HIV/AIDS Human Rights (Nanuri+), Solidarity for LGBT Human Rights of Korea (Dong In Ryun), Unninetwork, The Minority Rights Committee of Minbyun—Lawyers for a Democratic Society

Document Type : Forwarded Statement
Document ID : AHRC-FST-009-2015
Countries : South Korea,
Issues : Democracy, Human rights defenders, Judicial system, Military, Right to education, Rule of law,