PSPD in English UN Advocacy 2024-04-01   1691

[Statement] Is it gender discrimination or gender equality that the NHRCK is trying to eliminate?

We strongly condemn the National Human Rights Commission of Korea for removing the Comprehensive Anti-Discrimination Act from its draft independent report to the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW)

(26 March 2024, Seoul) This year marks the ninth periodic review of South Korea’s implementation of the concluding observations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW). However, yesterday (25 March), at the 6th plenary session of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea(NHRCK), the ‘Independent Report of the National Human Rights Commission on the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (draft)’ was rejected with the reasoning that ‘the anti-discrimination law is under discussion in the National Assembly and it is better to leave it to the National Assembly’. This undermined the purpose and independent status of the NHRCK, which is an independent human rights organisation not affiliated to any of the three branches of government – legislative, judicial, or executive – that is responsible for the domestic implementation of international human rights norms and contributes to the realisation of human dignity and values and the establishment of a democratic basic order. Above all, it is no different from the NHRCK’s responsibility and role to investigate, remedy and prevent gender discrimination through the principle of comprehensive non-discrimination.

“The Committee recommends that the State party adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law that prohibits discrimination against women, including direct, indirect and intersecting forms of discrimination affecting disadvantaged groups of women, such as women living in poverty, women belonging to ethnic, racial, religious and sexual minority groups, women with disabilities, women refugees and asylum seekers, stateless and migrant women, rural women, single women, adolescents and older women.”

The UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women has already recommended that South Korea enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law in its eighth concluding observations in 2018. The UN’s definition of gender discrimination and its emphasis on anti-discrimination laws that address intersectional gender discrimination takes into account the diverse social positions and conditions of “women.” The urgency of enacting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law was particularly emphasised in the recommendation, which calls for a written submission on implementation measures within two years. This is due to the lack of a comprehensive legislation to prevent gender-based discrimination and the seriousness of the state’s discriminatory behaviour, such as the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family’s request in 2015 to remove the non-discrimination and protection provisions related to LGBT people from the Daejeon Metropolitan City Gender Equality Basic Ordinance. It was only last March 8, International Women’s Day, that the NHRCK highlighted the task of “eliminating gender discrimination and realising gender equality” in the context of denial of structural gender discrimination and intensified attacks on feminism. Without a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, without the most basic principles governing gender discrimination in all areas of employment, from recruitment to dismissal, and in other key areas of life, how can the task of eliminating gender discrimination and realising gender equality be achieved?

Above all, the enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law (equality law) was a key task set by the NHRCK itself. In 2020, it even released a draft equality law and urged the National Assembly to enact an anti-discrimination law. There have also been several statements by the NHRCK and its chairperson. In particular, shortly after the last presidential election, they called for the enactment of the Equality Act with “a sense of urgency that the aspirations of the people should not be ignored any longer as we enter a period of transition between new and old governments.” The deletion of “comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation” from the draft CEDAW report is not limited to the two standing commissioners, Kim Yong-won and Lee Chung-sang, whose anti-human rights stance has led to the paralysis of the NHRCK, as several members abstained and voted against the report. It is the role of an ‘independent human rights body’ to push the limits of the judiciary, which is confined to the legal system, with progressive interpretations and interventions on discrimination and human rights violations, to remind politicians of their responsibilities before the tyranny of the majority of the ‘social consensus’, and to advance the direction of an equal society that should be created by legislative and executive institutions. However, we cannot help but ask who is leading the Yoon administration’s massive regression in human rights policy by denying established international norms and the history of the NHRCK, making human rights a matter of compromise and voting.

In addition to the deletion of the “enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination law,” the rest of the amendments are also clear in their limitations. It does nothing to address gender-based violence by ignoring the time-honoured call for a relaxation of rape requirements in the criminal code, and it does nothing to change workplace sexism and the devaluation of women’s work by failing to set clear standards for equal labour rights for migrant women.

It is appalling to see the long-standing anti-gay propaganda that anti-discrimination laws, including sexual orientation and gender identity, are problematic being raised within the NHRCK. We strongly condemn the NHRCK’s decision to promote gender discrimination rather than gender equality by abandoning the anti-discrimination principles. The NHRCK’s decision to approve a rag-tag independent report on the elimination of discrimination against women by deleting the phrase “enact comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation” will be the most incompetent decision in the history of the NHRCK.

South Korean Coalition for Anti-discrimination Legislation (168 NGOs)

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