PSPD in English Int. Solidarity 2006-05-08   1255

Republic of Korea’s Candidacy to the UN Human Rights Council

Joint Statement of 15 Human Rights NGOs in the Republic of Korea

Government of the Republic of Korea Urged to Reflect on Itself with Regard to Its Commitments to Human Rights

On 15 March 2006, the United Nations General Assembly adopted a landmark resolution to establish the Human Rights Council in replacement of the Commission on Human Rights. The Council, a subsidiary organ of the General Assembly, will enjoy elevated status from that of Commission on Human Rights which has served as an international forum for human rights during its 60 years of existence. The first elections of the Council members are just ahead – tomorrow, and the new human rights body convenes its first session on 19 June 2006.

It would be premature to assess whether the Human Rights Council would surpass its predecessor and function as an effective forum for practical discussions and cooperation for human rights worldwide. We believe that, at this juncture, the elections slated for tomorrow (10:00 am in New York / 11:00 pm in Seoul) in the UN General Assembly Hall will be a yardstick to measure its potential success at a new beginning of the promotion and protection of human rights, as inaugural members are expected to play an influential role in determining the legitimacy and modalities of the new body.

In tomorrow’s elections, 47 states including 13 Asian states will become members of the Council. Currently, 18 Asian countries including the Republic of Korea have announced their candidacies for 13 seats. As encouraged, every candidate has submitted their ‘Voluntary Pledges and Commitments’ in writing to elaborate on its commitments to human rights at the international and national level, and its contribution to the Council.

The pledges placed by the Republic of Korea on April 19 and its drafting process, nonetheless, leave us in disappointment and doubt how seriously the government has considered heavy roles and duties of the membership in enforcing universal human rights around the world.

Notwithstanding that the pledges articulate “enhancing cooperation and partnership with civil society,” the government has not consulted any NGO in the process of drafting the pledges. It seems that there was no consultation even with other government departments deemed as key actors in implementing such pledges. It is to be regretted that the government produced the document only in English hindering Korean people from access to information on human rights pledges of their own government.

Besides those procedural problems, pledges and commitments themselves lack critical elements. Ratifications of major human rights treaties to which the Republic of Korea has not adhered yet, such as Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of their Families are not addressed in the document. They are devoid of willingness to consider a withdrawal of its reservation to article 22 of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights, setting out the right to freedom of association, which is a constitutional right in the Republic of Korea. Also, it fails to note Korean government’s position on the participation and roles of NGOs in operating the Human Rights Council.

What are most important in assessing the Korea’s eligibility to join the Council would be the prospects and the degree of its will for the advancement of human rights in domestic and international sphere. Over the past years, the UN human rights bodies including the Human Rights Committee repeatedly addressed the violations of human rights under the National Security Law but arbitrary application and abuses of the NSL still remains a problem. In order to resolve the issue of over 200,000 undocumented migrant workers, the Korean government has employed only the approach of excessive crackdown on them, and resulted in several deplorable cases that migrant workers died or were severely injured in escaping detention facilities in fear of forced deportation. Having world’s highest number of 1,000 conscientious objectors in prison, the Korea government has neither allowed alternative service for those people nor worked out a solution to this problem. In enforcing the government plans for relocating a U.S. military base into Pyeongtaek, local residents’ right to housing against forcible eviction have been under threat. Last week, about five hundred demonstrators composed of local residents and human rights defenders were taken and detained under the violent suppression of riot police and soldiers against protestors. The government’s current drive towards Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement lacks considerations for negative human rights implications that FTA may bring about. Such lack of alternatives portends a serious deterioration in rights protection, particularly rights to health, education, labour and food. The ongoing massive gas development project proceeded by the Republic of Korea in tandem with the authoritarian military regime of Myanmar is deemed to threaten the right to survival of Burmese people severely.

We call on the Korean government to take human rights problems mentioned above for the first matters of concerns, and reshape and enhance its human rights policy accordingly. At the same time, the government is urged to set out positive and constructive human rights policy and put it into action with a view to strengthening human rights in developing countries where people are still suffering from dictatorship, poverty and diseases. The Korean government should acknowledge that theses are the requirements to occupy a seat in the UN Human Rights Council as its membership which requires the respect for highest standards in the promotion and protection of human rights.

We are convinced that the advent of skepticism over the new human rights body would be unavoidable in case countries lacking a strong will for the advancement of human rights obtain membership. In this connection, the Korean government is strongly urged to take this opportunity to reflect on itself with regard to its commitments to human rights.

Amnesty International South Korean Section
Catholic Human Rights Committee
Center for Human Rights and Peace, SungKongHoe University
JCMK (Joint Committee for Migrant Workers in Korea)
KHIS (Korean House for International Solidarity)
KOCUN (Korean Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy)
Korean Council for the Women Drafted for Military Sexual Slavery by Japan
Korean Public Interest Lawyers Group-GONGGAM, The Beautiful Foundation
KWAU (Korea Women’s Associations United)
MINBYUN-Lawyers for a Democratic Society
MINKAHYUP Human Rights Group
PSPD (People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy)
SARANGBANG Group for Human Rights
SPHR (Solidarity for Peace and Human Rights)
World Without War

International Solidarity Committee



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