Urge the ROK government to Implement the Recommendations by the UN ICESCR Committee
On November 25, South Korea’s 56 civic groups including People’s Solidarity for Participatory Democracy, Lawyers for a Democratic Society, Gong-Gam (Korean Public Interest Lawyer’s Group), and Min-Ka-Hyup held a press conference in front of the Central Government Complex to demand that the government take steps to follow the recommendations made by the UN Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights(UN ICESCR Committee).
On November 24, the UN ICESCR Committee adopted concluding observations after reviewing the current state of the South Korean government’s actions to follow International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights(ICESCR).
In yesterday’s press conference participated many figures from Korea’s civil society, including Cho, Hee-Ju (Representative of Justice for Yong-San), Lee Young (Secretary General of Solidarity for Migrant Workers), Park Won-Suk (Co-Secretary General of PSPD), Kim Byung-Ju (Director of International Solidarity of Lawyers for a Democratic Society), Rah Il-Ha (Secretary General of Korean Public Workers’ Union), and Kim Hyun-Mi (Vice President of Metal Worker’s Union).
The government should take steps to follow the recommendations by the U.N. Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights
On November 24, the UN ICESCR Committee on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights(UN ICESCR Committee) announced its concluding observations after examining whether the South Korean government had been following International Covenant on Economic, Social, and Cultural Rights. In this year’s review, which took place 8 years after the previous review in 2001, many issues regarding the current state of economic, social, and cultural rights in South Korea, including the Yong-San tragedy, the downsizing of National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the regression of labor rights, have been discussed. The UN ICESCR Committee examined most of issues raised by South Korea’s civil organizations, and they were reflected in the final recommendations. We, South Korea’s civil society, urge the Korean government to adopt the recommendations made by the UN ICESCR Committee, and to take steps to follow them.
○ Case of the Yong-San tragedy
In the concluding observations, the U.N. Committee announced that forced eviction of tenants must be the last resort so that tragic incidents like the Yong-San tragedy would not be repeated, and that prior notifications and temporary residential facilities for the evicted tenants are necessary when re-development projects or urbanization projects take place. Citing General Comment 7 announced in 1997, the UN ICESCR Committee also emphasized that sufficient public discussion with tenants and residents is needed, and removed tenants should be guaranteed financial compensation and temporary residential facilities.
These recommendations indicate that the South Korean government is responsible for measures to compensate the victims in the Yong-San tragedy, and prevent such unfortunate incidents in the future. This is also an expression of regrets toward the Lee Myung-bak administration, which denies its responsibilities regarding the Yong-San tragedy for over 300 days after the incident. Now, given the UN ICESCR Committee’s recommendations that directly mentioned the Yong-San tragedy, the South Korean government should not avoid or postpone taking steps to handle the problems, if it does so, then it would be ignoring the international consensus. We, the civil organizations in South Korea, demand that the South Korean government take steps to adopt the UN ICESCR Committee’s recommendations and work toward the settlement of the Yong-San tragedy.
○ Case of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea
The UN ICESCR Committee also expressed its concerns regarding the downsizing of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea(NHRCK) and a violation of its independence. The UN ICESCR Committee pointed out the fact that the number of employees in the NHRCK was cut by 21% while only 2 % was cut in other governmental organizations. Lee Myung-bak, as a president-elect, attempted to place the NHRCK under the supervision of the Ministry of Justice and made a special audit on the NHRCK, thereby weakening the power of the NHRCK. After the Human Rights Committee made a recommendation regarding the violence of the police during last year’s candle light vigils, the Lee administration actively reduced the NHRCK and appointed a figure who is not experienced in the human rights affairs.
The UN ICESCR Committee’s recommendations indicate that the Lee administration’s attempt to reduce the NHRCK is not only directly against the international consensus, but also a violation of human rights in itself. We, the civil society in South Korea, urge the South Korean government to stop any actions to invade the independence of the NHRCK. We also demand that the legal rights of the NHRCK be expanded and strengthened, and sufficient manpower and budget guaranteed for the it, so that it would be capable of handling issues regarding economic, social, and cultural rights in South Korea, as indicated by the UN ICESCR Committee’s recommendations.
○ Situation of Labor Rights
Furthermore, the UN ICESCR Committee’s concluding observations include recommendations on labor rights in South Korea. The UN Committee has expressed its concerns on the fact that 52.3% of total employees in South Korea are temporary workers, and it has urged the South Korean government to make improvements on many issues including equal payments for equal labor, a guarantee of adequate social insurances, severance payment, and paid holidays, legal protection for payment for extra works, and prohibition of unlawful layout. The UN Committee also advised that legal minimum wage be guaranteed for broader range of workers, public workers’ right to join trade unions promoted, and limitations of public workers’ right to strike rescinded. The Committee also pointed out the fact that many migrant workers are exploited and discriminated, advising the South Korean government to uphold the rulings by the court, which declared that migrant workers had rights to form trade unions.
The U.N. Committee’s recommendations confirm that the South Korean government’s current policies to increase the number of temporary workers and suppress trade unions, are clearly against international standards. The South Korean government must change its current policies in order to guarantee labor rights specified in the international law and constitution of South Korea. Especially, it should immediately stop the suppression on trade unions.
○ Situation of Social Security and Education
The UN ICESCR Committee also pointed out the issues regarding social security and education. The Committee urged that the South Korean government must consider the modification of legal standard to lower the bar to be guaranteed minimum living standards, and guarantee institutionalized social security for the homeless and residents in temporary vinyl houses and protective facilities. The Committee also emphasized that public education should be strengthened so that every student should be guaranteed equal opportunities for education regardless of their parents’ financial status, and that nation-wide tests that promote unnecessary competition among students should be re-considered.
The UN ICESCR Committee’s recommendations are evidences that demonstrate the regressing human rights in South Korea since the onset of the Lee Myung-bak administration. As indicated by the Committee’s concluding observations, the reality of economic, social, and cultural rights in South Korea is not in line with the status of South Korea as the 12th largest economy in the world. Although the unemployment is becoming severe and the lives of low income families are deteriorating, the South Korean government’s effort to improve the current situation is less than minimal.
The government must seriously consider the UN Committee’s recommendations, make specific plans to follow them, and take steps to carry out concrete measures. Especially, the government must engage in active discussions with a broad range of parties concerned such as each ministry, the justice department, human rights civil organizations and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. We urge the government to take steps to realize the UN Committee’s recommendations and guarantee human rights.
November 25th, 2009
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