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PSPD  l  People's Solidarity for Participatory Democracy

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  • 2002.01.31
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National Human Rights Commission of Korea


What is the background to the National Human Rights Commission

Since the "Vienna Declaration and Programme of Action", which included a recommendation to establish a human rights organization in all member nations, was adopted in 1993, human rights groups in Korea have suggested establishing a human rights institution. The Kim Dae-jung administration, which was launched in 1998 through a peaceful turnover of political power, promised to establish a human rights commission and began the legislative process for it. However, it was hampered due to differing opinions among government and civil society regarding the independence, function, and power of the commission. After reflecting and incorporating the opinion of civil organizations over the past three years, the National Human Rights Commission Act legislated in May 2001 and the National Human Rights Commission, which is an autonomous government-funded body, will finally be established on November 25th 2001 under the Act.

What is the purpose of National Human Rights Commission Act

The purpose of this Act is to contribute to the embodiment of human dignity and worth as well as to safeguard the basic order of democracy. The overarching goal of establishing the National Human Rights Commission is to ensure that inviolable fundamental human rights of all individuals are protected, and the standards of human rights are improved.

What is the composition of the Commission

l The Commission is composed of eleven commissioners including one Chairperson and three full-time commissioners. Four or more of the commissioners shall be women.

l Among the eleven commissioners, four persons selected by the National Assembly, four persons nominated by the President, and three persons nominated by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court will be appointed as commissioners.

l The term of office of the Chairperson and commissioners is three years, but consecutive appointments may be extended for one extra term only.

What functions have been assigned to the Commission

l Investigation and research with respect to statutes, institutions, policies and practices related to human rights, and recommendations for their improvement or presentation of related opinions

l Investigation and correctional measures with respect to human rights violations and discriminatory acts

l Factual investigation of the human rights conditions

l Education and raising of public awareness on human rights

l Presentation and recommendation of guidelines for categories of human rights violations, standards for their identification, and preventive measures

l Research and recommendation, or presentation of opinions with respect to the signing of any international treaty on human rights and the implementation of the treaty

l Cooperation with organizations and individuals engaged in any activity involving the protection and promotion of human rights

l Exchanges and cooperation with international or foreign organizations for human rights protection

l Other matters deemed necessary to protect and improve human rights

What are the duties of the Chairperson

l The Chairperson represents the Commission and exercises the overall control of the affairs of the secretariat.

l The Chairperson shall make annual reports to the President and the National Assembly on the activities of the Commission, human rights conditions, and improvement measures.

l The Chairperson may attend the National Assembly and state opinions on affairs under the jurisdiction of the Commission and shall make reports or reply, if required.

l The Chairperson may attend the State Council and present his/her opinion, as well as recommend that the Prime Minister submit any bill related to affairs under the jurisdiction of the Commission.

What powers have been vested in the Commission

l The Commission may visit confinement and protective facilities to make an investigation.

l The Commission may recommend disciplinary action against the respondent or any person responsible for the violation, or file an accusation with the Prosecutor General if the petition corresponds to an act of crime against which a criminal punishment is required.

l The Commission may, if deemed necessary for the performance of its duties, require state bodies, local governments, and other public or private organizations to consult with it.

l The Commission may require the representative of the related entity, the interested persons, or other persons who have expertise and experience on relevant matters to present themselves at a hearing.

l The Commission may require related entities to submit necessary materials to it or may consult them for information.

l The Commission may recommend related entities to improve or rectify specific policies and practices or to present opinions.

l If the head of a related state administrative organ or local government intends to establish or amend any statute which includes contents likely to affect the protection and promotion of human rights, he/she shall notify the Commission in advance.

l In the case that proceedings liable to affect the protection and improvement of human rights are pending, the Commission may present opinions on such matters.

l If a related state organ prepares a governmental report under the provisions of any international treaty on human rights, it shall hear opinions of the Commission.

What kinds of complaints does the Commission investigate

The Commission may investigate cases where human rights guaranteed in the Constitution are violated by state organs, local governments, confinement, or related protective facilities in the performance of their duties, or in cases of discriminatory acts that violate the equal rights of a juristic person, organization, or private individual. Petitions can only be investigated if they are filed no later than one year after the incident in question.

l The term "human rights" which is guaranteed by the Constitution is defined as:
-the right to human worth and dignity and to the pursuit of happiness.
-the right not to be discriminated against in political, economic, social, or cultural life on account of sex, religion, or social status.
- the right to enjoy personal liberty, the freedom of residence and movement, freedom of occupation, freedom from intrusion into one's place of residence, freedom of conscience, freedom of religion, freedom of speech, press, assembly/association, and freedom of learning and artistic expression
-the right to privacy and non-infringement of the secrecy of correspondence
-the right not to be prosecuted under retroactive law

l The term "discrimination" means any act of favorably treating, excluding, differentiating against or unfavorably treating a particular person in employment (including recruitment, appointment, training, assignment of tasks, promotion, payment of wages, payment of money or commodities other than wages, financing, age limits, retirement, and dismissal, etc.), supply or use of goods, services, transportation, commercial facilities, land and residential facilities, or use of educational facilities or vocational training institutions on the basis of sex, religion, disability, age, social status, region of origin, state of origin, nation of origin, physical condition such as appearance, marital status, pregnancy or delivery, family status, race and ethnicity, skin color, thought or political opinion, record of any crime the effective term of punishment of which has expired, sexual orientation, or history of diseases.

How does the Commission investigate petitions 

The Commission may:

l require a petitioner, a victim, the respondent, related persons or entity to be present, and to submit a written statement or materials deemed relevant to matters subject to investigation, or to hear his/her statement

l conduct on-site inspection or evaluation of any such place, facility, or material as deemed related to matters subject to investigation

l refer to the party concerned, or a related person or entity for such facts or information as deemed related to matters subject to investigation

l recommend compromise or arbitration in cases that it deemed as acts of human rights violations or discriminatory. In cases where compromise or arbitration is not successfully reached, the Commission may request a legal aid for the victim, file an accusation with the Prosecutor General, recommend disciplinary punishment against the respondent, or recommend related entities to rectify relevant policies.

What are the opinions of civil society on the National Human Rights Act

Civil society including non-governmental human rights groups recognize that the Act ensures the independence of the Commission because it is authorized to autonomously organize, operate and compile its own budget. They, however, criticize that the Commission's investigatory powers are limited because the Commission may not investigate petitions which have been completed or are currently under investigation by other investigatory agencies or under procedures for remedy. They also point out that the Act contains a wide range of reasons why national agencies may refuse to submit related materials or to be consulted with. In addition, they criticize that because the Act does not include regulation to punish perjury, the power of the Commission is further weakened. The other important problem they point out is there is a possibility that investigative activities would be limited as the Act does not give commissioners and staff members the privilege of exemption from liability regarding defamation of character.

How are preparations for establishing the National Human Rights Commission proceeding

The preparatory process for establishing the National Human Rights Commission is being hampered because the appointment of the commissioners has not been finalized. Meanwhile, the government has announced the designated chairperson of the Commission and set up a Task Force on Establishment of National Human Rights Commission composed of public officials and civil experts. The Task Force was launched on August 20th under the chairperson-elect. The mission of the Task Force is to help commissioners (who will be appointed) prepare for the establishment of the Commission by collecting and analyzing useful data and materials as well as by drawing up a presidential decree and rules for the Commission.

Task Force on Establishment of National Human Rights Commission of Korea
#501 Leema BLD, Soosong-dong 146-1, Chonglo-gu, Seoul, 110-755, Korea
Tel. 82-2-3703-3213/4 Fax. 82-2-3703-3169
Contact: Soonyoung Lim
tfnhrc@hanmail.net /sylim9@hotmail.com

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