ANNI delegation concludes mission on the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK)
12 May 2011 9:00 pm
(Seoul, 13 May 2011) The Asian NGO Network on National Human Rights Institutions (ANNI) has concluded its mission of inquiry conducted between 11 and 13 May 2011, into the crisis affecting the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK). The ANNI delegation comprised of Ms. Poengky Indarti, Executive Director of Imparsial, the Indonesian Human Rights Monitor and Mr. Balasingham Skanthakumar, Programme Head at the Law & Society Trust in Sri Lanka; and was supported by Ms. Gayoon Baek, East Asia Programme Officer at the Asian Forum for Human Rights and Development (FORUM-ASIA).
The NHRCK has been considered a model national human rights institution in Asia, and in a country respected for its democratic transformation and economic prosperity. However, since 2008, the ANNI has been made aware of developments within the NHRCK which have adverse implications on the independence, pluralism and effectiveness of the Commission.
The ANNI has communicated in writing its concerns on these issues on several occasions to the relevant stakeholders. Unfortunately, there has not been any change for the better on any of these issues and further, there is reasonable cause for belief that these trends may continue, if not worsen, leading to a collapse in confidence of the NHRCK as an institution committed and capable of protecting and promoting human rights in South Korea. Therefore the ANNI, resolved to conduct its first mission of inquiry since its formation in 2006, to receive the views of different sectors of Korean society including the NHRCK itself on the situation, and to directly raise these concerns with the Commission and responsible Government officials.
The ANNI mission was pleased to be able to meet with various stakeholder representatives including current and former Standing Commissioners and non-Standing Commissioners, current and former senior staff of the NHRCK, victims of human rights violations, and Korean human rights defenders.
While welcoming the cooperation extended by the Commission, the ANNI deeply regrets that despite several efforts in advance, the Chairperson and the majority of Commissioners did not make themselves available to meet with the mission, in order to directly share their perspectives on the concerns expressed. Instead, apparently the Chairperson decided that only a staff delegation would represent the Commission in the dialogue with the ANNI. The ANNI delegation notes its meeting with Mr. Ryou, In Duk, Director of the Human Rights Policy Division and Ms. Choi, Soo Hee, International Relations Officer of the Human Rights Policy Division on 12 May 2011. In addition, through direct contact, we were able to receive the views of Ms. Jang, Hyang Suk, a Standing Commissioner and Mr. Chang, Chu-young, a non-standing Commissioner.
The ANNI also notes with regret the unwillingness of the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MOPAS), as the relevant government institution, to meet with its delegation and instead to assert through written communication, its well-known defence of the downsizing of the budget and staffing of the Commission in 2009. When the ANNI sought additional information from the MOPAS in the form of a questionnaire it was verbally informed that no response would be sent as the NHRCK would provide the information requested.
The interim observations of the ANNI delegation, preliminary to its full and final report, are as below.
Issues of Concern
A number of issues were drawn to the attention of the ANNI delegation during its mission in South Korea, which individually and collectively indicate that the NHRCK is presently not in compliance with the United Nations Principles relating to the status of national human rights institutions (‘Paris Principles’).
The ANNI delegation is concerned that the independence of the NHRCK is called into question by its controversial decisions on certain high-profile cases of alleged violation of human rights. The Commission has failed to respond in a timely manner and to express its opinion on urgent human rights issues as recommended in 2008 by the International Coordinating Committee’s Sub-Committee on Accreditation (ICC-SCA). Furthermore, it is hard to understand why the NHRCK has conducted internal investigation on its staff who participated in the protest against the NHRCK’s decision on the non-renewal of the contracts of experienced and effective human rights-centred co-workers.
The ANNI delegation notes that the NHRCK has not modified its process of selection of Commissioners despite frequent recommendations from civil society and ICC-SCA, to allow for the appointment of members based upon their competence and expertise in human rights.
The ANNI delegation heard testimony on the negative consequences of the down-sizing of its previous budget and staffing of the NHRCK (by around 21 percent) as an intentional strategy to undermine the effectiveness and performance of the Commission, leading to its loss of credibility among the people.
The ANNI delegation received several representations from victims of human rights violations in South Korea for e.g. persons with disabilities and persons exercising their freedom of expression and their representatives, of the non-responsiveness of the Commission to their petitions and issues.
The ANNI delegation was informed of the arbitrary decision-making and authoritarian practices of the Chairperson, leading to the resignations of two Standing Commissioners and several senior staff, as well as the non-renewal of the contracts of experienced staff on temporary contracts of employment, and causing demoralisation among many staff within the NHRCK. It is given to understand that there is opposition at leadership level of the NHRCK to the right of its staff to form and join a trade union.
The ANNI delegation is disturbed by the breakdown in relations of trust and cooperation between the NHRCK and sections of civil society in South Korea who have been most vocal in their criticisms of the current leadership of the Commission and its prioritisation of issues.
- Upon the conclusion of the mission, the ANNI delegation reiterates its extreme concern over the controversies enveloping the NHRCK and the consequences for the integrity and reputation of the Commission, both nationally and internationally, as well as the larger protection and promotion of human rights in South Korea.
- The ANNI mission urges the amendment of the enabling law of the NHRCK to ensure selection of Commissioners based upon human rights expertise, following consultation with civil society; and the recruitment of staff based upon their human rights consciousness.
- The ANNI mission urges concrete and time-bound measures towards the independence and effectiveness of the NHRCK for e.g. through amendment of Article 18 of the National Human Rights Commission Act that enables organisational restructuring of the Commission by presidential decree.
- The ANNI mission urges the NHRCK to respond to human rights violations in a timely manner and through public statements, in line with international human rights norms and standards.
- The ANNI mission urges the entrenchment of democratic and participatory practices within the NHRCK through structured and informed consultation with all Commissioners and staff, and full transparency of decision-making processes.
- The ANNI mission urges the NHRCK to guarantee the rights of its own staff, including their freedom of association, assembly and expression.