Rights commission chief blamed for giving up independence
Hyun Byung-chul, National Human Rights Commission chairman who has been reappointed for a second term, speaks during the National Assembly’s confirmation hearing, Seoul, Monday.
/ Korea Times photo
by Oh Dae-geun
By Kim Rahn
The Korean branch of an international human rights watchdog has expressed concern in response to the reappointment of Hyun Byung-chul as Korea’s National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) chief, saying it will damage the panel’s independence and credibility.
Amnesty International Korea issued a statement on Monday to say that Hyun’s second-term bid is against the opinions of civic groups and the public.
The statement came on the day the National Assembly held a confirmation hearing to decide whether to grant him another three-year term at the government-funded commission.
“Hyun said the NHRC belongs to the government, raising doubt over the commission’s independence and fairness,” the watchdog said in the statement.
It said since the 68-year-old chairman was inaugurated, the NHRC has remained silent on major human rights issues such as a violent police crackdown on tenants in a shopping district in Yongsan in 2009 and the investigation into MBC’s program “PD Notebook”featuring mad cow disease.
“We’ve expressed worry over the appointments of commission members that seem to be politically motivated. Without collecting opinion from related civic sectors, those with little experience in human rights issues have been appointed,” it said.
“It is very important that the NHRC should be comprised of members who can make fair decisions based on facts and laws. We urge the Korean government to appoint those with knowledge and experience in that field as commission members.”
On the same day, workers of the commission placed an ad in a newspaper calling on Hyun to give up his bid for a second term.
Under the title, “If Hyun really cares about the NHRC, he should leave voluntarily,” the ad contained remarks the chairman has made during his previous term.
Some of them were: “I know nothing about the NHRC and human rights,” a comment during an interview in July 2009 right after his appointment; “Not knowing at all can be my strong point,” a reaction to the criticism that human rights is outside his field; and “It may be dictatorial but I can’t help doing so,” a comment he made when arbitrarily closing an NHRC meeting in December 2009 as other members were about ato pass a statement that the police crackdown in the Yongsan incident was improper.
The newspaper notice also underscored his racist remarks including one in July 2010: “Korea has become a multicultural society. Niggers are living with us.”
In a survey conducted last month on 159 workers by the commission’s labor union, 89.5 percent said Korea’s human rights have retrograded since Hyun’s inauguration.
A gay rights group also opposed his reappointment.
The group for homosexuals’ political power, “I Vote Pink,” said in a statement that Hyun has neglected to improve the human rights of sexual minorities.
On the website of Yoido Full Gospel Church, some believers opened a homosexual online community but it was forcibly shut down. They filed a petition but the NHRC recently dropped it.
“The NHRC chief, who should make efforts on behalf of gays for their human rights, has conservative Christian sentiments against homosexuality,” the group said.
“During Hyun’s three-year term, almost all petitions about the human rights of sexual minorities were rejected. Hyun made the NHRC, the last resort for minorities and their human rights, powerless,” it said.