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South Korea: Need for discourse on decentralisation of power

Asian Human Rights Commission Statement - December 10, 2012

A Statement by the Asian Human Rights Commission on the occasion of the International Human Rights Day

In the year of 2012, while the major concerns about human rights in South Korea have continued it is also important to note that it is the year when the core problems of justice delivery systems, such as the police, prosecution and the court were exposed. These findings are not the result of one particular year but in fact ongoing problems that have not been addressed by successive governments.

What the Asian Human Rights Commission has found in the last five years is that there has been a clear tendency towards the interpretation of law so as not to intervene in government policy. Laws continue to be used to curb those who defend the rights of others. In addition, misuse and misapplication of law such as the National Security Act has increased with the purpose of restricting the freedom of opinion and expression.

Problems in justice delivery institutions concerning human rights have been exposed, i.e. dependence of the judiciary, lenient disciplinary action against even judges involved in corruption, biased and partial indictments followed by partial investigation by the prosecutors' office, absence of credible, independent, monitoring mechanism, and discriminatory or unequal exercise of providing security services to the people by law enforcement agents. Many cases of corruption have been reported, but the prosecutor's office has absolute power of investigation as well as prosecution.

There is tension between the police and prosecutors' office with regards to which one is entitled to have the absolute power of investigation. Recent discourse has revealed the power game between two organisations. What has failed to be settled is how such power should be divided with the basic principles of checks and balances.

The National Human Rights Institution has become a stooge of the government. On one hand, it continues its day-to-day work as prescribed in the related Act, but on the other, after it intentionally avoided pursuing cases sensitive to Mr. Lee's administration, public perception of the institution has changed. Other government organisations do not care much, and in fact now ignore recommendations made by it, because the institution is now considered as just another compromised government organ. It has lost the trust of the people, having taken no action in a case that virtually all thought it should have pursued. In addition, there is no discourse on how jurisprudence by international human rights institutions is not met by a domestic mechanism for implementation.

The annual report is limited to cases and issues that the Asian Human Rights Commission has taken up so far in 2012. It does not imply that issues and cases, such as conscientious objection to the military service or freedom of opinion and expression in every sector of society, that are not reported here are not important or have ceased to remain burning issues. Our previous annual reports have reflected such continuing issues.

The full report is available for download at: http://www.humanrights.asia/resources/hrreport/2012/ahrc-spr-010-2012.pdf.

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