March 19 2020
Accepting Racial Hierarchy without Question is Racial Discrimination.
- NHRCK calls for non-discriminatory COVID-19 preventive measures that respect rights of all individuals irrespective of nationality -
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (Chairperson Young-ae Choi) released a report on racial discrimination in the Korean society and enactment of law against racial discrimination, marking the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination on March 21. According to the survey on racial discrimination, 68.4% of migrants and 89.9% of government officials and teachers agree (slightly, somewhat or completely) that racism exists in the Korean society. The results indicate that most of the respondents acknowledge the problem of racism in our society.
In 1966, the United Nations designated March 21 as the International Day for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination to commemorate the 69 peaceful demonstrators who lost their lives on the same day of 1961 while advocating for an end to the apartheid in South Africa.
So far, we have failed to take seriously the issue of racial discrimination in our society. In 2018, the United Nations Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination expressed concern about the rise of racial discrimination and xenophobia in Korea and called on the Korean government to take all measures necessary to stop the spread of racial discrimination.
In response to the UN Committee’s recommendations, the NHRCK conducted a survey in 2019 to identify causes, specific forms and perpetrators of racial discrimination and explore ways to tackle this problem including awareness training, distribution of information, hate speech regulations and laws against racial discrimination.
The survey of 338 migrants 1) found that 68.4% somewhat agreed that racial discrimination exists in Korea. Korean language skills (62.3%) and nationality (59.7%) were cited as the main causes of discrimination, followed by race (44.7%), ethnicity (47.7%) or skin color (24.3%).
Meanwhile, in the survey of 324 civil servants and teachers 2), an overwhelming majority of respondents acknowledged the existence of discrimination on grounds of race (89.8%), skin color (90.1%) and nationality (88.3%). The survey showed that racial discrimination is more prevalent than religious (49.7%) or gender discrimination (74.1%).
Based on the responses of migrants about the definition of racial discrimination, the report notes that accepting racial hierarchy that places Korean citizens above migrants without question is an act of racial discrimination. The report mentions that migrants are often denied basic rights and people lack the understanding that migrants are also entitled to human rights in the Korean society that upholds the values of democracy and human rights.
Racial discrimination manifested itself when millions of international students and migrant workers who had not purchased health insurance were not allowed to purchase face masks produced by government-designated suppliers under the government policy to stabilize supply and demand of face masks amid the spread of COVID-19. This incident of racial discrimination is likely to spark criticism from the international community and reveal weaknesses in our disease control system.
The United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights stressed in a statement released on March 6 that “human dignity and human rights should be placed at the center of the efforts to contain the spread of COVID-19” and urged States to “make all necessary efforts to tackle hatred or stigmatization of foreigners.” The International Health Regulations (IHR, 2015), formulated by the World Health Organization, requires States to implement public health policy in a non-discriminatory manner. As recommended by these international organizations, the Korean government should make sure that medical equipment like face masks are distributed to all individuals without discrimination based on nationality amid the COVID-19 crisis.
As a national human rights institution, the NHRCK is committed to promoting domestic compliance with recommendations of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination.
Footnote: 1) The valid sample size was 310 individuals. Given the characteristics of the migrant population, we selected samples from a population by non-probability sampling, but to secure a representative sample, we took into account the nationality (or country of origin) and legal status of migrants residing in Korea. It is hard to say that the sample is externally valid data that fully reflects the characteristics of the population. Nevertheless, it provides a glimpse of overall trends.
2) We conducted a survey with 150 workers in public administration/government and 150 in childcare/education using panels offered by Hankook Research. To seek additional input from experts, we gathered opinions from 24 civil servants working for migrant-related departments using purposive sampling procedures.