First of all, I would like to welcome all the guests to the Commission.
I’d also like take this opportunity to pay tribute to the Korean people for making a new history of democracy through the candle light vigil and also to the people from civil society organizations for your efforts to promote and protect human rights.
It is great to see members of the Commission as well.
It took a long time for me to come back to the Commission. It has been 11 years since I left the Commission, but when I was undergoing the confirmation hearing, I have realized that I was always with the Commission. During the confirmation hearing, I took a time to look back in the times when I had worked as a Secretary General and Standing Commissioner of the Commission. At the confirmation hearing, I was asked whether there is anything that I regret, and my answer was no. However, there are many things that make me reflect on myself, and I have mixed feelings when I think of the times that I worked in the Commission. I took a time to think about whether I had hurt feelings of others.
So now, I would like to talk about recovering independence of the Commission. I believe that proving the necessity of the Commission would be the first step to garner independence of the Commission. When the Commission was established 17 years ago, the concept of independent institution that does not belong to any of the administrative, legislative and judicial bodies was not familiar. At the time, the Commission illustrated why the Commission has to be an independent institution through its activities including expression of its opinion opposing dispatch of troops to Iraq. I believe that the Commission will be able to prove the meaning for its existence only when it firmly carries out its activities without being affected by others.
NHRCK has been criticized from the civil society for the past ten years for its negligence on important human rights issues including the Yongsan Disaster. In 2009, under the Lee Myungbak Administration, the organization of the Commission was reduced, leading to dismissal of its staffs. In addition, the Commission was criticized for not investigating and covering up the issue of the disclosure of blacklist of the NHRCK. As the new Chairperson of the Commission, I would like to take this opportunity to express sincere words of apology for remaining quiet and undermining the independence of the Commission by itself. I assure you that I will carry out thorough investigation and devise measures to prevent the recurrence. I will recover the damaged organization of the NHRCK to firmly establish the system for protection of human rights.
Today, as the 8th Chairperson of the Commission, I start the new years of NHRCK. We only have one goal for the next three years and 20 years to come. The goal is to create a world where everyone lives with dignity. I want to lay the foundation for the Commission to start its new chapter. For that end, I have established four main tasks.
First goal is to eradicate the hatred and discrimination in our society. Hate expression against women, migrant, refuges, and sexual minorities undermine the dignity of people. Discrimination based on gender, disabilities, academic background and appearance disregard the value of equality. I will make effort to enact an anti-discrimination act to realize the right to equality and to respond to the hatred and exclusion.
As we can see from the Me-too movement, the 2nd movement for democracy, the level of human rights sensitivity and the demands of the public for human rights has become much higher than in the past. However, on the other hand, hatred and hate expression against women, migrant, sexual minorities, refugees, and other socially disadvantaged people has become rampant, which lead to regression of regional human rights protective system including the human rights decrees.
I will make effort to lay an institutional foundation to realize the right to equality through an enactment of a comprehensive anti-discrimination act. In addition, I will urge the government to implement the recommendation of the UN to officially declare that the government will not tolerate hate expression against the socially marginalized people.
Second goal is to actively respond to the issue of the polarization and crisis of social safety net due to aggravating inequality in employment and income. The government should pay more attention and make more efforts to break the vicious cycle of polarization to prevent recurrence of the tragic incident of ‘Songpa Family’ where a mother and her two daughters committed suicide due to economic hardship. To this end, I will make efforts to address the issue of non-regular workers and enhance protection of labor rights, opportunity of equal education, access to health care and housing of the vulnerable classes.
I will also make efforts to enact a basic human rights act, to explicitly stipulate and promote the responsibility of state and local governing bodies, domestic implementation of international human rights standards, human rights impact assessment, National Action Plan, human rights education and participation of NHRIs and civil society. In addition, through human rights education and promotional activities, I will enhance human rights sensitivity of the Korean society as a whole, settle down the culture of human rights, and change related systems and frameworks by reviewing related legislations and policies.
The third goal is to strengthen the partnership with the government and local governing bodies for the protection of human rights. The government should faithfully carry out its mandate of realization of human rights, and in the era of decentralization, the regional gap on human rights protection system has to be bridged. To this end, as long as it doesn’t undermine the independence of the Commission, we will support and cooperate with the government in activities for the promotion of human rights, and establish a strong network through active communication with the local human rights bodies to establish human-rights governance in each region.
The fourth and the most important task is to dramatically improve the relationship with human rights and civil society organizations who have dedicated themselves for the promotion and protection of human rights in Korea. As stated in the Paris Principles, civil society plays an absolute, essential and independent role for the promotion of human rights. The role of the civil society will not be limited in presenting opinions. We will communicate and cooperate with them with sincerity.
Moreover, we will actively carry out the 5th NAP and 3rd Human Rights NAP. We will identify the current status of the vicious cycle of poverty and come up with improvement measures. Our best efforts will be made for the protection of human rights of non-regular workers and women. We will also strive to secure the social safety net for the socially marginalized people.
We will establish the status of the NHRCK with authority to enable application of international human rights treaties and standards in every national policy. We will continue to monitor and achieve our goal. That, is I believe, what the NHRCK can do for the Korean people who have dedicated themselves for establishment of the NHRCK and have expectations upon the Commission.
Members of the commission,
I feel supported to work all of you. With all of you, I dream of a world where people live with dignity, and I wish to realize such world with all of you. I will run this Commission in a way where all of you feel proud to be a human rights defender and equipped with expertise. I will do my best to communicate with you. I will trust you. I would also like to ask for your support and encouragement.
Personally, I’m delighted and honored to be back to the Commission in 11 years. I also feel grave responsibilities on my shoulder. And I would like to express my deepest gratitude to members of the Commission for your hard work.
National Human Rights Commission of Korea