South Korea: Cabinet should reject proposed cuts to National Human Rights Commission

The South Korean government’s proposed plan to significantly re-organize and cut the staff of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) jeopardises the Commission’s effectiveness and independence, Amnesty International said today.   

Tomorrow, President Lee Myung-bak’s Cabinet is scheduled to discuss and decide plans by the Ministry of Public Administration and Security (MoPAS) to cut the Human Rights Commission’s staff from 208 to 164.

“National human rights institutions play a vital domestic role in promoting and protecting human rights through effective investigation of a broad range of human rights violations,” said Roseann Rife, Amnesty International Asia-Pacific Programme Deputy Director. “The proposed cuts would seriously compromise the NHRCK’s ability to fulfil its mandate effectively and independently.”

Amnesty International said that the proposed cuts would limit the Commission’s capability to provide services and ability to conduct human rights education.

MoPAS has suggested the proposal is based on their diagnostic evaluation of the Human Rights Commission, but MoPAS has yet to publicly present the analysis behind their proposal.

To date, the NHRCK has been an exemplary human rights institution in the Asia-Pacific region. In 2004, the Commission received the highest ranking from the International Coordinating Committee of National Institutions for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. This means the Commission meets all the requirements of the Principles Relating to the Status of National Institutions (Paris Principles).  

In January 2008, Amnesty International raised concerns about plans by the then President-Elect Lee Myung-bak to change the status of the NHRCK from an independent body to one placed under the authority of the Presidential Office. These plans, which would have undermined the independence of the Commission, were not implemented.

“As South Korea deals with ongoing concerns of human rights violations, the National Human Rights Commission should be strengthened, not weakened,” said Roseann Rife. “We urge the government to reconsider its plans.”