[EDITORIALS]Protect Inmates' Human Rights

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[EDITORIALS]Protect Inmates' Human Rights

The Constitutional Court's recent decision to fix bathroom walls at police station detention cells to let detainees use the facilities without inconvenience is meaningful in the sense that it has to do with human rights improvements. It is even more meaningful since it was achieved by one woman in her 30s through a legal suit that continued for more than a year.

Police station detention cells are places where criminal suspects are held temporarily. In principle, the suspects are considered innocent until they are proved guilty. It is disturbing to think that these bathrooms, which cause shame and inconveniences, have been used for decades. In its decision, the court said, "The police's acts of forcing people to use those bathrooms harm human dignity and pride guaranteed by article 10 of the constitution."

After the decision, the police, which have been keeping the bathroom walls low, worried about crime and self-injuries, have reportedly decided to raise the walls to one meter from the current 40 centimeters.

Violations of human rights of criminal suspects and prisoners are not happening only at police station detention cells. According to material from a parliamentary probe last year, the number of cases in which criminal investigators were accused of violating human rights, such as committing violence, including torture, had increased drastically from 145 cases in 1998 to 1,035 in 1999. Although most of the cases were ruled "not guilty," it still shows that disputes over human rights violations by investigative authorities continue in Korea.

Of course, the rights of criminal suspects and prisoners have improved to a great extent during the last couple of years. For example, suspects can appear in court in street clothes, and prisoners are now allowed to subscribe to newspapers and to wear individual hairstyles. But although the accused wear ordinary clothes, their hands are bound when coming and going between the prosecutor and courts. This not only imparts a sense of shame to them and their families, but it is a public embarrassment. Therefore, suspects should not be bound unless they are vicious criminals. Having the constitutional court's decision as a stepping stone, the government should search thoroughly whether or not any activities violating human rights are going on during investigations and, if found, plan to improve the situation.
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