A narrow interpretationThe National Human Rights Commission is under attack. This follows their having said “the police used excessive force and violated the human rights” of participants in the candlelight rallies; having warned those responsible, including the head of the National Police Agency; and having recommended disciplinary punishment.
It was clear that the commission did not conduct a balanced inquiry. It only questioned the officers who suppressed the rallies, and never mentioned the many officers who were injured due to the violent demonstrations.
The police and the Ministry of Justice immediately refuted the report and a legislative censure followed during the National Assembly inspection. Some conservative groups are even calling for the dismantling of the commission.
But the commission insists it only followed its principles. According to the commission’s law, it can only investigate human rights abuses perpetrated by enforcement authorities, such as government agencies, regional administrations and detention and protection facilities. It is not in a position to look into the human rights of officers injured by demonstrators. But this is a narrow interpretation.
The commission also avoided looking into the human rights situation in North Korea, claiming that it is outside its jurisdiction. But as public criticism mounted, it decided to include the North Korean issue as one of its six major projects this year.
Private firms, and sexual harassment in sports, are also subject to investigation. This is why the commission’s whining about the law is not persuasive.
At the beginning of this year, commission head Ahn Kyong-whan forecast change by declaring during an interview with the Joong-Ang Ilbo that in the future, it would deem important any human rights that would improve the quality of daily life.
As regards protests, he also emphasized the need for peaceful demonstrations, saying, “It is not right to use force against a government that has been rightfully elected.” It is now contradicting itself with its decision on the candlelight rallies.
The commission is an independent agency established according to international norms. It claims that it is working hard to realize human rights according to international standards. However, common sense should prevail. If it continues to champion policies that cannot earn the people’s consent, then the basis for its existence is in danger.