The value of human rightsA new chairperson has been appointed for the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. The post has been vacant since former Chair Ahn Kyong-whan stepped down on June 30. It is hoped that the commission, which has been at the center of a variety of controversies of late, will revitalize itself when Hyun Byung-chul, a new appointee, takes his seat.
Ahn, who resigned three months before the end of his official term, said in an official statement before leaving that he takes pride in his belief that “Human rights is a universal value that is neither left nor right, neither conservative nor progressive.”
He says he has tried to instill in his workforce the importance of political neutrality.
He claims, however, that the Lee Myung-bak administration tried to take revenge on its predecessor by suppressing the commission via staff reduction schemes because it believed that the commission was the legacy of the left-leaning administration of the late Roh Moo-hyun.
However, his claim is likely to be somewhat inscrutable to the majority of Koreans. The commission held the police responsible for the violence committed during last year’s candlelight demonstrations while ignoring the violence perpetrated by protesters.
Last month, the commission asked the authorities to eliminate from the law on public assemblies a clause that prohibits protesters from wearing masks during public assemblies and another that imposes punishment on people who produce, carry and keep goods that can become weapons during demonstrations. The commission said the laws were “too far-fetched.”
Requests like these cannot really persuade people who consider the government agency to be ideologically tilted.
The commission is right to assert that human rights are something we should value, and its independence should be guaranteed to prevent abuses of power.
But human rights are supposed to be protected within the bounds of the law and the commission cannot be an exception.
The former chairperson made the bitter remark that the current administration prioritizes the law and principles, leaving human rights behind.
But no advanced economy lets the law be rattled by human rights concerns. That is why France has adopted a measure to punish protesters wearing masks.
The commission should be praised for supporting the underprivileged, including foreign workers, people with disabilities and people with mental illness. We hope the new chairperson will help the commission move beyond politics and return to its original role.