Mutiny over human rights chairman’s politics

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Mutiny over human rights chairman’s politics

About a third of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea quit yesterday, saying that the chairman, Hyun Byung-chul, was failing to investigate any issue that might embarrass the government.

Sixty-one officials tendered their resignations after finishing a 20-minute news conference at which they demanded the chairman resign immediately.

They released a statement saying, “Since the current chairman was appointed, the commission has been called a ‘zombie organization,’ because he has paralyzed the commission’s functions by his unilateral and pro-government decisions.”

Two standing commissioners, Yoo Nam-young and Moon Kyung-ran, stepped down on Nov. 1 because of similar complaints about Hyun, and another top official, Cho Kuk, a law professor at Seoul National University, left nine days later.

“The officials made this difficult decision to inform people of how serious the situation is at the commission,” said Kim Deok-jin, one of the resigning officials, at the news conference.

“Hyun was too conscious of President Lee Myung-bak, who appointed him, and he refused to express his opinion on politically sensitive issues,” the officials said in their statement. “We can’t expect anything from the commission about human rights issues anymore, since it’s under the control of Hyun and President Lee.”

The officials said Hyun did not allow the commission to deal with politically sensitive issues for the government, such as U.S. beef imports, the government’s illegal surveillance of civilians or the 2009 Yongsan fire, which was caused by a conflict between SWAT officers and residents being evicted for a redevelopment plan.

The independent human rights panel, which was established in late 2001 during then-President Kim Dae-jung’s administration, was formerly considered leftist by conservatives.

Under the law, the commission can raise human rights cases with the Prosecutor General or the Minister of National Defense. The commission also has the right to advise punishment for officials found to have committed illegal violations of human rights.

Hyun has been criticized for lack of experience in human rights since he took over the position in July 2009. Hyun was formerly president of Hanyang Cyber University.

There were about 160 officials in the commission before yesterday’s resignations, which are expected to paralyze the organization.

After the press conference, the officials had planned to visit the chairman, but he refused to meet them.


By Kim Hee-jin [heejin@joongang.co.kr]

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위촉위원 중 3분의1 해당, 위원장에 대한 반발 확산


국가인권위원회의 전문·자문·상담위원 57명이 집단으로 사퇴하겠다는 의사를 밝혔다. 이들은 인권위가 외부인사 중에서 위촉한 위원들로, 전체 전문·자문·상담위원 숫자 중 약 3분의 1에 해당한다. 상임위원 2명과 비상임위원 1명이 잇따라 사퇴하면서 인권위가 내홍을 겪고 있는 가운데 이번 집단 사퇴는 큰 파장을 불러올 것으로 보인다.

 이들 위원은 14일 보도자료를 내고 최근 사태와 관련해 15일 서울 중구 인권위를 방문해 동반 사퇴서를 제출할 예정이라고 밝혔다. 위원들은 “현병철 위원장이 임명된 이후 임명권자인 이명박 대통령의 눈치를 보며 정부에 부담이 될 것 같은 사안들에 대해서는 의견 표명을 하지 않거나 기각하는 등 반인권적인 결정을 반복했다”고 주장했다. 이들은 “우리는 인권위를 지키려고 인권위를 떠난다. 인권위가 소위 인권 전문가라고 하는 우리 57명에게 부여한 모든 ‘직’을 사퇴한다”고 밝혔다.

위원들은 이어 “더 이상 무인권 정책으로 일관하는 현 체제에 기대할 것이 없다. 현 위원장이 하루빨리 자신의 과오를 깨닫고 자진 사퇴할 것을 촉구한다” 고 덧붙였다.

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