When rights collide with other rights

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When rights collide with other rights

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I stopped by Seoul Station yesterday near the JoongAng headquarters and at a corner of the plaza saw a tent in which some 80 homeless people were attending a church service. After singing hymns, listening to the sermon and praying, they were served lunch. Providing relief for the underprivileged is a core principle of many religions. However in England, members of civil groups working to help the homeless frequently clash with relief efforts affiliated with religious organizations. The efforts of one group conflict with those of another. This dissonance presents itself in many ways when analyzing policies dealing with the rights of the homeless.

Lately, the Seoul Metropolitan Government has been confronted by local residents over the remodeling of a five-story building across from Seoul Station. The city leased the building in October to set up the “Freedom Cafe for the Homeless.” Since many homeless people are averse to rules, the cafe offers a place for them to come in anytime they wish, even when they are drunk. The cafe is equipped with air conditioning and a heating system, shower facilities, a television and an Internet connection. It seems to be modeled after the facilities constructed for the homeless by the Labour government in Great Britain in the 1990s. However, neighbors strongly opposed the project as the construction began. They were afraid that hundreds of studio accommodations and restaurants in the neighborhood would suffer. In this case, should the rights of the homeless come first or should the interests of the local businesses be prioritized?

There are 39 homeless shelters and many service and counseling centers in Seoul. However, the shelter accommodations are not filled because many homeless people do not want to follow the rules. A section of the underground path in front of Seoul Station has been turned into a shelter for 80 people with a heating panel. It is to open officially today, providing a warm place to sleep. Seoul Station has banned the homeless from sleeping overnight in the waiting area since August.

On Dec. 2, the National Human Rights Commission informed the Ministry of Land, Transportation and Maritime Affairs that it will vote on a recommendation to retract the ban. It is truly bitter to watch the debate. It is better for a policy to be warm to underprivileged people. However, when it collides with other rights, the government needs to seek a reasonable middle ground. If it doesn’t, there could be severe consequences.

*The writer is an editorial writer at the JoongAng Ilbo.


By Noh Jae-hyun

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