Zero tolerance for misconductIn an embarrassing development, allegations of sexual harassment were made in a telephone conversation between President Moon Jae-in and other head of state. In the conversation on Tuesday, New Zealand’s Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised issue with the alleged sexual assault by a Korean diplomat against a local staff member in the Korean Embassy in Wellington.
The Blue House said the prime minister mostly exchanged well-wishing remarks with Moon in the conversation, adding that “both sides shared views about the sexual harassment charges for a short while” at the end. Given that the conversation was requested by the prime minister, however, she might have requested that Seoul cooperate in addressing the shameful case. It is very rare that transgressions of an individual are discussed in conversations between heads of state.
As claims by the Korean diplomat and the local embassy staffer, both males, are different, it is difficult to tell what really happened between them. And yet, we cannot but doubt our Foreign Ministry’s willingness to root out such disgraceful lapses overseas when we consider the way the ministry behaved. According to local press, our embassy was reluctant cooperate with investigations by the local police. They even refused a request from the police to submit a recording of their contacts captured by a closed -circuit television in the embassy.
Sexual misconduct by our diplomats is nothing new. In 2017, when the Korean Ambassador to Ethiopia sexually harassed a female local staffer in the embassy, Foreign Minister Kang Kyung-wha vowed to eradicate such conduct after proclaiming her “zero tolerance principle.” But our diplomats’ sexual misconduct continued in Cambodia, Pakistan and Japan. Over the past 10 years, 110 cases of sexual violence were identified by the Foreign Ministry, and 72 were within the Moon administration.
The ministry excused itself by maintaining that it’s up to the diplomat whether he should comply with the investigations by the New Zealand police. But after the prime minister complained over the phone, the ministry is hurriedly responding. In 2014, a Malaysian diplomat attempted a sexual assault against a New Zealand citizen. At the time, the suspect returned to Malaysia, citing his privileges as a diplomat, but his government accepted the host country’s request to send him back and let him stand trial in a New Zealand court. Our government must ensure that its diplomat receive a fair and just trial in New Zealand this time. That would demonstrate a determination to uphold the zero tolerance principle on sexual misconduct involving our diplomats.