Foreign Ministry pledges tougher guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct at overseas missions

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Foreign Ministry pledges tougher guidelines to prevent sexual misconduct at overseas missions

The Korean Ministry of Foreign Affairs said Tuesday it will implement tougher guidelines to eradicate sexual misconduct at its overseas diplomatic missions starting Jan. 1, after facing criticism for mishandling recent cases.  
 
The ministry faced sharp backlash for how it handled a case involving a Korean senior diplomat previously stationed in New Zealand who was accused of groping a local male staff member several times in late 2017.
 
The Korean Foreign Ministry initially only lightly disciplined the diplomat who left his post in Wellington in February 2018, giving him a one-month pay cut. Shortly afterward, he was reassigned to another country.  
 
However, the case became more widely publicized earlier this year after New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern raised the matter with President Moon Jae-in during a phone call in late July. The diplomat in question was eventually recalled from the Philippines in August.  
 
The Foreign Ministry subsequently revised its guidelines for preventing and responding to sexual harassment and sexual violence to prevent a recurrence.  
 
Starting next month, overseas missions must immediately report to the Korean Foreign Ministry any complaints they receive about sexual misconduct and must respond to the case under the ministry’s guidance.  
 
It also calls for physically separating the victim from the alleged perpetrator, which depending on the wishes of the victim could include working from home. Likewise, the alleged perpetrator, regardless of rank, will not be able to intervene in the case.  
 
The ministry said that it will attempt to prevent mishandling of sexual misconduct cases from the get-go and enable protection of the victims through a swift and systematic response.
 
The victim’s testimony and evidence is to be recorded in a detailed and standardized format at every stage of the case.
   
“Through establishing a separate guideline for overseas diplomatic missions, we are attempting to prevent decision-making from the mission and the mishandling of such sexual misconduct cases from the initial response stage and reinforce our zero tolerance principle to penalize the perpetrator,” a Foreign Ministry official said Tuesday.  
 
The ministry, separate from disciplinary action, will assign perpetrators the lowest grade in their personnel evaluation, which helps determine future promotions. Currently, perpetrators only received the lowest grade in their performance evaluation.  
 
The ministry already has a zero tolerance policy toward heads of missions or senior diplomats involved in sexual misconduct, including immediately recalling the official from their post.  
 
It will also expand an ombudsman committee tasked with looking into sexual harassment and violence complaints from three members to five, including lawyers and experts from the private sector. It will further increase sexual misconduct prevention education programs for officials from the current one-hour session that takes place once annually to four times a year, or more than a total of four hours.  
 
Police investigations in New Zealand were launched into the allegations made against the Korean diplomat last year. A Wellington District Court issued an arrest warrant for the diplomat on Feb. 28, charging him with three counts of indecent assault. The diplomat has denied the allegations.
 
In a September decision submitted to the Korean Foreign Ministry, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea determined that physical contact took place between the diplomat and the Kiwi staffer in 2017. The commission recommended that the diplomat pay the victim a compensation of 12 million won ($11,000).  
 
The commission didn’t find that the Foreign Ministry mishandled the case, but noted shortcomings such as the lack of specific guidelines for overseas missions on the investigation and handling of sexual assault cases, urging it to supplement this in order to prevent a recurrence.  
 
New Zealand police decided not to extradite the Korean diplomat after following up on the sexual abuse case, its local media reported Tuesday, concluding that that the higher threshold required to initiate extradition proceedings has not been met.
 
BY SARAH KIM   [kim.sarah@joongang.co.kr]

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