COMMITTEE ON ELIMINATION OF RACIAL DISCRIMINATION EXAMINES REPORT OF THE REPUBLIC OF KOREA
22 August 2012
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination today concluded its consideration of the combined fifteenth and sixteenth periodic report of the Republic of Korea on how that country is implementing the provisions of the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Introducing the report, Park Sang-Ki, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the Republic of Korea was rapidly moving towards a multicultural and multi-ethnic society. By January 2012 over 2.8 per cent of the population were naturalized Korean citizens, residents of foreign nationality or children of such people. In response the Korean Government had attached greater importance to its policies for multiculturalism and social integration. The Government had taken legislative and practical measures to protect and assist foreigners, launched social integration projects, and supported multicultural families. The large numbers of foreign workers were protected by law, while action had been taken to address domestic violence against foreign female spouses, to protect refugees and to combat human trafficking.
During the discussion, Experts expressed concern about the challenges caused by the very rapid development seen in recent years in the Republic of Korea and its move from a country of emigration to one of immigration. The lack of a definition of racial discrimination in the legal system was raised, as were measures to protect female migrants from abuse and to ensure the children of refugees, migrants and asylum seekers could be registered at birth. Experts asked about the proposed lifting of the requirement of mandatory HIV testing of all foreigners, about the definition of a ‘multicultural family’ and about measures to prevent children of other ethnicities from being discriminated against in schools. The number of convictions for incidences of racial discrimination was also raised, as was the new International Marriage Brokerage Act.
Speaking in initial concluding remarks Anastacia Crickley, Rapporteur for the report of the Republic of Korea, acknowledged the upheavals that had taken place in the Republic of Korea in the last century, its move from a country of emigration to one of immigration, and its rapid development. The Committee had concerns about legislation and definition; areas of infrastructure and engagement of civil society; and areas such as migrant workers, international marriage partners and support for women migrants and ethnic Chinese.
In concluding remarks Choi Suyoung, Deputy Head of the delegation, said substantial progress had been made since the 2007 periodic report, but there still remained much room for progress. It was important that the people’s ‘mind’ and the nation’s ‘law’ were in tandem. Those two factors were mutually reinforcing, hence the Korean Government had made continuous efforts both for awareness-raising and the institutionalized framework for the prevention of racial discrimination. Accordingly, societal attitude towards foreigners and minor ethnic groups were changing, and society now recognized the value of multiculturalism and cultural diversity.
The delegation of the Republic of Korea consisted of representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Ministry of Justice, Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, Ministry of Gender Equality and the Family, Ministry of Health and Welfare and the Ministry of Employment and Labour.
The Committee will issue its concluding observations and recommendations on the report of the Republic of Korea towards the end of its session, which concludes on 31 August.
The Committee will next meet in public at 3 p.m. this afternoon to review the combined eighteenth to twentieth periodic report of Austria (CERD/C/AUT/18-20).
ALEXEI AVTONOMOV, Committee Chairperson, reminded the delegation and the Committee that today’s meeting – as with all country reviews conducted in public by the Committee – was being webcast live over the Internet, and anyone in the world could watch it. Hopefully the Republic of Korea was watching! The live webcast can be accessed via the following link: http://www.treatybodywebcast.org.
Report of the Republic of Korea
The combined fifteenth and sixteenth periodic report of the Republic of Korea can be read via the following link: (CERD/C/KOR/15-16).
Presentation of the Report
PARK SANG-KI, Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea, said the Republic of Korea was rapidly moving towards a multicultural and multi-ethnic society. By January 2012 over 1.4 million people in the Republic of Korea – 2.8 per cent of the population – were naturalized Korean citizens, residents of foreign nationality or children of such people. In the parliamentary elections of April 2012 Jasmine Lee, a woman immigrant from the Philippines, became the first naturalized Korean lawmaker, demonstrating how those residents were asserting their roles in comprising a major pillar of Korean society. Inter-ethnic unions represented 10.8 per cent of marriages in 2010, and 4.3 per cent of the babies born in the Republic of Korea in 2012 were from those multi-ethnic marriages, which showed an ongoing trend towards a demographic diversity that would accelerate in the years ahead. In response the Korean Government had attached greater importance to its policies for multiculturalism and social integration. In March 2012 the Government launched its second National Action Plan for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights 2012 to 2016. A second Basic Plan for Policies on Foreigners 2013 to 2017 was currently being drafted, which aimed to enhance public awareness, increase allocation of resources for social integration projects, and enact the Refugee Act. In 2008 the Support for Multicultural Families Act was introduced, which provided services such as education and healthcare.
The 500,000 foreign workers residing in the Republic of Korea were entitled to equal rights with Korean workers if they were working under the Employment Permit System. The Korean Government had taken effective measures to protect foreign workers from mistreatment by their employers, such as regular labour inspections, and had launched a call centre to provide counselling in multiple languages and medical services. The Employment Permit System was awarded first prize at the United Nations Public Service Awards in 2011. Actions had been taken to address domestic violence against foreign female spouses, such as multilingual counselling and support, and over 20 shelters nationwide which provided temporary residence to victims as well as medical and legal services. In response to the Committee’s last concluding observations, the Republic of Korea had taken several notable actions to protect refugees, including revision of the Immigration Control Act and the 2012 Refugee Act which harmonized domestic legislation with the 1951 Refugee Convention, and the Refugee Support Centre which would provide practical help. To combat human trafficking a comprehensive anti-trafficking clause was being added to the Criminal Law, regulations on marriage brokerage agencies had been tightened, and a practical support facility had been opened for foreign victims of prostitution who were also granted work permits.
BANG KITAE, Representative of the Ministry of Justice, spoke about the status of the Convention in the domestic legislative framework. Although the Convention had equivalent status to Korean national law, it was difficult for the Court of Justice to directly apply the Convention because there were very few concrete cases in which the application of the Convention became an issue. The Government was enforcing education and training to promote recognition of the Convention for legal professionals and law enforcement officers, and was making such training obligatory for the latter. The Government was promoting revision of the Attorney Law bill which included the study of human rights in the curriculum of student Attorneys.
CHOI SUYOUNG, Director of the Human Rights and Social Affairs Division at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, took the floor to speak about measures to eliminate racial bias and discrimination through the field of education. In February 2012 the Government distributed thematic teaching guides on teaching multi-ethnic and multicultural understanding, as well as text books on character building for elementary and middle schools which helped students learn how to deal practically with multi-ethnic and human rights issues in their daily lives. Awareness-raising for students, teachers and parents had been taking place for several years, for example the fostering and placement of 200 parents of multi-cultural families within schools who could implement such educational programmes. The Government had improved legal and institutional systems
HO SEONG YONG, Director of the Culture, Leisure and Policy Division at the Ministry of Culture, Sports and Tourism, said the Republic of Korea was making various measures to raise awareness of migrants and multiculturalism among Koreans. Education to promote cultural diversity was offered to Korean ‘opinion-formers’ such as politicians, journalists and public figures. Brochures aimed at creative artists, broadcasters and the media were being drafted which would help educate them on issues of cultural and ethnic discrimination.
Questions from the Experts
ANASTACIA CRICKLEY, Committee Member acting as Rapporteur for the Report of the Republic of Korea, said she was conscious of the traditions and history of the Republic of Korea, in particular the turbulence of the twentieth century, and its installation in 1993 of a civilian president and move towards a fully-functioning democracy. The Rapporteur said she was also conscious of a period of very rapid change, of a move from a country of emigration to one of immigration, and an associated move from a mostly monocultural society to a multicultural society, and of the challenges that that posed. The fast-forwarded, very rapid development seen in the Republic of Korea also made its own challenges.
Today’s conversation would be concerned with ‘rights realization’, in particular with regard to the Convention, as a basic for a peaceful and successful society. The State party’s enactment of the Refugee Act, which would come into force in 2013, was noted, as were new employment legislation for migrants, although the visa system was often very confusing. The International Marriage Brokerage Act had had very positive effects on eliminating considerable discrimination issues. The statistics provided were gratefully received but they were somewhat limited in the picture they gave. The direct participation by civil society and in particular non-governmental organizations for migrants was welcomed by the Committee.
There was a proposed lifting of the requirement of mandatory HIV testing of all foreigners, and the Rapporteur said she would like to know more about that. The definition of ‘multicultural families’ that was being applied was not clear; did it just refer to multicultural families resulting from the marriage of a foreign spouse to a Korean? Could the delegation please clarify? The National Human Rights Institution had suffered a significant budget cut of 21 per cent to its operational costs, as opposed to a budget cut of 5 per cent in other departments, and there were reports of Commissioners resigning. The Committee gave such independent institutions particular importance and was concerned about those reports.
The Committee’s previous concluding observations referred to the absence of a definition of racial discrimination in the legal system, and the Rapporteur asked whether further consideration had been given to changing that. What was the availability of accessible, professional and dependable translation services for vulnerable foreign nationals, and how did the Government finance those? The Rapporteur also raised reports of sexual abuse suffered by female migrants who were being housed in shared dormitories with male migrants while their paperwork was processed. Finally, the Rapporteur expressed concern at some of the language used by the delegation, for example the phrase ‘unreasonable discrimination’ instead of ‘no discrimination’ but quite possibly those terms were a translation mistake.
An Expert asked about convictions for incidences of racial discrimination, and referred to a 2009 case when a Korean person was convicted of making racist remarks against a foreigner on a bus. For purposes of clarity, emphasis and dissemination would the State party consider not only having specific legislation defining racial discrimination, but also making it illegal? That would give the Government greater power in combating racial discrimination.
Korean society was an ethnically cohesive society, an Expert noted. It used to call itself homogenous but nowadays fully recognized itself as multicultural, which was a very important and positive development fully reflected in the report. That present and healthy insistence that the Republic Korea acknowledged its diversity essentially came from the presence of migrant workers. The Expert asked if the State party had considered joining the International Convention on the Rights of Migrant Workers and their Families, which would be a very positive step forwards.
From a legal point of view, if international treaties were integrated into international law under a monistic system did that mean that the requirements to implement the Convention had not been taken into account by the Republic of Korea?
An Expert asked about birth registration, particularly for asylum seekers, which he said was fundamental to the enjoyment of human rights. The Expert noted the April 2012 Human Rights Council Resolution which promoted the idea of free or low cost birth registration, and asked if there was a comprehensive birth registration system in the Republic of Korea for the children of refugees, migrant workers, asylum seekers and stateless persons. How was the right to a nationality enjoyed in practice without racial discrimination? Would the Republic of Korea consider acceding to the 1961 Convention on the Reduction of Statelessness?
Response from the Delegation
CHOI SUYONG, Representative of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, made a detailed statement about the work of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, which had contributed to the drafting of the periodic report. Its interventions included one in 2008 when the Commission discovered that a migrant detention centre did not accept petitions filed to the Commission by a detainee. The National Human Rights Commission concluded that the case violated human rights and urged preventative measures. In its review of the 2007 periodic report the Committee commented that the Republic of Korea had not imposed criminal penalties for cases of racial discrimination. In 2009 a District Court convicted a Korean for making racially discriminatory remarks against a foreigner on a bus, holding that the victim felt publically insulted by the remarks. The National Human Rights Commission recommended including that case in the report, but it was not reflected.
Another example was the fact that foreign women who entered the country under entertainment visas from Southeast Asian countries often worked in the sex industry, something that was widely known. As civil society organizations strongly argued that the situation could lead to the trafficking of foreign women, the National Human Rights Commission of the Republic of Korea recommended incorporating the Government’s counter-measures for the prevention of human trafficking in the report. However the recommendations were not reflected in the report. The Commission welcomed that the periodic report partially reflected several of its recommendations, but was disappointed that its suggestions on accurate descriptions on the current state, as well as problems related to policies, systems, laws and regulations, in an effort to facilitate constructive discussions with the Committee, were mostly not reflected in the report. The Commission believed that the Government of the Republic of Korea ought to reflect its recommendations more in future reports.
A member of the delegation said he was happy to say that the National Human Rights Commission had been fully aligned with the Paris Principles, and its function was guaranteed by Korean law. Financial resources were being provided by the Government as part of the Commission’s budget. The Commission published its recommendations on its website; there 813 recommendations from November 2001 to March 2012. Out of those cases there were two on racial discrimination, one on skin-colour discrimination, and 11 cases on discrimination because of a person’s country of origin.
Turning to the National Action Plans for the Protection and Promotion of Human Rights, a delegate spoke about the Second National Action Plan, which was currently being finalised and would run from 2012 to 2016. It listed 209 tasks, which particularly focused on women’s rights. The value of the National Action Plan would be evaluated in its final year, taking into account the entire cycle. The First National Action Plan was only evaluated by the Government, but for the evaluation of the Second National Action Plan an evaluation board which included human rights experts, academics and civil society representatives, would take over the process.
In October 2011 and December 2011 two bills were set forth for an enactment of a discrimination prohibition act, but after the initial act submitted in 2007 was abrogated in 2008, the Korean Government continued research and review into the enactment of such a law.
Regarding the Employment Permit System, a delegate said that foreign workers did face limitations in changing their workplace. Foreign workers under the Employment Permit System were allowed to change their workplace under certain conditions, including the Korean labour market, the human rights of the worker and the employer who first invited the foreign worker to take a job. If there had been a violation of contract terms, human rights or work conditions the foreign worker could change their place of work. The Korean Government had made continued efforts to ease the restrictions on the change of workplace by foreign workers. In December 2009 the law was revised to expand the grounds on which foreign workers could change their workplace, as well as to expand the period they could look for a new job from two to three months.
Foreign workers working under the Employment Permit System could work in the Republic of Korea for three years, although that period could be extended by one year and ten months in agreement with their employer. Foreign workers could freely establish and join trade unions. However, the question of whether illegal workers could found or join trade unions was the basis of a pending court case, for which the ruling would soon be due.
The Korean Government currently operated 34 support centres for migrant and foreign workers. Those workers who wanted to learn the Korean language or culture were provided with study classes. Services dealt with everyday grievances that the workers may face - counselling was provided, as were interpretation services and free medical care. Some foreign worker support centres also operated shelters.
It was true that the Republic of Korea was rapidly transforming into a mutlicultural society which caused challenges, but the Government had adopted an inter-ministerial approach to meet those challenges. Multicultural families were defined in relation to the particular situation of the Republic of Korea only. In the mid 2000s international marriage was booming in Korea, but immigrants coming to Korea to marry had difficulties in adapting to Korean life and culture. Accordingly the Government developed policies to help those foreigners live well in Korea. The Multicultural Family Support Act holds a definition that a “multicultural family consists of a Korean and an immigrant”. The children were defined as “members of multicultural families”. In 2011 the definition was expanded to the “families of naturalized citizens”.
Policies never aimed at assimilation, rather just supporting multicultural families to live well and to improve their quality of life. For example, education in the Korean language and translation and interpretation services were provided for. The multicultural Family Support Centre provided training courses for couples who were internationally married, in order to improve the equality of their relationships and help them learn about each other’s culture. From 2009 the Government provided services to diagnose language development of children, as well as duel-language education policies to help bilingual children.
Regarding support for migrant women who were victims of crime, the Government had now opened Migrant Women Emergency Support Centres which helped in particular victims of domestic violence and sex trafficking, and were open 24 hours per day, seven days per week. The support centres operated a 24/7 hotline in 11 languages, which included Chinese, Vietnamese and Cambodian. There were 18 shelters specifically aimed at helping domestic violence victims, and one shelter for victims of sex trafficking. The centres also provided self-help ‘spaces’ which enabled women to recover their independence.
Today 98 per cent of the children born to multicultural families in the Republic of Korea attended schools. However only 57 per cent of children born outside of Korea, who then came into the country as a result of an international marriage, attended school. Reasons for that included the language barrier, issues around making friends or some children not feeling the need to go to school. Out of the 50 international schools in Korea, one school was recognized as having ‘domestic institutional accreditation’. All of the international schools in Korea ran courses in Korean language, culture and history. There was no discrimination against the children who attended them.
Social integration projects for migrants in the Republic of Korea were tailored according to need, but overall came together to make a bigger picture. Based on multicultural policies, the Government was trying to strengthen diversity. Education was being tailored to systematically reflect multiculturalism, particularly for creative artists, media content providers, journalists and teachers, as they were people who had great social influence. A curriculum and lesson plan that focused on experiencing different cultures and different cultural art was under development, which would be sent to schools, colleges, community groups, social integration programmes and other groups.
Every five years the Korean Government established a basic plan for migrant policies, which every Ministry took part in. On August 17 the National Policy Coordination meeting, presided by the Prime Minister, discussed the Multicultural Awareness Improvement Comprehensive Plan. That plan would be formulated and executed by all branches of Government, working together.
Turning to comments on the rise of xenophobic comments on the Internet and Government efforts to eliminate them, a delegate referred again to the Multicultural Awareness Improvement Comprehensive Plan, which had specific initiatives in education, broadcast and media, and provision of experiences of different cultures. A ‘best practice’ booklet was in production. The National Museum of Korea traditionally focused on showing Korean folk art, but the Government planned to expand the exhibition to show global folk art – an illustration of the direction it was taking in promoting multiculturalism.
Speaking in initial concluding remarks ANASTACIA CRICKLEY, Committee Member Acting as Rapporteur for the Report of the Republic of Korea, acknowledged the upheavals that had taken place in the Republic of Korea in the last century, its move from a country of emigration to one of immigration, and its rapid development. The Committee’s role was in supporting the Republic Korea from a multicultural reality to a multicultural society where all people enjoyed parity. Concerns that the Committee would raise in its concluding observations had been indicated during the discussion: the question of legislation and definition; areas of infrastructure and engagement of civil society; and areas such as migrant workers, international marriage partners and support for women migrants and ethnic Chinese. The State party must remember that ‘sameness’ was not just a matter of treating everybody the same, and that special measures were sometimes needed. Furthermore, a lack of complaints of discrimination did not mean that there was no discrimination – in fact it usually indicated the opposite. The Rapporteur concluded by congratulating the Republic of Korea for coming fifth in the medal ceremony at the London 2012 Olympic Games, which was a very honourable achievement.
CHOI SUYOUNG, Deputy Head of the Delegation, said the Korean Government was working towards building a multicultural society without discrimination. Substantial progress had been made since the 2007 periodic reports, but there still remained much room for progress. The reporting process and consultations with the National Human Rights Commission and civil society served as a valuable opportunity to explore the new room for progress. It was important that the people’s ‘mind’ and the nation’s ‘law’ were in tandem. Those two factors were mutually reinforcing, hence the Korean Government had made continuous efforts both for awareness-raising and the institutionalized framework for the prevention of racial discrimination. Accordingly, societal attitude towards foreigners and minor ethnic groups were changing, and society now recognized the value of multiculturalism and cultural diversity. There was a popular chorus, or singing group, in Korea called ‘Rainbow Chorus’ which was made up of children from 10 different cultural backgrounds. The Rainbow Chorus fascinated Koreans by the harmony they created. Just as that chorus created a beautiful harmony from its diversity, the Government would continue to work for a greater unity and diversity together.
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