|Committee on elimination of Racial Discrimination
10 August 2007
The Committee on the Elimination of Racial Discrimination has considered the thirteenth and fourteenth periodic reports of the Republic of Korea on its implementation of the provisions of the International Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination.
Presenting the report, Chang Dong-hee, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said the Government had been making efforts to legislate the Discrimination Prohibition Act for a comprehensive and effective response to discrimination in accordance with the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission in 2006. That Act would include specific references to discrimination on the basis of race being considered an illegal and prohibited act. In addition, as part of efforts to meet the growing demand for supporting the adjustment of foreigners to Korean society, the Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea had been passed and had come into operation just last month. The legislation included provisions such as extending support for married immigrants and their children to help their social integration, assisting education of the Korean language and culture, as well as providing childcare. Moreover, foreigners who had obtained Korean nationality could, for three years, also enjoy the benefit of a range of measures and policies to assist their social integration.
A representative of the National Human Rights Commission, in a statement, pointed out that, while the Human Rights Commission could conduct investigations of discriminatory acts of legal bodies, organizations and private individuals and give recommendations on the basis of those investigations, those recommendations remained non-binding.
In preliminary concluding observations, Anwar Kemal, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of the Republic of Korea, commented on issues including the definition of racial discrimination in domestic law, and actions to alleviate discrimination faced by those of “mixed blood”, including high-level acknowledgement that such discrimination existed, and the possibility of instituting foreign exchange programmes for students, as well as more scholarships to foreign students. The five-year National Plan on Discrimination should not be set in stone, but should be allowed to evolve. In developing it, the Government should be in touch with the National Human Rights Commission, and as many non-governmental organizations as possible, as well as the people affected. As for the treatment of migrants and migrant workers, one of the important objectives of the Government, taking into account the principle of mutual benefit, should be for such workers to have security of tenure, so that they could not be expelled after three years automatically.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, reports of injuries incurred by foreigners in a detention centre; a lack of clarity in the provision allowing trafficking victims to stay in the country; reports of racially motivated incidents against foreign workers; repeated complaints from refugees that they had been forced to work for longer hours and for less pay than Korean nationals; whether discrimination suffered by “mixed bloods”, which apparently was not illegal in the past, was illegal under current domestic legislation; and whether the notion of ethnic homogeneity was reflected in school curricula. Several Experts expressed discomfort about the prevalent notion in Korean culture of “pure bloodedness”. An Expert noted, that that implied, by contrast, that some people were of “impure” blood, and thus the whole concept came very close to ideas of racial superiority that the Convention, and the Committee, sought to eliminate.
The delegation of the Republic of Korea also included other members of the Permanent Mission of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, as well as representatives of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Justice, and the Ministry of Labour.
The Committee will present its written observations and recommendations on the combined thirteenth and fourteenth periodic reports of the Republic of Korea at the end of its session, which concludes on 17 August.
When the Committee reconvenes at 3 p.m. this afternoon, it will discuss organizational matters.
Report of the Republic of Korea
The combined thirteenth and fourteenth periodic reports of the Republic of Korea (CERD/C/KOR/14), says that the Republic of Korea is an ethnically homogeneous country with a total population of 47,254,000 as of November 2005. Recently, the Republic of Korea has been experiencing a rapid growth in its foreign population, of migrant workers in particular. As of October 2005, the total number of resident foreign nationals in the Republic of Korea stood at 711,869 (approximately 2 per cent of the total population). By nationality, Chinese are the most numerous (36.9 per cent of the total), followed by Americans (14.8 per cent), Filipinos (5.1 per cent) and Japanese (4.2 per cent). As of October 2005, 24,588 ethnic Chinese, generally referred to as Hwagyo, were residing in the Republic of Korea. As most of them, although eligible, have not applied for naturalization, the majority of Hwagyo are regarded as foreigners under the law. A total of 762 foreigners applied for refugee status in the Republic of Korea as of October 2005, among which 40 persons were recognized as refugees and 28 persons were granted humanitarian protection. One hundred and one persons were rejected, 72 persons withdrew their applications, 71 persons filed an objection to the decision, and the remaining 450 applications for refugee status are still being examined. The number of applications for refugee status per year is on the rise. Between 1994 and 2000, 96 persons applied, 37 in 2001, 34 in 2002, 84 in 2003, 148 in 2004 and 363 in 2005. The applicants comprised of 229 Chinese, 134 nationals of Myanmar, 48 Congolese, 47 Ugandans, 45 Ivorians, and 259 from other States.
As an ethnically homogeneous State, the Republic of Korea has been traditionally unfamiliar with the problems of ethnic minorities. However, the dynamic exchange of human resources between countries and an increase in the number of interracial marriages have recently raised a range of concerns involving ethnic minorities. The principle of the “pure-blooded”, based on the Republic of Korea’s pride in the nation’s ethnic homogeneity, has incurred various forms of discrimination, largely invisible and not illegal, against so-called “mixed-bloods” in all areas of life including employment, marriage, housing, education and interpersonal relationships. This is particularly serious since such practices are passed down from one generation to the next. Given that most of the “mixed-bloods” and ethnic minorities have low-wage jobs and are subject to poverty, the Government is particularly keen to devise a comprehensive plan for their welfare and safety, including employment training and housing support. Moreover, the Government is stepping up its efforts to make prompt changes in social awareness through education and public-awareness campaigns in order to eliminate sources of discrimination and prejudice.
Presentation of Report
CHANG DONG-HEE, Deputy Permanent Representative of the Republic of Korea to the United Nations Office at Geneva, said, with regard to concerns raised by the Committee on the absence of specific legislation on the elimination of racial discrimination in the Republic of Korea, that he would like to touch briefly upon the Government’s ongoing efforts towards that end. The Republic of Korea, with a long history as a homogenous society, had had little cause or practical reason to deal with the issue of racial discrimination. Against that cultural backdrop, article 11 of the Constitution elucidated the general principles of equality, without specific reference to racial discrimination. However, that subject was deemed to be covered under the comprehensive terms of article 37, of the Constitution, which provided that the “freedom and rights of citizens shall not be neglected on the grounds that they are not enumerated in the Constitution”. The principles of the respect for human rights and equality of individuals before the law, as enshrined in the Constitution, also applied to foreigners, with the exception of rights that were premised upon Korean citizenship, such as the right to vote and the right to hold public office.
Nevertheless, Mr. Chang underscored, by no means had the Republic of Korea excluded the possibility of taking further legislative measures in the future for the more effective and faithful implementation of the Convention. The Government had been making efforts to legislate the Discrimination Prohibition Act for a comprehensive and effective response to discrimination in accordance with the recommendations of the National Human Rights Commission in 2006. That Act would include specific references to discrimination on the basis of race being considered an illegal and prohibited act. The Planning Office for the Enactment of the Discrimination Prohibition Act had been established in 2006 to coordinate that matter and the Ministry of Justice was now working with other concerned ministries to speed up the enactment process.
Mr. Chang drew attention to the promulgation of the National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights (2007 to 2011) in May 2007, on the basis of draft recommended guidelines formulated by the National Human Rights Commission. That comprehensive nationwide master plan, which presented an overarching perspective for all human rights related laws, systems and policies, would indeed be constructive in terms of helping to build and strengthen the infrastructure for the promotion and protection of human rights in the Republic of Korea. Since its promulgation, the relevant government ministries and institutions had been working on its implementation, the results of which would be released at the end of each year by the Consultative Council for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights.
In addition, as part of efforts to meet the growing demand for supporting the adjustment of foreigners to Korean society, the Basic Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea had been passed and had come into operation just last month, Mr. Chang underscored. The legislation included provisions such as extending support for married immigrants and their children to help their social integration, assisting education of the Korean language and culture, as well as providing childcare. Moreover, foreigners who had obtained Korean nationality could, for three years, also enjoy the benefit of a range of measures and policies to assist their social integration.
With regard to the situation of foreign migrant workers and industrial trainees, a number of important steps had been taken to promote the human rights of migrants. The Industrial Trainee System had been phased out and finally abolished as of 1 January 2007. Accordingly, the Employment Permit System, which had been adopted in 2003, and had been in effect since 2004, had become the sole gateway for foreign workers employment in the Republic of Korea. The abolition of the previous system was expected to provide an opportunity to solve various problems, Mr. Chang noted, such as the infringement of foreign workers’ human rights and the illegal use of foreign workers.
Mr. Chang said that the report maintained the position of the Republic of Korea in strongly condemning any notion or theory of superiority of one race or ethnic group over another, as was explicitly stipulated in Article 11 of the Constitution. Also, acts of racial discrimination could be punished under the Korean Penal Code, pursuant to articles 307 and 309, which concerning defamation, and Article 311, concerning libel. Moreover, racist motivation could be taken into account as an aggravating factor for criminal offences, in accordance with Article 51 of the Penal Code.
With regard to refugees, Mr. Chang said that the Government had been making efforts to improve the refugee recognition procedure and refugee relief policies. For example, to protect the human rights of refugee applicants, the Government was working on legislatively prohibiting the forced repatriation of applicants whose refugee status determination procedure was not yet complete. Moreover, a legal framework would soon be laid down to create refugee support facilities and to allow employment for refugee applicants and for those permitted to stay on humanitarian grounds, if they met certain minimum requirements.
Regarding protective measures to victims of racial discrimination, Mr. Chang noted that foreigners were entitled to the same rights as Korean nationals with regard to protection, remedies and compensation in the case of acts of discrimination. Foreigners were also provided with foreign language interpretation services and notified of available services. In addition, starting from 10 May 2007, undocumented foreigners were granted permission to stay and even work in Korea until any procedure for remedy, such as the provision of medical treatment or compensation for industrial accidents, was completed.
As for human rights education, starting in 2009, human rights education would gradually be included as a topic of study in a wide range of school subjects at the primary and middle school level. Teaching of the value of human rights would be incorporated in a comprehensive and systematic manner. Also, training programmes on the prevention of human rights violations were now being offered to law enforcement officials dealing with foreigner-related matters, Mr. Chang concluded.
Response by the Delegation to Written Questions Submitted in Advance
Responding to the list of issues submitted by the Committee in advance, the delegation said, with regard to the definition of racial discrimination in national legislation, that the Korean Constitution provided for the general principles of equality. Even though the Constitution did not make specific reference to racial discrimination, the Convention had the same legal effect as domestic laws in the Republic of Korea, and therefore there was no need for additional legislation.
Regarding comprehensive measures to eliminate discrimination against naturalized foreigners and children born from inter-ethnic marriages (so-called “mixed bloods”), the delegation said that protection was provided for those groups through the Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea, which had been in operation since last month. Taking into account possible difficulties in adapting to the new environment, the Act provided for naturalized Koreans to have the right to have access to the governmental supporting system for married migrants for three years. In order to allow early settlement of naturalized Koreans, the Government provided them with assistance for their Korean language education, education on the Korean system and culture and childcare.
As for measures to assist children of married migrants, in May 2006, the Government had established and initiated an Educational Plan for Children from Multicultural Families. The Government also intended to establish, in 2007, a multicultural education support committee, composed of regional stakeholders, including city/provincial offices of education, universities, local governments, non-governmental organizations and mass media organizations. A base centre for multicultural education would also be set up. In addition, the Government would build an information sharing system among central and local governments, and between cities and provinces, to find effective ways to support the children of married migrants.
In May 2006, the Government established the Basic Direction and Promotion System for Policy on Foreigners, which laid out general policy guidelines for the marriage of migrants and their children, migrant workers, professional foreign manpower, permanent foreign residents, Koreans of foreign nationality and refugees. The legal basis for that policy was the Act on the Treatment of Foreigners in Korea, which had been operational since 18 July 2007. That Act stipulated basic treatment for foreigners in Korea, which enabled them to better adapt to Korean society and to fully demonstrate their ability. Also, the Act aimed at contributing to development and social integration through the promotion of mutual understanding and respect between foreigners and Korean nationals. For the effective implementation of that Act, the Ministry of Justice would establish a five-year implementation plan and other concerned ministries would establish and operate their own implementation plans.
It was also significant that the Immigration Bureau of the Ministry of Justice had been restructured and expanded to the Korea Immigration Service. Within the Korea Immigration Service, the Planning Evaluation Division had been established and it was charged with formulating and evaluating basic and operational plans. The Social Integration Division had also been established to take charge of social integration of foreigners, the delegation said.
As for the revision of the Immigration Control Act, the delegation said that the comprehensive review and ultimate revision of the current Immigration Control Act was behind schedule. With regard to the protection of refugees and asylum-seekers, taking into account the length of time for a refugee status determination procedure, legal grounds were expected to be formulated to allow employment under certain conditions for refugee applicants and those permitted to stay on a humanitarian basis. Also, the legal basis for permission to stay on humanitarian grounds and for the establishment of refugee support facilities would be laid down through the revision. In addition, the revised law would include provisions on the establishment of the Refugee Recognition Review Committee, extended period of appeal, and the prohibition of forcible return of refugee applicants to their country of origin while they were undergoing the refugee status determination procedure. The new Korea Immigration Act would stress the principle of respect for the human rights of the detainee and the prohibition of unfair discrimination based on gender, religion, country of origin, and others. The Act would also provide the right of appeal for detainees.
The Government was also making continuous efforts to combat trafficking in persons. Human trafficking of foreigners for prostitution was severely punished under the law, and the Supreme Prosecutor’s Office had established guidelines for the effective enforcement of the relevant laws. Along with that, since August 2001, the anti-human trafficking squad had been operational in cooperation with related agencies to perform steady crackdowns on human trafficking.
Judicial relief, such as the right to trial under the Constitution and the right to appeal to the National Human Rights Commission, were guaranteed even for illegal aliens in cases of infringement of their fundamental rights, the delegation noted. From 10 May 2007, illegal aliens gong through the relief procedure for the infringement of their human rights owing to the forced sex trade, frequent beating and abuse, and damages caused by serious crimes, were granted permission to stay and work in the Republic of Korea.
As for protections for migrant workers, the Republic of Korea had various legal and institutional devices for eliminating discrimination against foreign workers and protecting their rights and interests under the Employment Permit System. In accordance with the Constitution, the Labour Standards Act, and the National Human Rights Commission Act, the Government prohibited discrimination based on race, colour, or ethnic origin, and guaranteed equal working conditions regardless of nationality. In particular, the Act on Foreign Workers Employment provided for the protection of foreign workers and the prohibition of discrimination against them. Accordingly, labour-related laws, such as the Labour Standards Act, the Minimum Wage Act, and the Industrial Safety and Health Act, applied equally to foreign and domestic workers.
With reference to the particular vulnerability of female migrant workers, the delegation noted that individual labour-related laws, including the Labour Standards Act and the Act on Gender Equality in Employment, provided for granting special protection for all female workers, including remedies for delays in the payment of wages and abuses, as well as discriminatory treatment in the workplace. The Act on Gender Equality in Employment also had provisions on counselling and preventive education sessions on sexual harassment.
In terms of support for migrant workers, the delegation said that the Ministry of Labour was running Call Centres and Job Centres. Call Centres provided counselling services regarding wages, severance pay, dismissal, trade unions, and employment equality. Job Centres provided services such as job placement, vocational guidance, and employment insurance. The Interpretation Support Centre for Foreign Migrant Workers had also been established in June 2006 to facilitate conversation among foreign workers, their employers and officials of relevant organizations. It provided services in seven languages and helped to resolve labour disputes, and provided information on dispute settlement mechanisms. In addition, to help strengthen their vocational ability and to help them to adapt to living in Korea, prior education was provided to foreign workers who had concluded labour contracts with Korean employers, including training on the Korean language, Korean culture, the employment permit system, industrial safety, and the basic function of industries. A Migrant Workers Centre had been established with a view to facilitating the early adaptation of foreign workers to life in Korea and to protecting their rights.
Responding to reports that the leaders of the Migrant Workers Trade Union had been arrested and forcibly returned to their countries of origin, the delegation said that foreign workers with legal status were allowed freely to organize or join trade unions. Illegally staying workers might receive protection in terms of payment of wages or compensation for industrial accidents, but they did not enjoy the same basic labour rights, such as the right to organize trade unions. There was a pending lawsuit filed against the decision to turn down the Union registration submitted by the Seoul/Gyeonggi/Incheon Migrant Workers Trade Union, which consisted mainly of illegally staying workers. Whether or not illegally staying foreign workers had the right to set up a trade union would be decided by the Supreme Court’s final ruling.
As for statistics on human rights complaints relating to foreigners, from 26 November 2001 to 31 December 2006, out of a total of 2,137 complaints registered by the National Human Rights Commission, 593 complaints related to foreigners – that is, the complainant or victim was a non-national). Of those, 576 had been closed and 17 were still pending. There had been 47 cases of discrimination based on race, skin colour, and national origin.
Oral Questions Raised by the Rapporteur and Experts
ANWAR KEMAL, the Committee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of the Republic of Korea, said that, having achieve remarkable successes in raising the standard of living of the Korean people, the Committee had every right to expect a very high standard of adherence to human rights and concerted efforts to eliminate racial discrimination. An overwhelming majority of the people in the Republic of Korea belonged to the Korean race and culture. Only 2 per cent of the population belonged to other ethnic groups, mainly immigrants and workers from overseas, of whom more than one third were of Chinese origin. The Republic of Korea had become a magnet for economic migrants from China, Southeast Asia and the South Asian subcontinent in search of a better life. They gravitated to relatively low paying jobs that were deemed difficult, dangerous or dirty by the Korean population. The Committee’s concern was thus focused largely on that group of overseas workers who were subject to exploitation, as well as those very few people who were the product of mixed marriages, in which one of the parents was a Korean and the other a foreigner. Discrimination against the so-called mixed bloods was a distressing problem that had been recognized and accepted at the highest level of the Korean Government.
Noting the explanation for not separately incorporating the definition of racial discrimination in Korean domestic law, in particular as the Convention itself was held to be part of domestic law, Mr. Kemal felt that, while perhaps in a technical sense that might be true, it might be advisable for purposes of clarity, emphasis, dissemination of public information and education to have separate legislation spelling out the illegality of racial discrimination.
One of the most positive developments in recent years had been the establishment of the National Human Rights Commission in 2001. That Commission had been tasked with drafting a National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights. However, Mr. Kemal noted that some non-governmental organizations had pointed out shortcomings in the consultation process between the National Human Rights Commission and non-governmental organizations. Non-governmental organizations had also said that the Plan was passive and unsatisfactory, including that it did not establish plans for problems relating to minorities and the socially disadvantaged. While the Plan had now been adopted, he would appreciate a comment from the delegation on these allegations.
The Republic of Korea was to be commended for implementing an important measure relating to the Employment Permit System to legalize employment of foreign workers. However, in that context, Mr. Kemal drew attention to allegations of restrictions on workforce mobility, and the Government’s response that such a measure was inevitable to prevent confusion and to resolve workforce shortages. Would it not be better for the economy if workers had freedom of movement and the ability to change jobs? Also, what administrative steps were being taken to address the shortage of personnel to monitor abuses against workers from overseas?
As for mixed marriages, Mr. Kemal was concerned to know the status of foreign women who were married to Korean nationals if they became separated or divorced from their husbands.
Mr. Kemal said there was a genuine fear that overemphasis on and excessive pride in the ethnic homogeneity of the Republic of Korea might be an obstacle to the realization of equal treatment and respect for foreigners and people belonging to different races and cultures. The steady influx of immigrants into the country to fill jobs that Koreans did not wish to undertake, and the low birth rate in the country (1.08 per cent), meant that the Republic of Korea needed immigrants. It also needed to make the country friendly to foreign workers.
Other Committee Experts raised questions and asked for further information on subjects pertaining to, among other things, reports of injuries incurred by foreigners in a detention centre; a lack of clarity in the provision allowing trafficking victims to stay in the country; reports of racially motivated incidents against foreign workers; repeated complaints from refugees that they had been forced to work for longer hours and for less pay than Korean nationals; whether discrimination suffered by “mixed bloods”, which apparently was not illegal in the past, was illegal under current domestic legislation; whether the notion of ethnic homogeneity was reflected in school curricula; and why was it that, although Republic of Korea had made a declaration under article 14 some time ago, there had never been an individual complaint lodged with the Committee from that country.
Several Experts expressed discomfort about the prevalent notion in Korean culture of “pure bloodedness”. An Expert noted, that that implied, by contrast, that some people were of “impure” blood, and thus the whole concept came very close to ideas of racial superiority that the Convention, and the Committee, sought to eliminate. An Expert, in that connection, noted the need for a law specifically prohibiting organizations that propagated ideas of racial superiority.
Statement by National Human Rights Commission
A representative of the National Human Rights Commission said the Commission had been established in 2001 by the Human Rights Commission Act with the mandate of making recommendations on human rights policies, investigating and remedying cases of human rights violations, including discrimination based on race, skin colour, national and ethnic origin, and implementing human rights education and raising public awareness on human rights.
Turning to the report submitted by the Republic of Korea, the National Human Rights Commission said that the statement contained therein, that the Human Rights Commission Act provided the legal basis for declaring discriminatory practices a crime, thereby making them subject to prosecution, was not true and should be revised. The Human Rights Commission could only conduct investigations of discriminatory acts of legal bodies, organizations and private individuals and give recommendations on the basis of those investigations. But those recommendations remained non-binding.
In addition, the National Human Rights Commission had recommended to the Government that the excessive emphasis on pride in ethnic homogeneity had to be reduced, and that a human rights awareness programme that stressed understanding of societies with multiple ethnic/cultural backgrounds should be included in the official education curriculum. The report showed that that recommendation had not been followed. In that connection, the Commission had also recommended that the report provide a more specific plan of action through which support for the so-called “mixed-bloods”, as they were titled in the report, would be provided. With regard to the terminology “mixed-bloods”, when the Commission had been asked last year by the Ministry of Gender Equality and the Family to give its opinion on the draft Assistance Act for Families with Mixed-Blood, the Commission had recommended that the Ministry not use that discriminatory terminology. The Commission had also produced several television public awareness messages targeted at eliminating prejudice against this group, which were broadcast several times over the course of the past year.
Naturalized foreigners continued to suffer from social discrimination despite established laws and institutional mechanisms designed to protect them. The Commission had recommended that the report include information noting that the Korean Government had recognized and was striving to resolve that situation, and it had also recommended that the Government include actual examples of Government efforts to address social discrimination. That recommendation had not been followed either.
Response by Delegation to Oral Questions
Responding to oral questions put by Experts, on the issue of “mixed” and “pure” bloods, the delegation said that the Government had no intention whatsoever of promoting that concept. Some background was needed. Historically, Koreans had not differentiated between ethnicity and race. Faced with imperialist aggression in the first half of the twentieth century, the Republic of Korea had constructed its own concept of unitary identity. After liberation from the Japanese imperialists in 1945, the unity of the Korean nation was generally taken for granted. The strong sense of ethnic unity and nationalism had been a crucial source of inspiration during the transition to modernity in the Republic of Korea. Being sandwiched between great world powers, the development of a sense of cultural homogeneity had not been done as a means of aggression, but rather as a defence system to ward off the imposition of ideas of superiority by others. The Government understood that ideas of mono-ethnic ethnicity could lead to dangerous ideas of cultural superiority.
Concerning the term “mixed bloods”, it was a direct translation of concepts that existed on the ground, not an endorsement of them, the delegation stressed. The Government recognized that concepts such as pure bloodedness and mixed blood were a problem to be overcome in the Republic of Korea path towards a democratic and multi-ethnic society. By putting those terms in quotes throughout the report, the intention had been to show that those terms were received ideas, and not ones that were being promoted.
As for the case of African-American workers that had asserted that they received less remuneration for the same work, the delegation said that, equal pay for equal work was guaranteed by law. However, that did not mean equal pay for the working the same hours: it was based on actual productivity. The Government was not aware of cases in which foreigners were paid less in this respect, and would appreciate receiving more information on any such claims.
Regarding the fire in the Yeosu Foreigners Detention Centre in February 2007, which had killed 10 and severely injured 17, the delegation said that, right after the incident, six Government officials had been prosecuted. On 23 July, two officers had been sentenced to two years imprisonment, three had received suspended sentences with confinement, and one was fined. Compensation had also been paid to the families of those who had died, and to the victims that had been injured. The injured had also been provided with full medical treatment. The 17 victims had left the country in March this year. In addition, some 28 detainees had been lightly injured. Twenty-one of them had since been voluntarily repatriated. In response to the incident, the Government was now working to strengthen the fire safety regulations for such facilities, and had increased the number of officials present in the facilities responsible for ensuring security and safe conditions.
Turning to issues related to foreign white collar workers, the delegation noted that for such workers there was no discrimination on the length of stay or working conditions for such workers.
As for reports that it was difficult to obtain Korean nationality under the current laws, the delegation admitted that there were stringent requirements in that regard. To minimize the impact, the Government had revised its regulations for long-term visas, making it easier to obtain permanent residence status.
As to why there had been no individual complaints lodged under the Convention’s complaint procedure, the delegation stressed that the Government widely disseminated information about the individual complaints procedures associated with the human rights treaties to which it was a party. Indeed, several individual complaints had been raised on issues including conscientious objection and national security law under the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights. It was not believed that the lack of individual complaints under the Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Racial Discrimination was owing to a lack of awareness, but the Government would nonetheless ensure that information on it would be included in human rights education and training in the future.
As for job mobility and the short length of stay (3 years) as set out in the Employment Permit System, the delegation agreed that as such permits began to expire that could result in the illegal stay of workers and that job mobility was an issue. A certain amount of flexibility had therefore been introduced on both of those issues. Foreign workers were allowed to change their place of employment four times during the course of their three-year stay. As for the period of stay, there were a number of ways to extend those terms. Also, previously, a six-month break was required between employment permits, which had now been shortened to a one-month break, if both employer and employee agreed to a re-employment contract.
As for the periodic labour inspections of workplaces to verify conditions for foreign workers, in particular with regard to hazardous work conditions, the delegation noted that, in 2005, 4,287 of the workplaces which legally employed foreigners had been inspected. Of the 1,197 workplaces which used normal-Hexan (a dangerous gas), 65 were prosecuted.
Further Oral Questions Posed by Experts
Several Experts responded to the explanation given by the Korean delegation about the concepts of pure and mixed blood. One Expert was concerned that the Government had to be careful of how it described itself, because such descriptions had consequences, even it the Government was merely recognizing a concept that it did not itself promote. He also cautioned against the dangers of creating a fixed identity. The opposite of intolerance was not tolerance, but recognition. The Republic of Korea should ensure that it was ready to recognize the positive contribution to the country made by those of other ethnicities. An Expert encouraged the Government to take action on this issue in its educational curricula, particularly at the secondary level. Also essential would be a census on mixed marriages and their offspring. An Expert observed that, in today’s globalized world, it was no longer possible to talk in terms of unitary identities.
An Expert wondered if there were any racial or ethnic types that received preferential treatment in the Republic of Korea, in particular in the employment context.
Replies by the Delegation
Responding to those questions and others, the delegation reiterated once again the concept of a homogenous Korean society had been given as historical background. Today the Republic of Korea was moving forward towards a multicultural society.
On barriers to ethnic Chinese living in Korea to become naturalized citizens, the delegation said that there were four criteria for naturalization: five years’ residence; adulthood; the ability to make an independent living in Korea; and a test on basic knowledge of Korean language and culture. The ethnic Chinese that had resided in the Republic of Korea for over five years, as long as they could show they could make an independent living in Korea and they were adults, should have no problem in applications for citizenship. It was the Government’s understanding that a lack of naturalization among the long-term ethnic Chinese population living in the Republic of Korea represented a matter of choice, and that the Chinese wished to retain their nationality.
Preliminary Concluding Observations
In preliminary concluding observations, ANWAR KEMAL, theCommittee Expert who served as country Rapporteur for the report of the Republic of Korea, thanked the delegation for an illuminating, excellent and dynamic series of responses, and a good quality report.
Highlighting issues discussed, Mr. Kemal accepted the fact that, legally, the Convention was part of domestic legislation. At the same time, perhaps consideration needed to be given to the definition of racial discrimination in domestic law, because the Convention might not be readily be available to the public at large. In any case, it was an indirect way to proceed, and domestic legislation might be of help.
The term “mixed blood” had been the subject of much discussion, Mr. Kemal noted. The issue had received a lot of attention in recent years. In that connection, he noted the Presidential reception of the half American, half Korean sportsman and Super Bowl star, Hines Ward, in 2006. When Mr. Hines was received in the Blue House by the President and the First Lady, the President had commented “I wonder if Mr. Ward would have had as much success if he had been raised here”. A high-level acknowledgement of discrimination against such offspring represented an important first step to changing the prejudices of the people, and in cultivating in them a respect for persons who looked different from the norm. Foreign exchange programmes for students, and more scholarships to foreign students would be another manner to promote cultural exchanges and to allay cultural misunderstandings.
As for the five-year National Plan on Discrimination, it should not be set in stone. It should be allowed to evolve, Mr. Kemal stressed. In developing it, the Government should be in touch with the National Human Rights Commission, and as many non-governmental organizations as possible, as well as the people affected.
The treatment of migrants and migrant workers had received a lot of attention in their discussions. One of the important objectives of the Government, taking into account the principle of mutual benefit, should be for such workers to have security of tenure, so that they could not be expelled after three years automatically. It would probably be more humanitarian to give greater concessions to them. In that connection, Mr. Kemal acknowledged the delegation’s statement that this was an area that was under constant review and reform.
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