Republic of Korea: UN rights experts urges adoption of anti-discrimination law

Special Rapporteur on racism Mutuma Ruteere. UN Photo/Evan Schneider

9 October 2014 – An independent United Nations human rights expert has urged the Republic of Korea to enact a comprehensive anti-discrimination law, saying it is essential for the Government to address the issue of racism and xenophobia in view of the country’s history of ethnic and cultural homogeneity.

“As Korean society becomes more exposed to foreigners and migrant workers living in the country, it is important to continue addressing the issue of racism, xenophobia and discrimination,” the UN Special Rapporteur on racism, Mutuma Ruteere, said in a news release issued today.

Mr. Ruteere, who completed his first official visit to the country earlier this week, noted that comprehensive anti-discrimination legislation would allow the appropriate institutions to play a more significant role in receiving complaints from victims, investigate and issue relevant recommendations for the Government to follow up.

“Although I have not been informed of racist or xenophobic discourse and practices at the institutional level, I have been made aware that at the individual level, there have been isolated incidents of private acts of racism, racial discrimination and xenophobia,” he said.

The expert recalled how a naturalized Korean woman was refused access to a public bath, as well as cases of taxi drivers turning in to the police customers who do not look Korean, and of shop attendants expressing derogatory attitudes to foreign customers.

“Although these incidents may be isolated cases, it is essential for the Government to address the issue of racism and xenophobia through better education and awareness-raising,” he stressed.

He also pointed to xenophobic groups that advocate the abolition of policy of support for multicultural families and who claim that the multicultural policy enacted by the Government discriminates against Koreans, as they are not entitled to similar social benefits and programmes.

“After verification, I confirmed that no such discrimination exists and that ethnic Koreans are offered the same social benefits under the regular social scheme,” Mr. Ruteere said. “It is however important for the Government to dispel these myths and clarify the situation in order to prevent the proliferation of racist and xenophobic movements.”

He encouraged the South Korean authorities to fight racism and discrimination through better education, as well as ensuring that the media is sensitive and conscious of the responsibility to avoid racist and xenophobic stereotypes and that perpetrators are punished where appropriate.

He also called on the Government to improve legislation on employment in order to offer a better protection to migrant workers and their families, and encouraged the authorities to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of All Migrant Workers and Members of Their Families.

Independent experts are appointed by the UN Human Rights Council to examine and report back on a country situation or a specific human rights theme. The positions are honorary and the experts are not UN staff, nor are they paid for their work.

Mr. Ruteere will present a final report on his visit to the Republic of Korea to the Geneva-based Council in 2015.


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