Human rights supervisor resists calls for resignation
Hyun Byung-chul, chairman of the government-funded National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) is facing mounting pressure to give up his bid for a second three-year term and step down immediately. A National Assembly confirmation hearing is slated for July 17.
Members of a civic group forcibly evicted Hyun from a movie theater Wednesday that was screening a documentary on the deaths of tenants who were resisting eviction from an area up for redevelopment in Yongsan, central Seoul.
The 68-year-old was watching the film with his aides at the theater in Jongno, downtown Seoul, when 10 activists including members of the “Sarangbang Group for Human Rights” burst in
The independent film, titled “2 Doors,” features a January 2009 violent clash between the tenants and riot police in a shopping district in Yongsan that the government had designated for redevelopment.
Five tenants and a police officer were killed in the clash. Police were blamed for the crackdown on the tenants who were staging a sit-in protest against the redevelopment project on the rooftop of a building that was set ablaze.
The activists denounced Hyun for turning down their requests to take action against police for allegedly violating the rights of the tenants in the tragedy, and for making little effort to deal with frequent infringements of human rights in society.
The audience joined forces and asked Hyun to leave. He first refused to do so but was forced out in the end.
“How dare he come to watch this movie!” a member of the audience screamed.
Myung Sook, a member of the Sarangbang Group also said Hyun’s attending the screening was “indecent.”
“I guess the reason he came to watch the film was part of preparations for the Assembly hearing to make himself look good,” she said. “He’s completely ignorant on human rights issues, and we must stop him from extending his term.”
She added that the group was against him even before the government appointed him as the rights panel chief three years ago.
“The law states that the chairperson of the NHRC must be an expert on human rights issues. But he’s completely unqualified.”
She also refuted the government’s reason for his reappointment. The Lee Myung-bak administration decided to extend his term last month in “recognition” of Hyun’s efforts to raise global awareness on human rights violations in North Korea.
“During his 10-day trip to an overseas symposium on liberty under the Stalinist regime, he only spent one day at the symposium and spent nine days dealing with personal matters,” she said.
On the same day, a group of 20 activists held a rally in front of the NHRC headquarters in Jung-gu, Seoul.
The protesters called for Hyun’s resignation, claiming that the commission has failed in its duties under an “unqualified” chairman.
“The NHRC has been completely ignoring sensitive issues, and also has been reluctant to touch on other matters,” an activist said.
They also entered the building after the press conference and continued their protest inside the building.
The protest came after more than 90 private human rights groups formed an emergency committee to protest against President Lee’s decision to extend Hyun’s term.
The groups pointed out that the chairman failed to address the issue of the illegal surveillance of citizens by the Prime Minister’s Office. They also denounced him for rejecting a request for an investigation into labor rights violations at local firms by Kim Jin-sook, an activist who staged a months-long strike on a high-altitude crane in 2011.
The female worker at Hanjin Heavy Industries and Construction was protesting the firm’s decision to lay off employees.