Human Rights Reaching Int'l Level

Article excerpt

The ``Government of the People,'' which was born through a peaceful transfer of political power for the first time in 50 years after the establishment of the modern Korean Republic, recognizes with the world the importance of human rights and renders ``parallel development of democracy and market economy'' as the fundamental purpose of the government to establish a democratic society in which the rights of every individual are respected.

As is generally known, it is no exaggeration to say that the life of President Kim Dae-jung and human rights issues are synonymous. The Government of the People, led by President Kim, considers human rights to be the most important subject in national affairs and carries out numerous policies regarding the subject. Former South African president Nelson Mandela and Kim Dae-jung are individuals whose names are consistently mentioned when discussing leaders of the movement. The improved human rights position of the Korean government is considered a successful case. As a result of his accomplishments, President Kim Dae-jung was selected as the winner of the Philadelphia Liberty Medal last year and Human Rights Award from the International League for Human Rights in June of 1998, which are the highest authorities in the human rights area.

Therefore, the Ministry of Justice recognizes, with the world, universal values of human beings such as democracy and human rights according to the ``Human Rights Priority Policy'' and has been endeavoring to improve human rights conditions by establishing and complementing a number of institutions for the guarantee of human rights.

To simultaneously realize two values--the establishment of law and order and the guarantee of human rights--the Ministry of Justice has taken several measures for the improvement of human rights since the inauguration of President Kim Dae-jung.

First, the government placed top priority on rooting out violations of human rights such as harsh treatment during the process of investigations. Investigators are required to follow due procedure. At the same time, it is doing its best to make use of state-of-the-art investigative techniques by establishing a DNA information bank at the Supreme Public Prosecutors Office and by developing various drug detection devices.

Second, for humanitarian reasons, the government released, reduced sentences of, or pardoned a large number of prisoners who were serving prison terms for violations of the National Security Law.

For example, 30 out of 33 prisoners who had been serving prison terms in violation of the National Security Law were granted amnesty, five death sentences of prisoners who had been awaiting their execution were reduced to life sentences and 140 life sentences were reduced to imprisonment for 20 years. Additionally, a total of 30,647 have benefited from this year's August 15 Liberation Day amnesty. Lastly, the remaining two long-serving North Korean spies were released from prison and five prisoners under sentence of death were given reduced sentences of imprisonment for life under a Presidential general amnesty granted on December 29, 1999.

At present, there are no long-term serving prisoners behind bars for violation of the National Security Law and the government plans to repatriate North Korean spies who still abide by communist ideology to the North.

In applying the National Security Law, the Government is trying to eliminate subjective interpretations of the law by law enforcement officials. Even in cases of obvious violations of the law, we are trying to be cautious in meting out punishment. As a result, the number of suspects detained for violating the National Security Law dropped 33 percent in 1999 and again by 62 percent in the first half of 2000.

The measures aimed at preventing the abuse of the National Security Law are efforts by the Ministry of Justice to improve human rights as it calls for due process of law in investigation and prosecution of those who are suspected of violating the National Security Law in accordance with the Constitution and other laws. …