The Republic of Korea (ROK), which has made remarkable improvements within the areas of democracy and human rights in a short period of time, upholds the universal value of human rights as a centerpiece of its foreign policy goals. As a state party to seven core international human rights conventions, including the “International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights” and “International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights,” Korea is earnestly striving to implement the provisions of the relevant conventions at the national level through collaborative partnerships with various stakeholders. In particular, with the special attention to the rights of the vulnerable such as women, children, and the disabled, Korea has achieved substantial improvements in the equal and effective enjoyment of human rights.
Furthermore, Korea has actively participated in the activities of the UN Human Rights Council and the Third Committee of the UN General Assembly, working closely with the international community for the protection and promotion of human rights around the world. In particular, Korea has been engaged in the international cooperation for the substantial improvement of human rights of the North Korean people. It has been participating in the adoption of the UN Resolution on the Situation of Human Rights in the DPRK at the UN General Assembly and Human Rights Council.
Since its entry into the United Nations (UN) in 1991, the Republic of Korea (ROK) has been actively involved in the work of the key human rights organizations of the UN. Korea had been a member of the Commission on Human Rights (CHR) since 1993 and contributed to the work of the CHR by working closely with the international community for the strengthening of international human rights mechanisms. Furthermore, Korea, which has been a member of the Human Rights Council (HRC) since its establishment in June 2006, was re-elected to the HRC in October 2019 for the 2020-2022 term. During its tenure, the Korean Government has been actively engaged in discussions on major human rights issues, ranging from the protection and promotion of vulnerable groups to country-specific human rights issues such as the human rights situation in North Korea and the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
Besides, Korea places great importance on the Universal Periodic Review (UPR) mechanism of the Council, which involves a review of the human rights records of all 193 UN member states. The Korean Government has fully engaged itself in the entire UPR process in good faith, including the follow-up to the recommendations. In addition, Korea has been actively participating in the UPR Working Group session, with a view to contributing to advancing human rights and responding to serious human rights situations in a timely manner.
Meanwhile, the Korean Government has been engaged in the international cooperation for the improvement of human rights in North Korea. Based upon its basic position that the issue of human rights should be dealt with as a universal value, the Korean Government takes note with appreciation of the recent progress toward a lasting peace on the Korean Peninsula through the inter-Korean and US-DPRK Summits. The Korean Government hopes that scaling-up of exchanges and cooperation with the DPRK based on such progress would lead to positive effects on substantial improvement of human rights of the North Korean people.
Korea has continued to advocate and contribute to the global efforts to promote gender equality and empowerment of women.
In 1984, the Korean Government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which provides a set of obligations of State Parties to end discrimination against women. Until now, the Korean Government has submitted eight country reports for consideration by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Furthermore, it acceded to the Optional Protocol to the Convention in 2006.
The Korean Government has participated actively in gender-related discussions within the UN system. For instance, Korea has long been serving as a member of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW), a functional commission of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC). Korea has also expressed its strong support for UN Security Council resolution 1325 in the Council’s open debates on women, peace, and security. In addition, Korea has co-sponsored resolutions of UN bodies such as the General Assembly and the HRC on the elimination of violence and discrimination against women.
The Korean Government has strongly supported the creation of UN Women, the UN entity for gender equality and empowement of women, and was elected as one of the inaugural Executive Board members in November 2010.
From then, Korea keeps participating in the Executive Board until present (current term: 2020-2022) and it also assumed the presidency of the Board in 2012 and the vice-presidency in 2018.
The Korean Government suppports the discussions for gender mainstreaming in the UN which prioritize gender equality in global issues including poverty, development and peace. In this regard, Korea made a guideline for incorporating gender perspective into ODA projects in August, 2015 and draw up a roadmap for implementing gender equality strategy for five years in May 2017.
In addition, the Korean Government will continue to participate actively in the discussion on the "Women, Peace and Security" agenda and contribute to promoting this issue including the endeavor to eliminate sexual violence in conflict. With this aim, the government launched the new initiative "Action with Women and Peace" in June 2018.
The Korean Government has ratified the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) in 1991. It is also a member of UNCRC’s two Optional Protocols.
The international community’s efforts to solve the problem of refugees have been fortified with the need to help the post-World War II refugees uprooted in Europe in the 1950s. As of 2017, the number of Persons of Concern to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) amounts to 68.5 million (among whom about 25.4 million are refugees), and the refugee problem is being protracted due to continuous ethnic and religious conflicts.
In 1992, the Korean Government acceded to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees and the 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which are core legal instruments in refugee protection. Korea has so far admitted more than 830 refugees as of early 2019, since it launched the refugee status determination procedure in 1994.
In the meantime, Korea has contributed to global efforts for refugeeprotection ever since it joined the Executive Board of UNHCR (UN Refugee Agency) in 2000. In 2016, Korea joined the UNHCR "20+ million club", informal forum for donors who contributed more than USD 20 million to the agency. Since the establishment of the UNHCR Representative in Seoul in 2001, cooperation between Korea and UNHCR has been further expanded in protecting domestic and foreign refugees. In 2013, Korea became the first Asian country to enforce the independent refugee act, pursuant to which Korea is providing asylum seekers with protection and social welfare.
The international community paid special attention to the human rights of persons with disabilities by proclaiming the year 1981 as the ‘UN international Year of Disabled Persons’ and by adopting the ‘World Programme of Action Concerning Disabled Person’ in 1982. In addition, the recognition of persons with disabilities as a subject of rights gradually expanded after the adoption of the Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD) in December 2006.
Actively participating in the international efforts on the promotion of the rights of persons with disabilities, the Korean government played a leading role in the process of drafting the Convention by regulating the article on women with disabilities (Article 6). Korea ratified the Convention in December 2008 and submitted the initial report to the Committee on the Rights of the Persons with Disabilities in June 2011.
In 2015-2016, for the first time as an Asia-Pacific nation, Korea assumed the presidency of the Conference of States Parties to the CRPD. In this occasion, the Korean government not only successfully presided over the Conference for the 8th and 9th sessions, but also extended and reinforced the network with various stakeholders in the field of human rights of persons with disabilities. In addition, it played a crucial role in making the United Nations more disability-inclusive by contributing to both opening and upgrading the Accessibility Centre at the UN Headquarters. Korea also endeavored to mainstream the rights of persons with disabilities in international discussions on different subjects including development policies such as the SDGs. In 2016, celebrating the 10th anniversary of the adoption of the Convention, Korea convened multiple side events in an effort to urge the international community to pay more attention to the rights of persons with disabilities and more actively take steps in protecting and promoting their rights. Furthermore, on March 9th of 2018 on the occasion of the Pyeongchang Paralympics, Korea organized an international forum for the rights of persons with disabilities with a view to raising national and international awareness on the rights of persons with disabilities.
Today, The Republic of Korea (ROK) is seen as an exemplary country that has achieved both democratization and economic growth based on the market economy system in just a single generation. Indeed, it is called one of the most advanced democracies in Asia. Taking advantage of its past experience of democratization, the Korean Government has been eagerly and actively participating in regional and international activities aimed at promoting democracy around the world.
The ‘Community of Democracies (CD)’ is a global intergovernmental initiative of democratic countries that was launched in 2000. As one of the major donor countries and a member of the Governing Council and the Executive Committee for the term 2017-2019 that leads the activities of the CD, the Republic of Korea (ROK) has been actively involved in the activities of the CD. ROK hosted the 2nd Ministerial Conference in 2002, and also hosted the ‘International Conference on the Strengthening of Regional Cooperation to Promote Democracy’ in April 2011 as a co-chair of the Working Group on Regional Cooperation, which is one of the six working groups of the CD. Furthermore, ROK has actively participated in the ‘Bali Democracy Forum’, which was launched by Indonesia in 2008 for Asia-Pacific countries to share experiences and best practices in the field of democracy. Receiving the invitation of the Indonesian Government, we co-chaired the 3rd Bali Democracy Forum in 2010 and the 5th Forum in 2015. ROK has also taken part in efforts to promote democracy around the globe by making contribution to the UN Democracy Fund to assist societies in the development of democratic institution and values. Recognizing that the promotion of democracy and the peace and common prosperity of the international society are mutually reinforcing, ROK will pursue its road to a more mature democracy domestically, while actively engaging in the efforts to promote and consolidate democracy at regional and international level.