Korea’s human rights commission recommends that MOFA compensate victim of sexual harassment at New Zealand embassy

Posted on : 2020-09-04 18:39 KST Modified on : 2020-09-04 18:39 KST
NHRCK cites “certain inadequacies” in MOFA’s response, but says there were no procedural problems
MOFA website
MOFA website

In connection with a scandal that has erupted between South Korea and New Zealand, the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) recommended acknowledging the truth of allegations regarding sexual harassment of a local staffer at the South Korean embassy in New Zealand by a South Korean diplomat identified by the surname Kim. The NHRCK also recommended paying a sum to the staff member in question.

A decision submitted to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MOFA) by the NHRCK recognized the physical contact that took place between Kim and the New Zealand staffer in question around November 2017 as sexual harassment, it was reported on Sept. 3. The NHRCK also instructed Kim to pay a sum to the staffer in question as compensation for the harassment, although the actual recommended amount was not confirmed. Copies of the recommendation, which comes in response to an NHRCK petition submitted in November 2018, were sent to the victim, to Kim as subject of the complaint, and to MOFA as another subject of the complaint.

Regarding the complaint against MOFA, the NHRCK called for improvements, observing that the process of the sexual misconduct case’s handling was marred by “certain inadequacies, although it cannot be concluded that there were procedural problems.” As concrete examples, it cited the lack of a manual prescribing procedures for the investigation and handling of sexual harassment incidents within overseas diplomatic offices, the lack of adequate measures to separate the victim and perpetrator once the incident became known, and the issues with personnel committee composition for overseas offices.

In its recommendation, the NHRCK called for measures to improve the system, including the development of a manual ensuring fairness in the process of investigating sexual harassment cases in overseas offices and providing restitution to victims.

The NHRCK did not take issue with MOFA’s handling of the sexual misconduct case, assumedly because MOFA dealt with the matter according to legally specified procedures, with a committee deciding to issue disciplinary measures against Kim after an initial review and a subsequent audit following the victim’s initial report in 2017. But some have argued that the nature of the disciplinary action represents a bigger issue than the legitimacy of the procedures. MOFA decided last year to impose the relatively light punishment of a one-month pay cut against Kim, prompting critics to accuse it of “shielding its own.”

While some have suggested that the incident should be reinvestigated, the NHRCK reportedly does not plan to recommend a reinvestigation. In a regular briefing on Sept. 3, MOFA Spokesperson Kim In-chul acknowledged that MOFA had “received the decision regarding the New Zealand case,” adding that it would “review the decision closely and take the necessary measures.” MOFA plans to notify the NHRCK within 90 days on the measures it plans to take in connection with the recommendation.

In addition to his NHRCK petition, the victim also reported the sexual harassment he experienced to New Zealand police in October 2019. But with Kim having left the country after finishing his term of service in February 2018 and with the two countries differing in their attitudes on methods for embassy investigation, no real investigation has yet taken place.

By Kim Ji-eun, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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