[Newsmaker] Justice minister nominee accused of sexism

By Ock Hyun-ju
  • Published : Jun 14, 2017 - 16:12
  • Updated : Jun 14, 2017 - 18:33
When President Moon Jae-in picked Ahn Kyong-whan as justice minister, his apparent lack of ties to established powers and ample experience of advocating human rights made him look like a good fit to reform the country’s law enforcement system.

The choice was seen as a reflection of Moon’s determination to overhaul the powerful law enforcement body, which has been criticized for holding too much power with its exclusive rights to indict.

But the former head of the nation’s human rights watchdog has come under fire for his “sexist perception of women,” which some say could dim his chances of taking the minister’s job.

Justice Minister nominee Ahn Kyong-whan speaks to reporters at a temporary office in Seoul on Wednesday. (Yonhap)

In the book titled “What is a Man,” Ahn, 69, described women as “a necessary companion to alcohol-fueled gatherings.” “There should be women at alcohol-fueled gatherings. If none, there should be at least mothers-in-law around you,” he said.

Ahn also appeared to justify men’s purchasing of sex, saying “Wives, like all other Korean mothers, have no interest in taking care of their husbands in bed as they are immersed in children’s education.”

“There is a saying that young women cannot be beggars unless they are mentally ill. Rather than begging for money, they can live with pride as prostitutes. There are countless men who attempt to pay for sex with women,” he said.

“There is a long history of trading human bodies. A young woman’s body is a source of life. It is any man’s wish to be reborn by putting oneself in spring water.”

In a column in 2004 for local daily DongA Ilbo, he also wrote, “The love story between man and woman evolves in different situations, but the essence is always the same. In other words, men are potential rapists and women are prostitutes.”

The book also included what appears to be his misogynic views about women.

“Korean women want everything. Some women say they want a funny guy, but they also want a luxury brand bag. It is pitiful and sad for Korean men,” he wrote.

Ahn served as the chairman of the country’s state human rights watchdog from 2006 to 2009. He later stepped down, lambasting then-conservative President Lee Myung-bak’s policy on human rights. In 2003, he headed a policy advisory committee for the Justice Ministry. Since 2013, he has served as an emeritus professor of law at Seoul National University.

In another column run by local paper Gwangju Ilbo in July 2014, he also confessed that he had had ethical lapses, which could further tarnish his reputation.

“I was lucky enough that I was not caught, but I drank and drove on several occasions. If asked at (a) confirmation hearing, how should I answer?” he said in the column titled “truth and falsity of (a) confirmation hearing.”

He said “he doesn’t know” whether he would have been appointed as head of the National Human Rights Commission in 2006 if he had to go through a formal confirmation hearing.

“I have neither avoided the mandatory military service nor registered a false home address, but I may not have paid enough taxes when buying real estate. It is not right even though it was an ordinary practice,” he said.

In a book published in 2000, he also made remarks about his son’s dual citizenship.

He wrote to his son, “You will be forced to serve South Korea as your home country, but you have another country of yours -- the US.”

Dual citizenships of high-ranking officials’ children here have been subject to much criticism as in the case of Foreign Minister nominee Kang Kung-wha who is being attacked for her daughter’s dual citizenship.

There is strong public sentiment against children of high-profile figures having dual citizenships, especially sons, amid criticism that the system could be exploited to prevent them from serving the two-year mandatory military service in Korea.

“I will leave the judgement to readers,” Ahn told reporters while entering his makeshift office in central Seoul on Wednesday morning. “I will give a detailed explanation during the confirmation hearing.”

Opposition parties, even the minor progressive Justice Party which has so far supported Moon’s personnel choices, have strongly condemned the nominee, asking the president to withdraw his choice.

By Ock Hyun-ju (