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[Newsmaker] Human rights watchdog to get first female head

President Moon Jae-in on Tuesday named a women’s rights expert to head the National Human Rights Commission, amid growing calls to better protect the rights of women and minorities.

Choi Young-ae, chief of the human rights commission of the Seoul Metropolitan Government, has been tapped as the new chief of the National Human Rights Commission, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Eui-kyeom announced at a press briefing.

If appointed, the 67-year-old will become the first female chief of the human rights watchdog since its foundation in 2001, replacing Lee Sung-ho, who was appointed in 2015 by former President Park Geun-hye. The nominee is required to undergo a parliamentary confirmation hearing.

Choi, who majored in religious studies at Ewha Womans University and holds a master’s degree in gender studies from the same institution, has long worked to fight gender-based violence and improve women’s rights in a still largely patriarchal society.

She currently serves as president of a private organization supporting female North Korean defectors -- Women’s Human Rights Defenders -- and heads a committee charged with drawing measures to curb sexual harassment and violence under the Culture Ministry.

Choi established an advocacy group for victims of sexual abuse, the Korea Sexual Violence Relief Center, in 1991 and has taken helm until 2001. In the early 1990s, Choi advocated on behalf of a sexual violence victim, who murdered her stepfather who had raped her, bringing to the fore the issue of sexual violence by family members and contributing to the enactment of a special law on sexual violence in 1993.

She also played a role in establishing the NHRCK in the late 1990s and later served as a secretary-general of the human rights watchdog.

“The nominee is a human rights expert, who has been at the forefront of protecting human rights of the socially marginalized over the past 30 years,” the Cheong Wa Dae spokesperson said, adding she will help South Korea become an advanced nation in terms of human rights protection.

“She may be a female head of the human rights commission, but she will not just focus on women’s rights, as she will also deal with overall human rights and democratic procedures in our society,” Kim said.
f appointed, Choi will be the first to be tapped through a public nomination system. A committee charged with recommending candidates for the post submitted a shortlist of three people to Moon. 

“With such a nomination process, the country has now secured independence and transparency in the selection of a member of the human rights commission, which has long been demanded by local and international rights groups,” he said.

Choi’s nomination comes as a social movement to combat sexual discrimination and violence continues to spread in South Korea. Amid rising awareness of gender equality and feminism, South Korea is also witnessing conflicts between radical groups of men and women.

On a cable-TV channel SBS CNBC talk show aired in April, Choi hailed the ongoing #MeToo movement in South Korea as “revolutionary.”

Also on Tuesday, the NHRCK announced that a new department in charge of monitoring discriminatory acts, reviewing complaints and opening investigations into cases involving discrimination will be added to the human rights watchdog starting from July 24.