Amnesty International on Thursday expressed concerns about the rights of sexual minorities in South Korea in its yearly human rights report, calling on the government and parliament to improve the situation.
In a review of human rights in the Asia-Pacific region, released Thursday, the human rights organization hailed the Constitutional Court’s 2019 decision ruling the country’s abortion ban unconstitutional as a “historic step” for women’s rights. It also recognized “strong youth voices” urging action on climate change.
But it criticized the government’s inaction in setting a direction for human rights in the country.
“Rulings by the Constitutional Court only cannot bring about progress in human rights. The parliament and the government should show political leadership to improve human rights,” said Lee Kyung-eun, director of Amnesty International Korea, at a press conference at the Seoul Global Center.
The international organization particularly took issue with the lack of protection for the rights of gay and transgender people in the military, citing a military act that criminalizes sex between adult men. Article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act has institutionalized discrimination, stigmatization and systemic prejudices in the military, it said.
Despite calls for anti-discrimination legislation by an association of 128 human rights organizations and the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights, the government “did not take any action,” it said.
A Korean transgender sergeant was forcibly discharged from the military earlier this month after undergoing sex reassignment surgery while enlisted, despite her wish to continue service as a female officer. In Korea, damaging or removing one’s genitals makes a person unfit for military service in accordance with a Defense Ministry ordinance.
Commenting on North Korea’s human rights situation, Amnesty International pointed to the Kim Jong-un regime’s restrictions on freedom of movement and speech, as well as to reports of public executions, political prison camps and severe food shortages.