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Women’s groups call on human rights commission to probe Seoul mayor

Women`s rights activists submit requests for an inquiry at the reception of the National Human Rights Commission office in Seoul. (Yonhap)
Women`s rights activists submit requests for an inquiry at the reception of the National Human Rights Commission office in Seoul. (Yonhap)

Women’s rights activists on Tuesday submitted a letter calling on the state human rights watchdog to investigate the allegations against Park Won-soon, the late mayor of Seoul, that he sexually abused one of his secretaries amid concerns that probes by law enforcement may fail to follow through due to the implausibility of an indictment.

The activists staged a rally in front of the National Human Rights Commission’s headquarters in central Seoul demanding that a fact-finding mission take place into the reports of abuses at the mayor’s office. Park took his own life on July 9, a day after the secretary went to police with the accusations.

Speaking to reporters, Kim Jae-ryon, a lawyer representing the former secretary to Park, said the commission should initiate the probe into the case not at the request of other bodies, but by virtue of its own authority.

“The commission, being an independent public institution, has jurisdiction to investigate and respond to situations of serious violations of human rights under the mandate of the National Human Rights Commission Act,” she said.

In the letter signed by eight women’s groups and a team of lawyers defending Park’s accuser, Kim said they asked the commission to look into whether Seoul officials had been complicit in the abuse in any way and how the metropolitan government was unable to act when one of its employees sought help repeatedly throughout some four years.

Kim said in a news conference last week that the human rights commission was in the most apt position to handle the investigation, as law enforcement authorities are unable to press any charges in a case where the suspect is dead.

For two days on Tuesday and Wednesday, the Ministry of Gender Equality is investigating the municipal government for possible indications of a sexually hostile work environment or other discriminatory practices in the workplace.

But the findings from the investigation are not likely to result in any legally binding action, as the ministry does not hold that power. Referring to the ministry’s lack of authority to force changes, one of the policy directors suggested revisions to the laws to allow the probes to have effect.

“The ministry will make recommendations the city can adopt for creating a more inclusive and equitable work environment, but they are not enforceable,” he said.

Meanwhile, police on Monday nabbed three people suspected of leaking the details of the sexual abuse complaint online. One of them is a pastor of the church where the ex-secretary and her family are members. Her family reportedly told police they had confided the contents of the complaint with the pastor, seeking advice.

After admission from the nominee for the central police agency director during last week’s confirmation hearing that police had briefed the presidential office about the complaint against the mayor, civic groups have reported Cheong Wa Dae and police officials to the prosecution for sharing the complaint, which is confidential by law.

Police are also cracking down on abusive comments directed at the ex-secretary on digital platforms, which her lawyer has criticized as victim blaming. Police said the online statements can constitute criminal offenses such as libel and insult.

By Kim Arin (