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[Newsmaker] Embattled human rights chief clings onto post

It appears that nobody wants him back except President Lee Myung-bak and his advisers. Lee’s reappointment of National Human Rights Commission chief Hyun Byung-chul for another term Monday was met with excoriation from all walks of life.

Civic groups staged a protest Tuesday at the commission office in downtown Seoul to stop the infamous commissioner accused of ethical lapses from coming to work. Other activists denounced the reappointment as reversing the nation’s human rights development.

The main opposition Democratic United Party called it Cheong Wa Dae’s “declaration of an anti-human rights war” and filed a lawsuit against Hyun for giving false testimony at his parliamentary hearing.
National Human Rights Commission chief Hyun Byung-chul (Yonhap News)
National Human Rights Commission chief Hyun Byung-chul (Yonhap News)

The ruling Saenuri Party also showed reluctance saying it was “somewhat regrettable.”

Such universal denouncement was expected, as ever since Hyun, a former legal scholar, took the post in 2009, he has faced criticism for having no experience and little interest in human rights. During his pro-government tenure, such socially-contested issues as the 2009 Yongsan disaster that followed a violent police crackdown were left unvisited. The Freedom House downgraded South Korea’s press freedom from free to “partially” free in 2011. On a personal level, Hyun was also grilled over plagiarism and real estate speculation, to name a few issues.

It was difficult to comprehend President Lee’s intention.

Fundamentally, the public’s angst derives from exasperation over having their concerns ignored about the body that exists to ensure people’s basic rights.

Perhaps, as some suggested, Hyun was just another scapegoat to allow President Lee hold onto power during his remaining six months in office.

Apparently fully aware of the fury, and possibly due to his own disquiet, Hyun skipped his inauguration ceremony and planned a vacation for the week.

By Lee Joo-hee (jhl@heraldcorp.com)
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