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South Korea: Candidates Speak Out on Human Rights

2 of 4 Major Presidential Contenders Respond to Questionnaire

South Korea’s presidential candidates – (l to r) Lee Jae-myung, Ahn Cheol-soo, Shim Sang-jung, and Yoon Suk-yeol – pose for a photo before a televised debate for the March 9 presidential election, in Seoul, South Korea, February 21, 2022. © 2022 AP Photos/Heo Ran

UPDATE: On the evening of February 27, 2022, Yoon Seok-youl’s campaign submitted a response to the Human Rights Watch questionnaire.

(Seoul) – Two of four major South Korean presidential candidates responded to a questionnaire on key human rights issues facing the South Korean people, Human Rights Watch said today. Human Rights Watch prepared the questionnaire to provide the candidates an opportunity to publicly express their views on human rights concerns and policies ahead of the March 9, 2022 presidential elections.

Shim Sang-jung of the Justice Party and Lee Jae-myung of the Democratic Party of Korea submitted responses in Korean, which are also available in English in translations by a professional translator. Ahn Cheol-soo of the People’s Party and Yoon Seok-youl of the People’s Power Party did not respond to the questionnaire, which was sent in Korean to the four major candidates on January 25.

“Presidential candidates Shim Sang-jung and Lee Jae-myung have done South Korean voters a service by sharing their views on the critically important human rights issues affecting South Korea, as well as its relations with North Korea,” said Lina Yoon, senior Korea researcher at Human Rights Watch. “Sadly, human rights issues have largely been missing from debates and discussions in the South Korean presidential campaign.”

The Human Rights Watch questionnaire contained 15 questions focused on children’s rights to education, women’s rights, the rights of older people, the rights of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender (LGBT) people, freedom of expression, and human rights policy toward North Korea. The deadline for responding was February 21.

Human Rights Watch contacted each campaign multiple times between January 25 and February 25 via phone, text message, and email to ensure that they had received the questionnaire and to remind them of the deadline. On February 8, the campaign teams of presidential candidates Lee Jae-myung and Shim Sang-jung told Human Rights Watch that they planned to respond. On February 17, candidate Ahn Cheol-soo’s campaign told Human Rights Watch that they would not respond due to what they said were scheduling difficulties. On February 21, candidate Lee Jae-myung’s campaign team asked for an extension to February 25 to submit their response, which they sent on February 24. Yoon Seok-youl’s team responded to repeated attempts to contact them on February 25, but gave no indication whether they would respond to the questionnaire.

“All South Korean presidential candidates should clearly state their positions on human rights issues,” Yoon said. “South Korean voters should know what their prospective future president thinks about discrimination, inequality, and freedom of expression.”



Below is a Human Rights Watch summary of the responses received. Please consult the candidates’ responses from the two campaigns for the candidates’ full answers.


Lee Jae-myung

Shim Sang-jung

Yoon Seok-yeol

Discrimination in Access to Education

- Expand support in schools for underprivileged children.

- Review expanding free education benefits to include migrant children.

- Provide education access to all children regardless of their backgrounds.

- Provide free preschool education for children ages 3 to 5.

- Support services for children not registered at birth to get access to education.

- Provide early intervention services and insurance coverage for developmentally challenged babies and young children and their families.

Comprehensive Sexuality Education

- Agree with the need for a comprehensive, developmentally appropriate, accurate and scientific sexuality education.

- Ensure protection of people’s right to sexual autonomy with comprehensive sexuality education based on equality and respect.

- Include gender equality and digital literacy, including prevention of sexual violence.

Digital Literacy Education

- Create a child-friendly digital environment in which children exercise self-leadership in using digital services and are protected from harmful digital content.

-Strengthen digital literacy education and implement child protection regulations.

- Provide education to prevent sex crimes online and digital literacy education in schools.

- Establish timely intervention and prevention by installing and expanding sexual abuse/harassment response teams in city and provincial education offices.

- Provide digital literacy education, including sexual violence preventive education, at all levels of school.

Gender-based Violence

- Strengthen both punishment for offenders of dating violence, stalking, and sexual violence, and support for victims.

- Take a no-tolerance approach to sex crimes targeting children and adolescents.

- Eradicate digital sex crimes by installing a dedicated investigation unit, creating a forfeiture system to confiscate profits made from these crimes, and strengthen responsibility of platform providers.

- Strengthen punishment for offenders and support for victims of gender-based violence, including victims of digital sex crimes, stalking, child abuse, and dating and domestic violence.

- Increase human and financial resources to systematize immediate removal of all identified illicit digital images, and obligate app business operators to monitor their platforms to protect users.

- Redefine crime of rape, based on lack of consent.

- Establish “one-stop victim solution centers” providing services from physical safety protection and counselling, to return to normal life support.

- Hire digital sex crime specialists to delete illegal images.

- Implement strong government accountability system to protect stalking victims.

Discrimination against Women

- Introduce a system to publish wages to promote gender equality and establish a plan with affirmative action measures to reduce gender wage gaps; create equal employment units in the Employment and Labor Offices.

- Install a fair employment committee under the National Labor Relations Committee.

- Prevent gender discrimination by establishing gender equality officers in the workplace and anti-discriminatory employment guidelines.

- Introduce a law to reduce the gender wage gap.

-Introduce a system to publicize the employment environment by gender for all stages of employment from recruitment to retirement to establish a fair labor environment.

Ratification of the International Labour Organization (ILO) Convention No. 190 on Violence and Harassment

- Support the ratification of the ILO Convention No. 190 on Violence and Harassment.

- Support the ratification of the ILO Convention No. 190 on Harassment and Violence and implement measures to eradicate harassment and violence in the workplace.

- Support ILO Convention No. 190 ratification after sufficient review.

Regulation of Abortion

- Supports the 2019 Constitutional Court’s decision, which decriminalized abortion during the first three months of pregnancy, and supports amending the Criminal Law and Mother and Child Health Act to carry out this ruling.

- Expand insurance coverage for contraception and abortion.

- Ensure access to safe abortion and sexual and reproductive health by increasing easy access to information in hospitals, pharmacies and public clinics; create more medical and counselling services; introduce the use of medical abortion pills, and eliminate financial barriers to access contraceptives.

- Need stakeholder opinions and public hearings regarding the legalization of abortion after the first three months of pregnancy.

Poverty among Older People

- Abolish regulations that reduce the basic pension amount if a partner receives a pension; revise pension reduction for people with alternative income sources.

- Expand insurance coverage for dental implants and lower the eligible age; introduce integrated nursing and care services.

- Provide social welfare services, including medical, welfare, rehabilitation, and financing for care workers to allow for in-home care services.

- Provide affordable housing services customized to the needs of older people.

- Increase the basic pension from 300,000 won to 400,000 won.

- Establish a presidential committee on public pension reform to prepare for a “super-aged” society.

Employment among Older People

- Create 1.4 million jobs for older people,

- Cooperate with community resources to encourage businesses to participate in job creation for older people.

- Create social participation activities and jobs for older people.

- Reinforce enforcement of the Act on the Prohibition of Age Discrimination in Employment and Elderly Employment Promotion.

- Expand businesses obliged to provide retiring middle-aged/older employees with outplacement support service.

- Extend minimum retirement age to 70 years old.

- Install “life-long worker centers” to facilitate older people employment.

Article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act

- Address same-sex sexual acts in the military based on social consensus

- Abolish article 92-6 of the Military Criminal Act, which prohibits male military members from engaging in consensual sexual activity with other men.

- Supports prohibition of same-sex sexual acts of military persons.

Same-Sex Partnerships

- Same-sex partnership should be accepted and not be grounds for discrimination, but will address based on social consensus.

- Enact a partner registration law so that same-sex partners can enjoy equal rights and benefits as a family in the absence of same-sex marriage.

- Revise the Civil Code to recognize same-sex marriage.

- Pass a comprehensive anti-discrimination act

- Acknowledge the right to choose one’s sexual orientation, but need to carefully approach the issue because denying biologically assigned genders and recognizing same-sex couples could have significant social impact.

Threats to Freedom of Expression and Freedom of the Press

- Fake and fabricated news with malicious intentions need to be addressed through social and institutional systems.

- Support establishment of an integrated self-regulatory body for press freedom and effective remedies for damages for victims

- National Security Act, which criminalizes positive comments about North Korea, dissemination of North Korean propaganda, and possession of North Korean books and publications, is one of the greatest threats to freedom of expression.

- Abolish all regulations that threaten the freedom of the press, although public media, run on tax money, may require minimal adjustment to secure its public nature and neutrality.

- Allow the creation of an organizational culture in which different opinions can be freely expressed. 

Criminal Defamation Law

- Review components of the crime of defamation, and revise if necessary.

- Abolish the Criminal Defamation Law and the crime of insult.

- Does not support repeal of the criminal defamation law.  

National Security Law

- Abolish problematic clauses of the National Security Law and seek public consensus regarding the law itself.

- Repeal the National Security Law, and if necessary, revise the Criminal Code.

- Support revision based on the country’s security situation or if there is public consensus.

Implementation of the North Korean Human Rights Act

- Respect the incumbent government’s position and directions.  


- Expedite the recommendation process for board members for the establishment of the North Korean Human Rights Foundation and the appointment of an ambassador on North Korean human rights.

- Facilitate the process to establish without delay the North Korean Human Rights Foundation.

- Immediately appoint an ambassador on North Korean human rights.

Promotion of North Korean human rights internationally

- Cooperate with international efforts to make North Korea adhere to human rights.

- Continue South Korea’s humanitarian efforts to improve the economic rights of North Koreans, including an inter-Korean human rights dialogue.

- Cooperate with the international community to improve the human rights situation in North Korea.

- Strengthen solidarity with domestic and overseas human rights organizations to promote human rights in North Korea.

- Co-sponsor North Korea resolutions at the UN and will actively participate in international human rights dialogues.

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