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Human rights commission to investigate harassment allegations against ex-mayor

National Human Rights Commission of Korea Chairwoman Choi Young-ae speaks during a standing committee meeting held at the commission's office in central Seoul, Thursday. The commission has decided to begin an investigation into sexual harassment allegations raised against the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. / Yonhap
National Human Rights Commission of Korea Chairwoman Choi Young-ae speaks during a standing committee meeting held at the commission's office in central Seoul, Thursday. The commission has decided to begin an investigation into sexual harassment allegations raised against the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. / Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) said Thursday that it will create an investigation team to look into allegations that the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon sexually harassed his secretary over four years.

The state-run human rights watchdog noted its investigation will also encompass an accusation that the Seoul Metropolitan Government turned a blind eye to the victim despite her repeated complaints.

The decision was made unanimously during a standing committee meeting presided over by NHRCK Chairwoman Choi Young-ae.

"We have decided to begin an investigation as requested by the victim into sexual misconduct allegations raised against the former mayor," an NHRCK official said.

Park, a former civic activist, human rights lawyer and three-term Seoul mayor, was found dead on Mount Bugak in Seoul at 12:01 a.m., July 10, after the former secretary filed a sexual harassment complaint with police, July 8.

No more details about his actions are known yet, but many have suggested that he acted out of mounting personal pressure following the complaint.

Kim Jae-ryun, the lawyer for the former secretary, claimed Park had touched the victim multiple times and had sent her "inappropriate" messages via Telegram over the past four years.

The NHRCK's decision came two days after Kim and women's groups submitted a request asking the human rights watchdog to investigate the high-profile case.

Kim and women's groups rejected a proposal by the city to launch an investigative committee to deal with the incident, claiming it was unqualified to handle the case as the local city government itself is one of the subjects of the investigation.

The lawyer also called on the NHRCK to draw up measures to prevent any recurrence of sexual harassment by elected high-level government officials.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced the results of its inspection of the city government carried out Tuesday and Wednesday, noting that the local administration had yet to draw up measures to protect and support the victim.

The ministry said the city government should have come up with proper measures to guarantee anonymity of the victim and prevent her from suffering "secondary damage," asking it city to deliver detailed plans at the earliest possible date.

In addition, the ministry called into question the effectiveness of the city government's system for dealing with sexual harassment cases, saying procedures to investigate incidents and take disciplinary action against wrongdoers were too complicated and slow-moving.

"In particular, too many people and departments get involved in procedures to resolve these cases. This raises the risk of information leaks that could further traumatize victims," an official said.

The ministry called on the city government to provide anti-sexual harassment training targeting high-level officials to help them better understand gender issues.

During its inspection, the ministry reviewed reports of sexual harassment cases from over the past three years and interviewed those in charge of personnel affairs at the city government as well as employees in their 20s and 30s.


National Human Rights Commission of Korea Chairwoman Choi Young-ae speaks during a standing committee meeting held at the commission's office in central Seoul, Thursday. The commission has decided to begin an investigation into sexual harassment allegations raised against the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. / Yonhap
National Human Rights Commission of Korea Chairwoman Choi Young-ae speaks during a standing committee meeting held at the commission's office in central Seoul, Thursday. The commission has decided to begin an investigation into sexual harassment allegations raised against the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. / Yonhap

By Jun Ji-hye

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) said Thursday that it will create an investigation team to look into allegations that the late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon sexually harassed his secretary over four years.

The state-run human rights watchdog noted its investigation will also encompass an accusation that the Seoul Metropolitan Government turned a blind eye to the victim despite her repeated complaints.

The decision was made unanimously during a standing committee meeting presided over by NHRCK Chairwoman Choi Young-ae.

"We have decided to begin an investigation as requested by the victim into sexual misconduct allegations raised against the former mayor," an NHRCK official said.

Park, a former civic activist, human rights lawyer and three-term Seoul mayor, was found dead on Mount Bugak in Seoul at 12:01 a.m., July 10, after the former secretary filed a sexual harassment complaint with police, July 8.

No more details about his actions are known yet, but many have suggested that he acted out of mounting personal pressure following the complaint.

Kim Jae-ryun, the lawyer for the former secretary, claimed Park had touched the victim multiple times and had sent her "inappropriate" messages via Telegram over the past four years.

The NHRCK's decision came two days after Kim and women's groups submitted a request asking the human rights watchdog to investigate the high-profile case.

Kim and women's groups rejected a proposal by the city to launch an investigative committee to deal with the incident, claiming it was unqualified to handle the case as the local city government itself is one of the subjects of the investigation.

The lawyer also called on the NHRCK to draw up measures to prevent any recurrence of sexual harassment by elected high-level government officials.

Earlier in the day, the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family announced the results of its inspection of the city government carried out Tuesday and Wednesday, noting that the local administration had yet to draw up measures to protect and support the victim.

The ministry said the city government should have come up with proper measures to guarantee anonymity of the victim and prevent her from suffering "secondary damage," asking it city to deliver detailed plans at the earliest possible date.

In addition, the ministry called into question the effectiveness of the city government's system for dealing with sexual harassment cases, saying procedures to investigate incidents and take disciplinary action against wrongdoers were too complicated and slow-moving.

"In particular, too many people and departments get involved in procedures to resolve these cases. This raises the risk of information leaks that could further traumatize victims," an official said.

The ministry called on the city government to provide anti-sexual harassment training targeting high-level officials to help them better understand gender issues.

During its inspection, the ministry reviewed reports of sexual harassment cases from over the past three years and interviewed those in charge of personnel affairs at the city government as well as employees in their 20s and 30s.


Jun Ji-hye jjh@koreatimes.co.kr

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