The NHRC is taking some heat for its failure so far to weigh in the controversy over the media defying Korean tradition and defamation law to publish or broadcast the face of accused serial killer Kang Ho-sun.
The National Human Rights Commission (국가인권위원회) finds itself in a growing bind. Certain media have revealed the face of 38-year old serial murder suspect Kang Ho-sun, leading to controversy over “the human rights of mass murderers” and the NHRC is being called on to issue its opinion on the matter. But many are defending the media’s actions as preventing further crimes. The NHRC continues to be silent on the matter,
In a telephone interview on the 14th a member of the NHRC said, “on the rights of mass murderers, the chair of the Commission has yet to form a concrete opinion based on theoretical principles. Public hearings have yet to be held on the matter, ” adding, “with the media acting more or less emotionally, there is a need for regulation.” Not even one step has been taken towards the Commission issuing an opinion.
The current controversy over the rights of killers began on the 4th with the publication by police of its synthesized policy for public security (치안종합대책). At the time the police requested the Ministry of Justice to re-examine, from the perspective of the prevention of recidivism, fundamental laws regarding the publication of criminal’s faces. Various human rights groups pushed back, saying, “the principle of the presumption of innocence requires the protection even of the human rights of criminals.”
Ahn Gyeong-hwan, head the Commission, first spoke straightforwardly on the 5th, saying, “a paper on the publication of the faces of mass murderers is being right now, taking into account the diverse opinions of all levels of society. We plan to determine what it is the Commission must do.”
But the announcement had not lessened discontent with the NHRC. Most writings of netizens and citizens have frankly approved the publication of killer’s faces, saying, “are these mass murderers’ rights so important? What about the dead women,” “whose responsibility is it when mass murderers are mass produced because of human rights,” and “I’ve heard the abolition of the death penalty has led to at least a 30% increase in murders. So why not publish their faces.” The Korean Society Opinion Institute (한국사회여론연구소) announced on the 4th the results of its survey finding that 79% of citizens favor publishing the faces of mass murderers.
Against this background the NHRC faces the burden of issuing its opinion on the rights of killer. There is a high possibility that hastily-held public hearing and debates would result in heavy criticism. “Discussion is being conducted internally, but so far there has been no agreement,” another member of the Commission said, describing the atmosphere inside the organization.
But the Commission does not appear to be ducking the issue. The Commission member said, “Everything must be taken into account, the participation of police, prosecutors, and the media, consultation with other human rights groups, that the only example is the Kang Ho-sun case, whether there will be other cases, and the rights of the victims.” Even so, “a decision cannot be easily reached in this case, but there will need to be a complete review of the issue next year or the year after.