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Rights Group Criticizes S. Korea

April 10, 1999

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) _ The South Korean government is trying to control what was supposed to be an independent human rights watchdog, an Amnesty International statement said Saturday.

The rebuke came three days after 32 local human rights activists went on a hunger strike Wednesday at a Roman Catholic church in Seoul to protest the government’s draft bill for establishing a national human rights commission.

Amnesty International’s deputy secretary general, Patti Whaley, said the proposed commission lacks independence and has weak investigative powers.

It ``does little to enhance human rights protection in South Korea and will not win the support of the international community,″ Whaley said in her statement, a copy of which was faxed to The Associated Press.

President Kim Dae-jung has promised to launch a watchdog commission to monitor human rights violations by police, prosecutors, intelligence officials and other government agencies.

Human rights groups initially hailed the decision. But as the draft bill for the commission took shape, they accused Kim’s government of trying to manipulate the commission.

They noted provisions in the draft bill that require the commission to report all its decisions to the justice minister, who will also have the right to approve its annual budget.

They also wanted a say in selecting the commission’s nine members.

According to the draft bill, submitted last week to the single-house National Assembly, the prime minister, chief justice and parliamentary speaker will make recommendations to the president who appoints the commission members.

Kim has promised more consolations with rights groups before the bill goes through parliament.

The president, who had himself been persecuted by former authoritarian leaders, became the first opposition leader to win the presidency after emerging victorious from elections in late 1997.

He has since promised to promote human rights.

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