07/25/2006, 00.00
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Anti-discrimination bill drawn up

After three years of work, the National Human Rights Commission submitted the wording to the Presidential Office and recommended it be approved swiftly. There are 20 criteria defining discrimination, and employers have protested about this.

Seoul (AsiaNews/JAD) – The National Human Rights Commission yesterday presented a comprehensive bill to the South Korean government on prevention of discrimination – one of the most widespread social problems in the country –and recommended it to the prime minister for approval. With the bill, which the commission has been working on since 2003, the Blue House [the presidential cabinet] is expected to finalize the wording of a law by March next year and present it to the National Assembly.

The future law stipulates that the country should undertake to eliminate discrimination in all public and private sectors including employment and education. The concept of discrimination is defined according to 20 criteria, including gender, physical disability, religion, age, nationality, race, skin colour, appearance, pregnancy, ideas and sexual preferences.

The government will also be obliged to sanction "indirect discrimination" that results in unfair treatment for a certain group of people: occupational and sexual harassment would also be considered discrimination.

Some employers have expressed "concern" about the decree: Choi Jae-hwang, head of the policy department of the Korea Employers Federation said: "The bill excessively focuses on protection without recognizing the difference between actual differences of acts, regarding wages, for example, and unfair discrimination. It would interfere with companies' management."

Some businessmen said it was "ridiculous" to have 20 criteria to define the concept of discrimination: "Anti-discriminatory bills in the United States, Canada and England and they define discrimination based on six to seven criteria. Twenty is too much," they said.

According to the Commission's data, there are "still too many groups discriminated against in our country, but those who suffer most are Koreans from the northern side of the border." More than 67% of North Korean refugees in South Korea say they are discriminated against "in several ways" at work.

The discrimination the refugees are subjected to has many forms.  More than 50% of refugees surveyed said they are discriminated against in terms of income, while 52.7% said they get unfair treatment in promotion.

In the case of younger refugees, 20% experienced bullying in public schools, while 48% of the students attend schools without revealing they are from the North because of fear.

The South Korean government also contributes significantly to the unease of refugees: 20% of the refugees are molested by persistent phone calls late into the night by public security officials and 30% say "they are sure they are still being watched".

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