South Korea: Homosexuality Removed from Classification of "Harmful and Obscene" in Youth Protection Law

On April 3, the Youth Protection Committee of South Korea removed the classification of homosexuality as "harmful and obscene" from the 1997 Youth Protection Act. On the previous day, the Korean National Human Rights Protection Committee (NHRPC), after considering appeals from the Korean Iban (Korean term used to describe lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders) community about how this law justified censorship of LGBT sites on the internet, had issued a resolution to the Youth Protection Committee. The NHRPC resolution ruled that prohibiting youth from accessing sites with homosexual content violates guarantees of pursuit of happiness, equality, and freedom of expression enshrined in the Korean Constitution. The Korean Iban community hails this decision, which follows a two-year battle against this anti-gay law, as a critical turning point for the movement--and calls for letters of congratulation to the Korean National Human Rights Protection Committee and the Youth Protection Committee. This support is especially critical in the wake of an intense backlash to this revision by anti-gay psychiatrists and right-wing Christian forces.

ACTION

The Korean Sexual Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC) calls for letters of congratulation and support from the international human rights community to the Korean National Human Rights Protection Committee and the Youth Protection Committee. Please send e-mail messages to the addresses listed below:

Korean National Human Rights Protection Committee Mr. Chang-Kuk Kim, President
E-mail: ckkim22@humanrights.go.kr Website: http://www.humanrights.go.kr/eng/about/greeting/GrPreGre.jsp
Youth Protection Committee Ms. Seung-Hee Lee, Chairperson
E-mail: dckim@youth.go.kr Website: http://www.youth.go.kr/english/default.htm

In the "Subject:" line of your message, please include: "Attention: Seung-Hee Lee, Chairperson" Please send copies of messages and congratulatory letters to:

Huso Yi, Deputy Director Korean Sexual-Minority Culture and Rights Center (KSCRC)
Samheung Bldg., 5th Floor 256-2, Hangangno 2-ga,Yongsan-gu Seoul, 140-871, Korea Email: kscrc-en@kscrc.org

SAMPLE LETTER

Dear Sir or Madam, I am writing as a member of the international human rights community to commend the recent ruling of the National Human Rights Protection Committee and Youth Protection Committee to repeal the 1997 Youth Protection Act to remove homosexuality from the classification of "obscenity and harmful to youth". This discriminatory law has been used to justify the blockage of all homosexual content on internet sites in Korea, in violation of the rights to freedom of expression, freedom from discrimination, and information. This revision of the 1997 Youth Protection Law is important because it harmonizes Korean law with the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), to which the Republic of Korea is a signatory. Articles 2 and 26 of the ICCPR recognize that all persons are equal before the law and are entitled to protection from discrimination on any ground including race, color, sex, language, religion, political or other opinion, national or social origin, property, birth or other status. The United Nations Human Rights Committee has held this definition to include sexual orientation as a status protected from discrimination. Moreover, Article 19 of the ICCPR protects the right to freedom of expression. Allowing information about sexual orientation on the internet restores access to vital, even life-saving information and sources of community, particularly for the vulnerable population of lesbian and gay youth. Korean lesbians, gays, bisexuals, and transgenders face many forms of stigma and prejudice in society. This ruling reflects the positive commitment of the National Human Rights Protection Committee and Youth Protection Committee to create a society free from discrimination for all people. I appreciate your current and future efforts to further the promise of universality of human rights and to extend protections against discrimination to every citizen in Korea, regardless of their sexual orientation. Sincerely, [Name] [Organization]

BACKGROUND INFORMATION

On April 2, the National Human Rights Protection Committee (NHRPC), after hearing complaints from the Korean Iban community about censorship of LGBT sites on the internet, issued a resolution stating that articles criminalizing "distribution of homosexual love" and defining "homosexual love" as "harmful to youth" in the 1997 Youth Protection Act should be removed. Prohibiting youths from accessing LGBT sites, according to the NHRPC, constitutes violations of the rights to pursuit of happiness, equality, and freedom of expression guaranteed in the Korean Constitution. The NHRPC delivered its resolution to the Korean Youth Protection Committee. The following day, on April 3, the Youth Protection Committee adopted the NHRPC resolution and announced it would submit a revision of the Youth Protection Law--with the removal of homosexuality from the category of "obscenity and harmful to youth"--to Congress. This law revision proposal was also delivered to several government agencies, such as the Information Communication Ethics Committee, the Korean Publication Ethics Committee, the Korea Media Rating Board, and the Korean Broadcasting Commission, for appropriate revisions within their charters. The Korean Iban community hails this decision as a significant victory--one which follows a two-year battle against this discriminatory law. However, conservative Christian groups and anti-gay psychiatrists have vociferously protested against this revision of the 1997 Youth Protection Law. In particular, one week ago, the Christian Council of Korea issued a press release entitled "Does the Korean government promote homosexuality to youth?", with sharp anti-gay rhetoric. The Kookmin Ilbo newspaper, owned by church groups, has printed homophobic articles almost everyday since the NHRPC's ruling. Not only the Korean Iban community, but also the NHRPC and YPC have come under fire for their stand against discrimination and for freedom of expression and information. Against this backdrop, support and commendation from the international human rights community is especially critical.