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(LEAD) Rights watchdog to probe late mayor's allegations

All News 15:02 July 30, 2020

(ATTN: ADDS details throughout, photos)
By Lee Minji

SEOUL, July 30 (Yonhap) -- South Korea's national human rights watchdog said Thursday it will begin a probe into allegations that late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon sexually harassed his secretary over several years.

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said its representatives made a unanimous decision in a closed-door meeting to accept a request from civic groups and a lawyer representing the victim to launch an ex officio investigation into the case.

The commission said it had been in talks with the victim after three complaints related to the case were submitted, saying that the victim also requested an ex officio investigation by the watchdog earlier this week.

The watchdog said it plans to organize a separate team to probe the case, which will look into the sexual harassment allegations as well as the work culture of the city government, which neglected the victim's repeated calls for help.

Its probe will also review overall measures related to sexual harassment as well as how sexual abuse allegations involving high-ranking public servants who are elected to their posts are dealt with.

While the rights commission's recommendation is not legally binding, it "aims to recover the victim's rights and obtain remedies to damages by conducting reconciliation between the parties, and other appropriate measures as dictated by the legal system," according to the commission's website.

Officials from women's rights groups submit a request asking the National Human Rights Commission of Korea to probe sexual misconduct allegations raised against late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon at the commission's office in central Seoul on July 28, 2020. (Yonhap)

The decision came two days after the victim's side made the request on Tuesday.

Calling the case a typical one of power-based sexual abuse, the civic groups rejected a proposal by the city government to launch an independent investigative committee to handle the case, saying the government should also be probed instead of organizing it.

In a July 22 press conference, they asked city officials to take responsibility, saying that the case "goes beyond issues personally related to Park" and is actually "an organized crime that was sustained by power."

Kim Jae-ryun, a lawyer defending the victim, then said the probe, if launched, should encompass not only the single case but the city government's overall work culture as well, mentioning how the victim had consulted 20 colleagues without getting any help.

The victim filed a complaint with the police earlier this month, claiming that Park sexually harassed her over four years and that her repeated calls for help went unanswered. The police launched a probe into the case, but Park was found dead at a Seoul mountain two days later in an apparent suicide.

Participants, dressed in purple and holding violet-colored umbrellas, walk in front of Seoul City Hall in central Seoul on July 28, 2020, as they march to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, demanding a "proper investigation" into sexual misconduct allegations raised against late Seoul Mayor Park Won-soon. (Yonhap)

mlee@yna.co.kr
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