Combating discrimination is the way to restoring human dignity*

Kyunghyang Daily’s interview with Eamon Gilmore, EU Special Representative for Human Rights

17 September 2020, Brussels-Seoul

by Min-ji Choi and Hee-jin Ko

 

In an interview with Kyunghyang Daily on 17 September, Eamon Gilmore, the European Union (EU) Special Representative for Human Rights said that misunderstanding about anti-discrimination laws can only be eliminated when people continue to talk about it, including stories such as misfortunes they had to suffer due to discrimination.

“Combating discrimination is an ongoing fight. I encourage the Republic of Korea (RoK) to adopt a comprehensive anti-discrimination law and take all efforts to implement it effectively.”

In his e-mail interview, Special Representative Gilmore urged the RoK to enact the anti-discrimination law. Special Representative Gilmore is responsible for human rights issues at the EU. He is an Irish Labour Party politician who formerly served as the Deputy Prime Minister and Minister of Foreign Affairs of Ireland.

Regarding the RoK’s efforts to adopt an anti-discrimination law, Special Representative Gilmore said that “despite the fact that the attempts to pass the law have thus far not been successful, these efforts show that there is a healthy grassroots push to move ahead with a robust legal framework promoting and protecting equality in the RoK.”

The EU adopted the anti-discrimination Directive in 2000 to prohibit discrimination on the basis of race, gender, religion, disability, age and other factors. The European Commission closely monitors the implementation of relevant laws and infringement procedures are initiated against Member States that do not comply with the Directive. The 27 EU Member States have the obligation to report on their respective domestic situation regarding discrimination. Special Representative Gilmore explained, “robust legislation is not a silver bullet, by and in itself. Adopting a comprehensive anti-discrimination law is just a start of a long process of making equality and non-discrimination a reality.” He added, “we see numerous benefits stemming from this anti-discrimination Directive. I would like to stress that the Directive have brought our anti-discrimination protection to a new level.”

The EU is still faced with challenges. Discrimination based on prejudices still exist, and there are political forces that try to take advantage thereof. Special Representative Gilmore remarked that “while, by now, all Member States have established an “equality body,” further measures are needed to ensure that they function in an effective and independent manner.” He also said, “our key message for Korean legislators is that comprehensive equality and non-discrimination legislation bore fruit in Europe, despite the challenges and the time necessary to adapt.”

When asked about ways to deal with the opposition of Korean Christian groups to the enactment of the anti-discrimination law, citing reasons such as the act being used to promote homosexuality, Special Representative Gilmore presented “dialogue” as a solution. He said that “[support to the anti-discrimination law] stems from de-constructing fears, myths and unconscious bias.” He went on to say, “Why don’t we tell real life stories of LGBTI’s misery and humiliation brought about by hate and discrimination? Why don’t we tell real life stories of how combating discrimination changed people’s lives, restoring human dignity? Personal stories help overcome myths and misconceptions that might surround progressive laws and measures.”

In his interview, Special Representative Gilmore expressed concerns over the spread of discrimination, hatred and inequality amid the COVID-19 global pandemic. He said, “in every crisis and in every conflict, the first victims are often human rights and the rule of law at large.” He also remarked that “the pandemic and its socio-economic consequences are having a disproportionate impact on the rights of women, children and elderly persons, refugees and migrants among others and are deepening pre-existing inequalities.”

He emphasized that human rights must be at the heart of our responses to the pandemic and introduced the EU’s Team Europe package, through which some EUR 20 billion will be provided as support to partner countries. This financial package provided by EU Member States’ governments, financial institutions and investment-development banks will be used not only for humanitarian support to women, migrants, children and elderly persons in Africa, the Middle East, Asia and other vulnerable countries outside Europe, but also for strengthening public health and sanitation systems in those countries.

Special Representative Gilmore also said that in crises like the one we face today, transparency about its human rights ramifications is very much needed. Here, he highlighted the roles of independent media, human rights defenders and whistle-blowers. He said, “for enacting efficient measures against discrimination, we need to know the truth. Civil society and independent media are indispensable in building a world where human rights prevail. States must protect them and facilitate their work.” Special Representative Gilmore virtually participated as a speaker in the 2020 Conference on Combating Hate and Discrimination held by the National Human Rights Commission of Korea. In the conference, discussions took place on the necessity to adopt the “Equality Act” in order to protect socially vulnerable persons from hate and discrimination. Here, Special Representative Gilmore once again emphasized his hope to see  the basis for further strengthening anti-discrimination in South Korea established through the conference.

 

*First published on the Kyunghyang Daily on 17 September 2020.