The South Korean constitution protects human rights and generally the government respects and abides by its provisions. There are, however, a number of problem areas. Since the end of military rule, oppression of individual liberty has decreased. Although there is no sign that capital punishment is likely to be abolished, death sentences are decreasing in number. There are no reports of terror or kidnappings being committed by the secret police. It has been several years since a demonstrator was killed by the police.
South Korea has ratified the international Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment or Punishment in 1995. Nevertheless, there are reports of police keeping criminal suspects awake for long periods of time, using physical or verbal abuse, and practicing intimidation. Students arrested during demonstrations and workers arrested during strikes are subject to harsh and insulting treatment by the police. From 1993 to 1998, there were 1,353 cases of citizens suing officials for violence, confinement, and torture. Public prosecutors chose to indict police officers in only a small percentage of these cases.
Prison conditions remain less than ideal. Prison rules concerning visits, exercise, and discipline are harsh. Free speech and free assembly are allowed but restricted. Every demonstration requires permission from the police chief. South Koreans have a right to privacy. Currently, it is only possible to tap phones with a warrant issued by a judge. Security agencies legally tap 6,000 to 7,000 phones a year, but some human rights groups are of the opinion that there are far more illegitimate tappings. Koreans are issued an identification card when they reach the age of seventeen. Along with personal information, citizens must file their fingerprints, which the police store in digital form. The government supports rights for the disabled in theory, but in practice the disabled face discrimination and limitations on their ability to lead a decent life. Facilities specifically for the convenience and accessibility of the disabled are rare: only 37 percent of public buildings are equipped with such facilities.
The Korean constitution and labor laws protect workers’ rights. South Korea became a member of International Labor Organization in 1991. There have been no reports of compulsory or child labor. A minimum wage system is in place, and the work week is limited to forty-four hours. Female workers have to tolerate bad labor conditions and discrimination in the work place. Discrimination toward women in all areas of life is common. Because of traditions giving women second-class status, women have little chance of reaching the upper ranks in business or political life.