(Unofficial translation)

Distinguished guests from home and abroad, 

Today marks the 70th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. I extend my deepest respect to all noble endeavors to protect and promote human rights.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights began by reflecting on the Second World War. Its Preamble and Articles contain a resolute determination that the most horrible war in human history and chronicled barbarous acts must never be repeated.

The Declaration’s Article 1 declared that all human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. Delineated in the following 29 Articles are the fundamental human rights that must not be violated by any power, including any country.

The history of the Republic of Korea’s human rights has been a journey of fierce struggle for freedom and equality. The aspirations of every single ordinary citizen coalesced to achieve the right to lead a decent life. The religious and legal communities as well as civic organizations joined forces.

Seoul Cathedral Anglican Church of Korea in which we are gathered today still holds traces of glorious struggle in every corner.

During the Korean War, priests and nuns suffered martyrdom one after another in the name of religious freedom. Standing in the courtyard inside the Cathedral is a monument in honor of the martyrs. 

This place was also the epicenter of democratic uprisings in defiance of illegal incarceration and torture by past military-influenced regimes. At six o’clock in the evening on June 10, 1987, the sound of bells ringing to herald democracy filled the Cathedral gently. The democratic struggle that originated from here spread like wildfire across the country. Eventually, the era of military dictatorship was brought to an end.

When the country’s democracy was in peril two years ago, the waves of candlelight to restore it started right here just as in the past. 

The history of the Republic of Korea’s human rights began with the people’s strength alone. That history is now inscribed in the Constitution and laws of the Republic of Korea and has led to the birth of the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, an independent organization.

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen,

There are boundless rights that humans are entitled to. Children have the right to rest and play as they like. Workers have the right to work under fair and favorable conditions. We have the right to enjoy an adequate standard of living for family health and happiness.

Recently, many people have expressed concerns over the issue of violence against children. The National Human Rights Commission of Korea advised some problematic childcare facilities to conduct on-the-job training related to children’s human rights and set forth its opinions that the competent authorities have to carry out special inspections and guidance to protect them. Its rationale was that children’s exposure to abuse and violence for a long time would be detrimental to their healthy growth and emotional stability. 

The Commission stated that inspecting the lockers of patients in mental institutions could possibly infringe on their privacy and freedom. With regard to those who are subject to substandard surroundings at detention facilities, it recommended that the Ministry of Justice and the Ministry of Health and Welfare provide appropriate and specialized medical treatments. 

Discrimination and hatred have divided our society these days. I heard that Chairperson Choi Young-ae and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea are taking the lead in preparing measures to address these issues. I look forward to a culture of respecting others’ rights as our own taking root in our society. 

When human rights are realized in everyday lives, their value is demonstrable. The endeavors of the Commission will help human rights take hold in our lives. 

The Commission was once subject to scathing criticisms that it was becoming bureaucratized, closing its eyes and ears to crucial and pending human rights issues in society. However, I am pleased to see it returning to what it was when it was launched, which stood on the side of the vulnerable in society. 

I hope the Commission will be able to restore its previous reputation as an exemplary national human rights institution in the international community. As President, I promise that the Commission’s independence in its undertakings will continue to be thoroughly guaranteed. 

In addition, the Government will do its utmost to build a society where everyone, including the vulnerable, can enjoy equal rights and an inclusive society in which no one is discriminated against. 

The 3rd National Action Plan for the Promotion and Protection of Human Rights, which was announced in August this year, is a part of such efforts. In line with public expectations, the new Plan incorporated novel contents related to the people’s rights to life and safety, corporate social responsibility and respect for human rights. 

I hope that human rights standards will improve each day and the understanding of human rights will be broadened in our country. 

Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, 

Among countries that underwent colonial rule, dictatorship and war, few countries maintain human rights standards on par with Korea. I believe this is the fruition of the sincere efforts of each human rights activist here.    

However, there is still a long way to go. This is because the war on the Korean Peninsula has not completely ended, and peace has not been settled. 

John Humphrey, who wrote the first draft of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, said, “[T]here can be no human freedom or dignity unless war and the threat of war is abolished.” The current Preamble of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights proclaims, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world.” 

Human rights are guaranteed through peace, and peace is secured through human rights. 

Dissolving the vestige of the Cold War and establishing permanent peace on the Korean Peninsula is to promote human rights and decent lives for all of our people. This will be the foundation of freedom, justice and peace on the Korean Peninsula and in Northeast Asia and, moreover, around the world. 

I hope that human rights, democracy, peace and prosperity materialize together on the Korean Peninsula. Our endeavors will become a hope for the entire world. 

Distinguished guests from home and abroad, 

Looking around this Cathedral, the architecture is truly beautiful. Western and traditional Korean styles mingle in harmony. The essence of each other’s style has been preserved and respected, creating a space full of peace. 

The process of construction is also remarkable. Funds were raised little by little to augment insufficient finances while the Cathedral was built over 87 years. 

I believe that human rights are somewhat akin to this. Differences do not result in discriminations but are accepted with respect and exist with each other to create a harmony and balance. It means never giving up despite any ordeal and completing changes in silence.    

In addition, we should never forget the historic lesson that barbaric history can repeat itself when human rights are ignored. 

I extend my gratitude and words of encouragement to everyone at the National Human Rights Commission for making this event possible today, fully demonstrating the history and significance of “The Universal Declaration of Human Rights.” 
  
While placing a top priority on the value of human rights and never backing down, I will move forward by taking one step at a time. I hope that the people will join us on the path toward human rights and peace. 

Thank you.