All grown up, she is now in Geneva as a human rights expert for the 52nd session of CESCR (Committee on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights). The first Korean UN CESCR member, professor Shin Hei-soo (Graduate School of International Studies) has served the committee for four years and was re-elected in April to work until 2018. As a CESCR expert, professor Shin works to protect international human rights.
During the biannual CESCR meeting that takes place in Geneva, she examines state reports of how each country has implemented the International Covenant on Economic, Social and Cultural Rights. Inside the Committee, she was also elected as the chair of the Working Group on Communication that examines complaints by people who were allegedly violated their rights. The Working Group makes initial recommendations to the Committee for countries if such violation has indeed occurred.
“Violation of human rights occurs because the haves monopolize resources while the have-nots are disadvantaged and discriminated,” professor Shin said.“The UN has established international standards for human rights. As a CESCR member, I work to implement the standards and create a society where people are treated equally regardless of race, age, gender, disability or other social status.”
Professor Shin pinpoints diligence as a virtue that a CESCR expert must have. During her university years, she worked hard as a reporter for the Ewha Weekly for over two years. Today, during the three to four-week CESCR session, she wakes up at 3 a.m. to review numerous pages of state reports. Professor Shin has also continued to promote women’s rights from 1975. In the 90s, she supported female victims of violence as the president of Korea Women’s Hotline. Simultaneously, she publicized the issue of Japanese military sexual slavery for 15 years, making the UN investigate the issue. Her active promotion of women’s rights received international recognition, enabling her to be elected as a member of the UN Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women. Currently, she is also the president of an NGO called Korea Center for United Nations Human Rights Policy and tries to establish a national system according to which the Korean government implements the UN’s human rights policies. Professor Shin relates that her English major has helped her throughout her human rights career.
“Majoring in English has played a significant role in my career,”professor Shin remarked. “Because of my English ability, I was given the task of raising the issue of military sexual slavery by Japan to the UN human rights bodies. During this process, I worked in solidarity with women’s rights activists from abroad and learned about various human rights problems around the world.”
As a human rights expert, professor Shin hopes to maintain close relationships with human rights organizations and the civil society. Currently, she teaches “Women and Human Rights”as a professor at Ewha Graduate School of International Studies.
“Women’s human rights issues, such as violence against women, equal opportunity for women in decision-making, women’s equal participation in the labor market and stereotypical gender roles are dealt with in class,” professor Shin said. “It is rewarding to teach at Ewha since I also learn from discussing with students from Asia and Africa about the reality that women are facing in each nation.”
For students interested in a career in international human rights, professor Shin stresses that they should have a genuine interest in human rights.
“Students should never pursue a career in international organizations with the intention of getting a ‘good job.’ I recommend that students interested in human rights issues start working in human rights organizations in Korea. As many Korean organizations cooperate with international counterparts, students will naturally be able to work with international organizations through the process.”