Human rights activists criticized the South Korean government Thursday for excluding homosexuals from proposed anti-discrimination legislation.
"We'll fight to the end until the government withdraws its legislation," said Han Chae-yoon, a lesbian activist.
The Justice Ministry announced last month it would introduce a law banning discrimination against people in 20 categories and specifying legal action for violations.
Key parts of the legislation - particularly the sexual orientation category - quickly prompted reaction from conservative Christian groups who claimed the measures would foster homosexual relationships. Many employers also reportedly raised concerns the law would weaken their competitiveness.
The Justice Ministry rewrote the bill and dropped seven categories, including sexual orientation, nationality, and language spoken.
Dozens of human rights activists, labor party members and gay and lesbian activists held a joint press conference Thursday calling on the government to reverse its decision.
"By eliminating the seven clauses, in which the most discriminative acts take place, this law became one that rather fosters discrimination," a joint statement said. "Conservative Christian groups should immediately stop their witch hunt on sexual minorities."
A coalition of conservative Christian groups rejected their call, however. "That will only increase homosexual love and AIDS in our society," said Chang Hun-il, secretary-general of the Politics Mission Association.
The issue has also drawn outside attention, with U.S.-based Human Rights Watch sending a protest letter to the South Korean government this week.
"A supposed landmark nondiscrimination law has been hollowed out to exclude Koreans, including lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender people, who are in need of protection," Jessica Stern, a researcher from the group, said in a statement this week.
Easing diverse social discrimination is one of key campaign promises of President Roh Moo-hyun, whose single five-year term ends in February. The state-run National Human Rights Commission recommended in August last year that the Justice Ministry enact a broad nondiscrimination law.
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