Seoul—Animal protection groups in South Korea have come together to support an historic bill by President Moon Jae-in to revise the country’s constitution including recognition of animal protection for the first time. Eight animal groups, including Humane Society International/Korea, have formed the Korea Animal Rights Coalition for Constitution Reform. The president’s bill announced on March 20 is the first time in history, since the very establishment of the Republic of Korea, that a president has shown a determination for the nation to protect animals.
President Moon Jae-in’s proposal for a revised Constitution stipulates in Article 38 (3) that “the nation must implement a policy for the protection of animals” thereby declaring that animal protection is the responsibility of the nation. The amendments must be agreed by the National Assembly with a two-thirds majority and then voted on in a public referendum scheduled for 13 June. If the amendment passes, it will make it possible for animal advocates to pursue fundamental reform in the way that animals are treated under the law in South Korea. Despite the existence of the Animal Protection Act, animals in South Korea are still treated terribly and not provided the protections they should be given.
The Korean coalition is urging the National Assembly to engage in proactive discussions about amending the constitution. Despite agreeing for the past 30 years with the need for changes to the constitution, the National Assembly has neglected to take action.
Public support is strong in South Korea for amending the constitution. An opinion poll conducted by research organization RealMeter on 23 March found that 64.3 percent of people agree with the president’s amendment bill. A national petition supporting the bill has gathered more than 200,000 signatures. Despite this powerful public mandate, advocates are concerned that politicians from both the ruling and opposition parties may squander the opportunity to reflect the hopes of the public, and engage in political point scoring instead.
The process is further complicated by the fact that the National Assembly must revise the Referendum Act in sufficient time for a referendum to be held during June’s regional elections. The Constitutional Court of Korea ruled that the Referendum Act is incompatible with the Constitution and so without this necessary revision, the entire process could stall.
Borami Seo for Humane Society International/Korea says: “As a proud member of the Korean Coalition, we believe that the president’s bill which stipulates our nation’s responsibility to protect animals, is the best solution for amending South Korea’s constitution. As President Moon Jae-in himself stated, the constitution is the face of the nation, meaning it belongs to the people. And as such, the time is right for the constitution to reflect our nation’s growing concern for animal welfare. For too long, animals in South Korea have been left to suffer with very little legal protection.”
Seo notes that the public’s concern for animals has already led to the birth of animal advocacy in South Korea, with some meaningful but limited advances.
Seo continues, “But as long as Korean laws and institutions aren’t required to include protections for animals, the animals suffering in our laboratories, pet shops, meat farms, and fur industry will continue to suffer, and it will be impossible for our country to develop world-class animal protection policies fit for the twenty-first century.
If the president’s bill passes, animal protection will be formally stipulated in the constitution, meaning that the government must draft relevant policies to protect animals, thereby paving a new path for animal rights.
The Members of the Korea Animal Rights Coalition for Constitution Reform are: Animal Welfare Awareness Research and Education, Change2020, Hot Pink Dolphins, Humane Society International, Korea Animal Rights Advocates, Korean Organization for the Protection of Cats, Lawyers for Animal Rights and People for Non-Human Rights.