Sunday, December 21, 2014

ROK waiver of primary jurisdiction documents to be unveiled

The Seoul Administrative Court has ordered the release of documents that could explain why the South Korean government waived primary jurisdiction in a number of criminal cases involving United States military personnel. These decisions are typically not publicly explained, and can be a flashpoint between a host state and visiting forces, as case after case from, for example, Okinawa, indicates. The Korea Herald has the story. Excerpts:
Local supporters of the ruling hope it will lead to more transparency in criminal proceedings against United States Forces Korea troops, and close any legal loopholes that may have allowed some U.S. troops to go unpunished.
USFK troops are usually under the primary jurisdiction of South Korean courts. But USFK suspects often escape local judges due to a clause in the status of forces agreement saying jurisdiction over offenses committed during “official duty” lies with U.S. officials.
Critics have said the clause has allowed some USFK officials to escape South Korea’s legal system. The South Korean government often labels documents related to those cases as classified, making the cases murkier and inciting public criticism.
[Liberal lawyers group] Minbyun officials had petitioned the Justice Ministry to have documents related to some of the cases disclosed, as part of public efforts to address the issue.
But Justice Ministry officials had refused, considering them to be “sensitive diplomatic material.”
Judges sided with Minbyun, saying that the contents of the documents did not harm the national interest. Rather, they said, the public had a right to know why local courts gave up their jurisdiction rights.
Documents related to some high-profile cases will now be publicly reviewed. 
They include an incident that occurred in July 2012, when seven U.S. military police officers allegedly handcuffed several South Korean civilians following a verbal dispute over a traffic violation outside a U.S. military base in Pyeongtaek, Gyeonggi Province.

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