Thursday, June 10, 2021

A death in Korea. Will reforms follow?

South Korea may see major reforms to its military justice system in the wake of a soldier's suicide after sexual abuse. Hyonhee Shin reports here for Reuters. Excerpt:

Lee's case triggered calls for an amendment of the Military Court Act, which activists say hampers the independence and fairness of criminal investigations because commanders oversee military prosecutors and courts.

The law also allows military chiefs to reduce sentences by up to a third, and that often results in lighter penalties for sexual abusers, the activists say.

Members of parliament's legislation and judiciary committee discussed on Thursday an early passage of a pending bill for revising the law to dilute commanders' power, including removing their authority to reduce sentences.

The proposal also calls for limiting military courts to first trials and transferring appeals to civilian courts.

* * *

"In order to enhance the military judiciary system's credibility, the influence of commanders over the procedure of criminal cases, reform should be taken to ensure the independence and fairness of investigations and trials," [Defense Minister] Suh [Wook] told the [parliament's legislation and judiciary] committee.

Any of this sound familiar? 

1 comment:

  1. This is a recurring issue in South Korea. We talk about the case briefly in our book - Military Courts, Civil-Military Relations, and the Legal Battle for Democracy -

    While the 1948 constitution prohibited civilians from being tried in military courts, this was superseded by various emergency measures and declarations of martial law. This was the case for the entire 1972 to 1981 period, when martial law was finally lifted when the onset of the Fifth Republic.

    Military courts have not tried civilians since, but they still retain broad jurisdiction over members of the military. At least until 2014 (and perhaps still, not sure) they covered members of the military even for traffic offenses.

    Military judicial reforms were drafted in 2006 but failed due to backlash from the military. Pressure increased in 2014 following the death of a private due to hazing that was initially covered up by the military. The reforms failed to advance. It remains to be seen if this new event will finally change things.

    The Korean Herald has a good article from 2018 covered this:

    Another from the Korea Times in 2014 is helpful:


Comments are subject to moderation and must be submitted under your real name. Anonymous comments will not be posted (even though the form seems to permit them).