Thursday, September 29, 2005

Re-examining the Past Too.

Update 2:

The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said yesterday (Nov. 15) that legislation is needed to remove any statute of limitations that bars prosecution of state-sponsored rights abuses of the past.


On a closely related note, the Seoul High Court ordered the prosecution's files on KAL858 bombing opened after a suit by a victims' families association.

Two days ago the Chosun Ilbo had an article entitled "
New Reform-Minded Supreme Court Chief Sworn In
", which had this to say:
Lee Yong-hun was sworn in as the 14th chief justice of the Supreme Court on Monday. At his inauguration ceremony, the man widely expected to head reform of the traditionally conservative institution said, “In the decades of dictatorship and authoritarian regimes, the judiciary has not maintained its independence from political pressures nor served as the last stronghold of human rights protection. All jurists deplore the concerns and scars we have caused the Korean public.” [...]

Lee also expressed an intention to admit in whatever form that key decisions by the court -- examples include the discredited death sentence for innocent people in an incident known as the People's Revolutionary Party Incident in 1975 [pictured above] -- were miscarriages of justice. “Above all, it needs the courage to confess past mistakes frankly to restore lost public confidence in the judiciary,” Lee said.
Anyone wondering whether this meant that the courts would begin re-examining their past (like the Defense Ministry and the National Intelligence Service) didn't have to wait long to find out. Two days after Lee's inauguration, today's Chosun Ilbo gave us an article, titled "Courts Start Sifting Through Ignoble Past":
Court officials said Wednesday courts nationwide were ordered to collect several tens of thousands of rulings and trial records on security-related cases under Korea’s authoritarian governments. Courts have been told to prioritize rulings made between 1972 and 1988 with words in the title or text like “democracy”, “dictatorship”, “National Security Law” and “Molotov cocktails”.
Not everyone within the courts agrees with this however:
Some judges resist a drive they say could hurt the judiciary’s independence, but others say it comes not a moment too soon. The dissenting judges argue it is impossible to decide who would have the authority to revise rulings by judges who are considered individual constitutional bodies, and warn the effort could undermine judges’ trial authority.
The other examinations into the past by the NIS and Defense Ministry would appear to be fact finding missions, with little (at this point) intention of pressing charges or punishing those who carried out government sanctioned torture or murder. They also have had rather specific cases in mind, unlike the wide-ranging criteria involved in this judicial probe. Also, statements like "admit in whatever form that key decisions by the court were miscarriages of justice" are somewhat vague but could suggest overturning past rulings. I wonder if there is a legal framework that allows them to do this (especially on such a mass scale), or whether the legislative wing of the government will have to get involved. I also wonder if such wide ranging criteria for inclusion into the probe will make it a rather large undertaking - and just who will be expected to do the extra work. I imagine, beyond the judges who were complaining, that there will be a lot of clerks and whatnot complaining bitterly about having so much more work to do...

1 comment:

Muninn said...

Matt, how can I get in touch with you? I would very much like to invite you to a new collaborative weblog at Frog in a Well dedicated to Korean history at Kotaji will also be joining us. I would love to email you more details if you think you might be interested in joining us. Can you email me at kmlawson [at] if you think you might want to hear more?