Cautions on SOFA Revision Talks

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Cautions on SOFA Revision Talks

The U.S. government’s draft revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) was recently delivered to the Korean government. On May 31, U.S. Ambassador Stephen Bosworth handed the document to Korea’s Foreign Affairs and Trade Minister Lee Joung-bin. Supposedly, it contains a change in the time when suspects are transferred to Korean custody from the current policy of tranferring defendants when they are convicted to transferring suspects when they are indicted for offenses.

This article of the SOFA was thought to be one of the most troublesome provisions of the treaty. If the U.S. is willing to talk about a revision of the article, it’s definitly something that the Korean government should be hopeful about. But the U.S. is asking to retain jurisdiction for misdemeanors. They‘re also asking Korea to promise interview rights, visits by U.S. officials when necessary and personal food. Considering the rights of the accused suspects and the fact that both sides recognize the differences in the legal systems of the two countries, a reasonable solution might be found.

But it is known that the U.S. only talks about criminal jurisdiction in their version of the revision. The revision includes nothing on the environment, quarantine, worker’s rights and rights covering land use. If this is true, it‘s real easy to doubt as whether they actually have the will to negotiate. If only the problem of criminal jurisdiction could be settled, then there would be no point in the SOFA revision meetings to take place. The pollution that U.S. Army bases cause is beginning to have it‘s effect on Korea’s environment. It‘s also a mystery as to whether Korean workers in U.S. installtians are promised their basic labor rights. Currently, the Korean government can’t even hold quarantine tests on fruits and produce imported by the U.S. Army.

The problem with use of land is thought by most of the people as something that has to be modernized. The U.S. Army gets to use various facilities and land for free according to the SOFA. This is the same in Japan and Germany. But the Japanese have a provision in their domestic law that allows them to hold talks with the U.S. on the period of use and selection of land. But the case in Korea is much different. When the U.S. Army first came to Korea to discharge Japanese troops, they took over all of the Japanese bases. Also, because of the Korean War, U.S. personnel still use the land they occupied 50 years ago. If they bulid another building within their base, there‘s nothing the Korean government can do. We at least need something that can reduce the limits of their bases and a system that requires the U.S. Army to talk with the Korean government about changes at their bases.

by Ahn Jang-won

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