SOFA,This Time,Better Be GoodThe Status of Forces Agreement(SOFA), which defines the rights and role of the United States Armed Forces in Korea, is expeceted to be reopen for negotiations soon. This accord is also expeceted to be discussed during the conference between the National Defense Ministers of Korea and the United States. SOFA, known as one of the most unfair accords made with the U.S, has been left untouched for three and a half years since revision efforts from 1995 to 1996.
In recent demands for revisions of the SOFA, jurisdiction over U.S. service men charged with serious criminal acts has be the main source of controversy and will attract the most public attention.
In the latest attempts at revision, Korean authorities insisted that the date for handing over suspected U.S. service men should be before the 'completion of all indictment procedures or even before the legal procedure.' The U.S. disputed this and wished to lengthen the period before U.S. suspects are handed over to Korean authorities and to minimize the range of criminal charges that Korean authorities would handle. Due to this dispute, the negotiations went nowhere at all.
In a case in Japan in 1995, there was a U.S. soldier accused in a rape case involving a Japanese girl. The Japanese government then succeeded in finalizing an agreement which would transfer soldiers with serious criminal chargers to Japanese authorities before the indictment procedures. This is a good example for Korea to follow and Korea, therefore, should try to achieve the same rights.
With the coming opportunity for negotiations, the people of Korea should urge the government to eliminate the regulations that force Korean authorities to 'favorably consider' U.S.demands for jurisdiction.
It is easy to see how hostile national sentiment became when it was learned that the murderer of a hostess at a foreigner-only bar in Itaewon in February this year was a U.S.servie man. Usually in such cases it is the ill handling of the matter that enrages the public rather than the crime itself. Such cases have a high chance of leading to extream anti-U.S.sentiments.
Since 1991 the percentage of Korea authorities handling the criminal cases of U.S. service men has only been a mere 3 percent. The section in the SOFA dealing with jurisdiction is in desperate need of amendment.
However that doesn't mean that we should limit our perspective only to criminal acts. There are still a lot of problems in the SOFA that need to be carefully revised. Environmental responsibility and the establishment of supportive relationship between U.S.Army and local residents in times of emergency are just two things that need work.
This time, we hope our diplomats do their best at the negotiating table as a representative of a proud soverign state and finally correct this unfair accord that has trapped Korea for over 30 years.
by Chae Byung-gun