[OUTLOOK]Security law still has relevanceThe fate of the National Security Law will be decided by the National Assembly this month.
Nobody was concerned with anything like the National Security Law until the establishment of the government in 1948, let alone right after national liberation in 1945. There was no need for such a law because the Japanese were defeated and there was a strong U.S. military presence here. However, the violent revolts provoked by leftists at Yeosu and Suncheon in South Jeolla province two months after the establishment of the Republic of Korea changed the situation.
The public agreed we needed a law to prevent the overthrow of our government by the communists. Although there were protests by those who were reminded of the nightmare of imperial Japan’s Public Order Maintenance Act, the National Security Law was enacted.
In other words, it was North Korea and the communist forces in South Korea that gave rise to the National Security Law.
Through the Korean War and until now, the National Security Law, along with our military forces, have been the two major pillars defending our liberal democratic system. If either of the two had not existed, the Republic of Korea as we know it today would not exist.
Especially in the 1980s and 1990s when a section of our society such as the academic community walked the pro-North Korean and pro-leftist path, the National Security Law came into the spotlight due to enforcement of the law.
The courts where the National Security Law cases were examined became battlefields between young people who freely expressed their devotion to changes in the political system and young public prosecutors filled with a sense of duty to protect the system.
Then one day public prosecutors were condemned as the maids of power while the defendants were treated as democracy fighters and even advanced to the center of political power. Supporters of the National Security Law have even been categorized as conservative Cold War forces, while those against the law have been categorized as reformists. Even the president publicly announced, “Relics of the past like the National Security Law should be put in a sheath and sent to the museum.”
The first point of debate of those against the National Security Law is that this law was misused as a means to sustain political power and suppress democracy protests, and there was much infringement upon human rights in the process. There are definitely such cases from the past.
Park Jong-cheol and Kwon In-suk represent those who were sacrificed. The public security authorities of the past must truly be contrite about such unfortunate incidents.
However, these cases were nothing but exceptional happenings and perceiving the whole thing in this context would be a distortion of the truth. The National Security Law has undergone several revisions to eliminate chances of abuse, but if any element that is incomplete remains by any chance, we should try to fix it rather than abolishing the law.
After all, the human rights situation in Korea today is totally different from the past. At the beginning of this year, the U.S. human rights organization “Freedom House” evaluated Korea as an advanced country in human rights protection with a political freedom level of 1 out of 7 levels, and a citizen freedom level of 2. Therefore the opinion to abolish the National Security Law because of human rights no longer holds water.
Also, the opinion that the law impedes reconciliation and cooperation between North and South Korea and is an obstacle to peaceful reunification is not right either. Reconciliation and cooperation cannot be accomplished through one-sided effort.
The regulation of the North Korean Workers’ Party that states, “The supreme goal of the Party is communization of the whole Korean Peninsula,” is still intact.
Last April, North Korea revised its criminal law to strengthen punishment against political offenders. As for the North Korean nuclear problem, on which depends the North’s fate, it is hard to predict which way the sparks of fire will jump. The reason why North Korea feels uncomfortable and demands its abolition persistently is because it is a major obstacle to its achievement of its goals. Therefore, it would not be right for South Koreans to agree with them and help them along.
The National Security Law is inevitably a law that can be in force only for a limited period of time. If it ever becomes clear that North Korea does not have any intention of hurting South Korea, the law will automatically not be needed. However, now is not the time.
Aside from the claim to abolish the National Security Law, the same goes for the theory to substitute it by revising the Criminal Code or enacting “alternate legislation.”
If such laws were for the purpose of sustaining the contents of the National Security Law of today, there is no difference in essence and it would be a matter of putting the same food on a different plate.
However, if we look just a little closer, we can find that there obviously are intentions to nullify the core contents of the National Security Law and water down its enforcement power.
Today, normal citizens in the South, excluding North Korean leaders and pro-North Korean forces in the South, experience no inconveniences because of the National Security Law. In fact, more than 80 percent of the people are against the abolition of the National Security Law.
Last year, the Supreme Court ruled against the abolition of the National Security Law and pointed out, “The establishment of a nation cannot be restored in full once it falls. Therefore, we cannot allow even a small fragment of naive or lax judgment in regards to our national security.”
In conclusion, I urge that the National Security Law should not be put in a sheath and sent to a museum as if it were an old relic, but rather it should be sharpened so that it can be used again when we need it and kept at our bedside.
* The writer is the representative attorney of Shin & Kim law firm. Translation by the JoongAng Daily staff.
by Kim Kyung-han