[EDITORIALS]Court’s ruling welcomeSeoul High Court has ruled that the government is responsible for compensating the family of Choi Jong-gil, a Seoul National University law professor who died while being interrogated by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency 33 years ago. The ruling made clear that the government should no longer dodge its responsibility by citing an expired statute of limitations after committing illegal acts such as torture and record falsification.
The verdict is important because it practically rules out the statute of limitations for crimes committed by the state, such as torture. Until now, courts have not recognized the government’s responsibility for compensation, quoting provisions that the statute of limitations for seeking compensation are three years from when the damage was discovered or five years from when the crime was committed. In fact, a lower court ruled against Mr. Choi’s family in January last year, citing the expired statute of limitations.
And yet, the Seoul High Court said the intelligence agency carefully manipulated the incident and concealed information about it, thus the government was trying to dodge its responsibility by claiming an expired statute of limitations.
The family did not know the truth of the incident until the truth commission on suspicious deaths announced its investigation outcome, the court said, and were therefore unable to exercise their right to seek compensation earlier.
The appeals court also presented an international pact as legal grounds for ruling out the expired statute of limitations in this case. International law generally does not apply a statute of limitations to serious infringements of human rights and inhumane crimes such as war crimes and torture, and the court applied such a universal principle to this civil case.
The cases of infringed human rights by the past administrations must be thoroughly investigated and the outcomes completey laid bare for the victims and their families. This ruling shows the new possibility of settling the past through legal procedures by setting a new precedent.
But we feel worried because government agencies competitively establish national commissions and laws devoted to finding out wrongdoings from the past. It appears the commissions care more about pleasing those now in power than about human rights. That will not improve human rights, but rather lower the dignity of the law. We welcome the appeals court’s ruling because it was a judicial settlement of a past government’s wrongdoing.