[EDITORIALS]Closing the booksA committee designed to investigate properties held by collaborators with the Japanese colonial government will begin work on Friday. These attempts to recover properties held by such people and their descendants will resume for the first time since 1949, when a similar group was disbanded. This new committee said it would focus on descendants of members of blatantly pro-Japanese Koreans and persons who were actively involved in Japan’s encroachment into Korea or who held senior positions in the Japanese colonial government. Nearly 400 of them have been identified. We do not oppose the idea of seizing properties amassed during Japan’s colonial rule in Korea and returning them to the national treasury. Given the historical justification and the deep anger and resentment of Koreans, this is something that should have been done immediately after liberation. It is unfortunate that the job was left unfinished in 1949.
But despite all the historical inevitability, we have several concerns about the activities of this new committee. The first concerns the retroactive legislation. Although legislation on investigating anti-national activities during Japanese rule was passed by the National Assembly last year, it did not answer questions about retroactive enforcement. We should not punish descendants of pro-Japanese collaborators for their ancestors’ actions 60 years ago. That would violate their human rights and constitutional democracy.
Also, we are concerned that the committee’s members will abuse their power by arbitrarily determining the amount of property to seize. It will be difficult to decide just how “pro-Japanese” those people were decades ago, and the ambiguity could generate misunderstandings.
There is also a question of equality if the committee cannot seize properties that have already been disposed of. Also, what should the committee do about the portion of properties that the pro-Japanese descendants have won the right to withhold from the Korean government? Should these people claim that the seizure of their properties is unconstitutional, we will face divided public opinion. So the committee must pay attention to fairness and independence, and must not infringe on individual basic human and property rights. Also, the committee must not engage in its mission with a political agenda in the name of closing the books on history. To achieve this political neutrality, staying independent of government politicking is a prerequisite.