Different era, different rulesThe Truth and Reconciliation Commission announced that it will release the names of the judges who handed down the rulings of 1,412 emergency measures in the 1970s. The Emergency Measures Act was passed in 1972 when President Park Chung-hee amended the constitution to guarantee an indefinite presidential term. Under the Emergency Measures Act, certain citizen freedoms and rights could be suspended when deemed necessary. At the time, the court almost mechanically doled out rulings for those who broke the law under this Act.
From the perspective of democracy, the Emergency Measures Act was clearly anti-democratic and abusive. Many people were sentenced just for criticizing the government while talking with friends in pubs, classrooms or even on the streets.
Since judges could not disobey orders from the government and handed out rulings according to the Act, they, too, could be called “undemocratic.”
However, those were different times and different circumstances. Our leader decided to use a strong hand for the sake of economic progress and to safeguard the nation from the North Korean threat.
The 1972 Yushin (Renewal) Constitution and the Emergency Measures Act were the methods he chose.
Some might accuse him of having been greedy for power but he definitely did lead Korea in its unprecedented achievement of economic progress and kept the country safe from the North. At that time, the judges could not help but acknowledge the Emergency Measures Act.
Even President Roh Moo-hyun himself, who harshly criticizes the Yushin Constitution, could become a judge by studying the Yushin Constitution.
It is only appropriate that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission should investigate cases of human rights abuse during the years of military dictatorship.
However, the commission should also take an objective view on the special nature of that era and carefully consider the consequences of releasing such sensitive information to the public. An emergency measure ruling already has the name of the judge in charge stated in it. Is it really necessary to release the names of the judges collectively after 30 years has gone by? Most of the judges in question now form the senior leadership of our judiciary system.
Are we indeed setting history right when we judge their past deeds using today’s standard of democracy?