Overhaul the SOFA

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Overhaul the SOFA

As crimes committed by soldiers of the U.S. Forces in Korea continue to occur, Korean people are starting to ask for changes in the Status of Forces Agreement, which was signed by both governments in 1966 and enacted a year later. The demands are getting louder, particularly after a strong backlash against sexual assaults on high school girls by U.S. soldiers in Dongducheon, Gyeonggi.

As a result, the U.S. forces and the U.S. government are responding quite sensitively to the situation - including the resumption of night curfews for soldiers - because they know that such crimes can damage the amicable relations between the two allies. Our government is also busy preparing measures to deal with the situation by establishing a task force supported by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of National Defense, the Combined Forces Command, the National Police Agency and the Prime Minister’s Office.

But civic groups, including Women Corea, a national coalition championing women’s rights, criticize those moves as being too cautious. They argue that a fundamental solution can only be found when the two governments completely overhaul the SOFA. They cite Article 5 of Clause 22 in particular, which strictly prohibits our police from detaining suspects for interrogation before the prosecution indicts them, even when they commit a felony such as murder, burglary or rape. Because of the article, our police have a lot of trouble in the early stages of investigations, and that usually leads to light punishments for very serious crimes.

In fact, the SOFA has been improved considerably after some clauses were amended both in 1991 and 2001. Yet privileges are still being granted to U.S. forces in Korea. It is internationally accepted that soldiers stationed overseas should be dealt with differently from the average local citizen. Still, we believe it is time for both sides to consider revising Article 5.

The long and deep ties between Korea and America, primarily based on our security alliance, have been further extended into the economic realm as a result of the U.S. Congress’ swift ratification of the Korea-U.S. Free Trade Agreement.

The strategic importance Korea represents to the U.S. and its other allies is growing faster than at any other time. It’s not desirable for Korea and the U.S. to see a recurrence of shameful crimes by U.S. soldiers without knowing how best to deal with them. The stronger the ties, the more flexible both sides should be able to be.
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