Respect human rights in the ArmyPresident Park Geun-hye yesterday expressed deep sympathy for the death of a 28th Division soldier, identified only as Yun, due to beatings and bullying by senior soldiers. The president said such shameful practices must end and that the military must hold anyone involved in the case accountable.
Park made the remarks after public uproar over barbaric barracks culture did not subside and with some even refusing to join the Army. The military will now focus on punishing perpetrators, censuring senior officers and revamping outmoded military behaviors. The military is considering an application of murder charges to the four suspects instead of death resulting from bodily injuries. Army Chief of Staff Kwon Oh-sung stepped down yesterday after taking responsibility for the soldier’s death. It is inevitable for military authorities to hold other officers in the command chain culpable for the tragedy.
A military revamp must begin with creating an atmosphere in which human rights, above all, are respected. Only then can morale and combat capability be reinforced. To root out harassment, abuse, beatings and bullying, the military must establish an effective system in which victimized soldiers can report their harsh treatment to the authorities anytime and anywhere. The soldier from the 28th Division had no means whatsoever to inform his family and friends of the torture he endured for four months. That’s why some contend that the military must allow soldiers to use mobile phones.
Military authorities must sternly punish those who inflict cruel treatment on other soldiers. The court martial has been levying punishments that are too light on assailants. According to 2011 data on punishments on those who inflicted cruel treatment, 602 soldiers, or 64 percent, of a total 938, were not prosecuted and only 17 were imprisoned. Last year, too, 61 percent of 558 soldiers avoided prosecution and only 13 served jail terms. The government must end such lax punishments.
The military must reinforce education for junior and noncommissioned officers. As it turned out, the only staff sergeant, surnamed Yoo, in the medical unit where Yun served even joined in with the violence. If primary officers don’t have a sense of mission and leadership, military reform is a distant dream. Special attention must be paid to small, independent units like Yun’s medical detachment. We hope the military begins change with a strong determination.
JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 6, Page 30