The Army can’t police itself

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The Army can’t police itself

The Defense Ministry has announced it will institute a council to ensure human rights are upheld during military service amid snowballing fear and criticism of the treatment of soldiers after a private was killed in a brutal beating by superiors.

But few will be convinced that these actions will improve human rights conditions during the mandatory military service. The military has repeatedly lied to the public. It confidently declared that violent practices and language no longer exist in the barracks. It assured people that soldiers can freely report violence by phone and in writing.

But in reality, few reports were administered. Those who reported such cases received little protection and no improvements were made. Harsh, threatening and violent physical and verbal abuse was tolerated and even approved as part of the everyday disciplinary routines of military life.

Every time death or misfortune occurred from bullying in the barracks, the military tried to hide or play down the severity of cases instead of aggressively addressing them. The horrendous monthlong torture of Private First Class Yun, which left him dead in April, was kept hidden for three months until an outside investigation reported it.

In the meantime, the military tried its best to cover up the case and escape accountability. The military said it conducted an investigation into violence across Army units from April after Yun’s death and received 3,919 reports. Still, a soldier went on a shooting rampage in the 22nd Infantry Division after long-suffering humiliation and bullying in June.

Either the investigation had been carried out because of formality or soldiers did not feel confident enough to tell the authorities the truth. Servicemen said the so-called special education on human rights that the military carried out earlier this month was recycled material they had heard during training. It is clear that the military is trying to buy time by feigning that it is taking action to make improvements.

The military, however, resists any outside supervision and interference. It warned servicemen that they could face punitive action if they use a call service run by a civilian group under the sponsorship of the National Human Rights Commission to report military violence and sexual harassment. The military neither has the will nor the ability to change itself. Regardless of protests, a civilian watch must be established within the military.

JoongAng Ilbo, Aug. 11, Page 30

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