Funds trump rights in the armed forcesThe lack of attention and resources the military has paid to the human rights situation in its own ranks has come under fire following a string of abuse cases and suicides that were recently made public.
The Korean Army found itself at the center of controversy once again at the end of last month after the abrupt death in April of a young conscript in its 28th Division was unveiled.
The 23-year-old private, surnamed Yun, died on April 6 after being beaten and sexually humiliated by his superiors in the barracks for months, according to the Center for Military Human Rights. For weeks after his passing, the Army claimed Yun had died after choking on food. The incident has since raised questions about military culture as well as the organization’s handling of human rights issues regarding its own soldiers.
It also recalled similar issues of bullying and violence in the barracks encouraged or at least tolerated by its leaders - a practice that has led to a spate of suicides and fatalities over the past few weeks
Such tragedies have struck a chord with the general public - all able-bodied Korean men between the ages of 18 and 35 are required to complete compulsory military service - and sharpened the spotlight on just how much military officials are actively working to improve the situation.
According to recent data, only 127 million won ($123,430), or 0.0005 percent, of this year’s entire national defense budget of 25.1 trillion won was assigned to human rights-related matters. The findings were submitted to New Politics Alliance for Democracy Rep. Seo Young-kyo yesterday by the Ministry of National Defense.
Taking into account the more than 600,000 soldiers currently serving, that means just 210 won was invested per soldier for human rights purposes this year.
The budget for human rights-related matters increased from 85 million won in 2009, and 160 million in 2010, to 328 million won in 2011, but it decreased again to 167 million won in 2012, and 141 million won last year.
The human rights budget was the largest in 2011, though about 200 million won was spent that year on a committee tasked with investigating mysterious deaths in the military, meaning that the actual amount put forth to protect soldiers’ human rights has essentially stayed consistent over the years.
“The [military] budget has been assigned to fields that can yield visible outcomes,” an official with the Defense Ministry acknowledged. “It’s true that human rights education has been neglected, because it hardly shows any tangible achievement.”
While the human rights budget decreased for three consecutive years, the entire national defense budget steadily increased from 20.3 trillion won in 2009 to 25.2 trillion won this year.
“The Ministry of National Defense has aggravated the situation by only patching up incidents within the military forces and also by ignoring human rights education, the fundamental solution to such problems,” Seo said.
BY LEE YOON-SEOK [firstname.lastname@example.org]
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