Civic Groups Call for Revision of SOFA ... SOFA Must be Replaced by Peace Treaty
The five-year-long negotiations for the revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) were finally concluded. The newly-revised SOFA is considered to reflect Korea's demands regarding criminal jurisdiction, environmental protection, labor, quarantine, areas and facilities. Regarding criminal jurisdiction, the prime example of unfair clauses in the SOFA, U.S. soldiers accused of 12 grievous crimes such as murder and rape can now be handed over to Korean authorities earlier, at the point of their indictment. Another noteworthy change is the creation of environmental provisions.
Upon closer scrutiny however, it can be said that the changes are cosmetic, not fundamental. There is rising criticism that certain clauses were even changed for the worse.
First of all, earlier custody transfer is restricted to 12 specified serious crimes, and detention of suspects upon their arrest is limited to only some of the crimes. For example, for rape to be included in the 12 crimes, it has to be 'egregious' rape, leaving much room for contention. Furthermore, Korean authorities are not allowed to question the accused after indictment, and the clause that prevents the prosecution from appealing remains unchanged. Environmental clauses were introduced in the form of a special memorandum of understanding, with little hope of enforcement due to the absence of obligations to compensate for damages or to return the affected area to its original form. A new clause prevents trespassing on land granted to the U.S. army by prohibiting the entry of Korean residents who own the land. Critics point to this clause as the most serious example of clauses that have been changed for the worse.
There are no provisions in the SOFA safeguarding the rights of women working as hostesses patronized by U.S. soldiers and 'Kormerican' children fathered by U.S soldiers. But this was not even mentioned during the SOFA revision negotiations, inviting harsh criticism from women's groups that have been continuously campaigning the issue.
Mr. Kim Yonghan, president of the People's Action for the Reform of the Unequal SOFA, called for "a comprehensive revision of the SOFA, its annexes, and the US-ROK Mutual Defence Treaty," and announced the organization's plans to "launch a new year of struggle, starting with a protest at the American Embassy on the 16th of January."
Ms. Kim Hyunsun, representative of Saewoomtuh, a center for women and children living in gijichon, (communities next to U.S. military camps) stresses that "the status and contents of the current SOFA must be changed to those of a peace treaty." She also points out the need to revise domestic laws related to gijichon, and to establish international solidarity with American civic groups and other U.S. army host countries.