With the presidential election just two weeks away, the incident of the two schoolgirls who were hit and killed by an armored vehicle of the US Army during the World Cup has become the 'hot topic' of the presidential campaign.
The Korean public's outrage at US's obnoxious attitude has hit an all-time high, leading to the demand for the revision of SOFA, but the Korean government's response stopped at a 'ministerial meeting regarding the recent public sentiments towards the US' chaired by Prime Minister Kim Seok Soo on December 4, where the authorities agreed to consult with the US regarding improvement of the operation of the SOFA. The government has made clear that it has no intentions to actually revise any of the articles of the SOFA. However, the government's response will not douse the Korean public's anger or its fervent demand for the revision of SOFA.
The SOFA between Korea and the US was signed in 1967, a decade later than NATO or Japan. The SOFA was revised twice since then, in 1991 and late 2000. The most important part of SOFA is jurisdiction over criminal court cases. Through the revision in 2000, the point of handover of American servicemen suspected of crimes was moved to an earlier stage, from 'after the court decision' to 'at the time of indictment.' At a glance, this looks like significant progress. However, the appendix to the SOFA stipulates that this earlier handover only applies to serious crimes such as drunken driving, hit-and-run accidents and violence resulting in near death, meaning that in reality, the hand over of the suspect still basically takes place after the court decision. This fact alone clearly shows that the SOFA signed with Korea is more backward than the ones signed with NATO or Japan.
Another problem that arises in the court proceedings is that even when an American serviceman does face trial in a Korean court, the evidence gathered cannot be used in court unless a US government representative (other than the defense attorney) is present.
Such regulations governing criminal procedures do not exist in the US, Japan or Germany. That such regulations exist in the Korea-US SOFA is a reflection of the mistrust that Americans harbor against Korean criminal procedures, and is a good example of the backwardness of the legal framework of the SOFA.
There are numerous cases of American soldiers fathering children with Korean women and then abandoning mother and child when they go back to the States. Such abandoned families commonly live with stigma and poverty. In Germany, the SOFA stipulates that if a member of the US Army in Germany abandons his family, the US government is responsible for locating the biological father and providing for the abandoned family. And if the child wishes to go to the US, the US government is obliged to give them priority in issuing visas. Besides the inequality of the SOFA articles themselves, there are so many inequalities regarding their implementation that it would be impossible to list them all. Thus, the improvement of practice is just as urgent as the revision of the SOFA itself.
What particularly angers us in the case of armored vehicle that ran over and killed the two schoolgirls is the insolent attitude that the US showed in the process of dealing with the accident. It is in this context that we should demand the improvement of SOFA implementation practices.
Not even once did the US Army sincerely try to understand why the Koreans were so angry or try to apologize. The US Army's attitude is not that of Korea's ally but of an arrogant occupation force. Not only the American soldiers but a considerable portion of the American civilians mistakenly believe that the US Army is stationed in Korea solely to protect South Korea from invasion by North Korea. It cannot be denied that the US Army has, to a certain extent, been a balancer in the confrontation between North and South Korea. But equally undeniable is the fact that American military presence in Korea is part of the US's Northeast Asian security policies, which are based on national self interest. Furthermore, rather than thoroughly investigating the war crimes of Japan after World War II, the US colluded with war criminals and conservative forces, utilizing them as partners in its Northeast Asia security framework. It can be said that current controversies over issues such as the distortion of historical facts in Japanese textbooks and the US-Japan Defense Guideline are the historical by-products of US's post-war policies towards Japan.
We demand that the US change its view of Koreans and Korean civil society, something that is long overdue. It is only when there is such a change in thinking that the Korea-US SOFA can be raised to the standards of the SOFA signed with Japan or Germany, and that a critical review of existing practices can be undertaken. According to comments from American servicemen so far, the two soldiers responsible for the accident had been working under severe fatigue, and the commander had forced them to operate the armored vehicle when its signal equipment was faulty. The time has come for peace-loving women to not only call for the revision of the SOFA and improvement of its implementation but also to demand that the commander be held accountable and punished accordingly.