In the midst of heightening public interest regarding the revision of the SOFA due to the death of two schoolgirls hit by a US Army armored vehicle, an unusual lawsuit proving that foreign women working in Korea are also affected by the unfairness of the SOFA has drawn the attention of the public regarding its conclusion.
The case is about Robert (pseudonym, aged 30), a serviceman with the US Forces in Korea, who conned Elena, a 23-year-old Russian woman, into a relationship with him despite the fact that he was married. He is also said to have beaten her. Kyungnam Migrant Workers' Counsel Office recently filed a lawsuit with the Changwon District Court demanding compensation from Robert, and also applied for state compensation with the Changwon District Prosecutors' Office.
Through a statement it issued on January 8, the Counsel Office explained, "Robert must be held responsible for the mental and physical suffering that the victim Elena sustained and for raising the son she bore him, but this is impossible due to the fact that Robert is an American soldier in Korea protected by the SOFA. Robert beat Elena in March last year, breaking one of her front teeth, but the Busan District Prosecutors' Office merely suspended his indictment."
According to the Counsel Office, Robert met Elena in July 2000 and lied that he was single. They started living together with marriage in mind, but Robert sent the son that was born to an orphanage, and then demanded that she come back to him in March last year, which was when he hit her.
The Counsel Office's Director Lee Chul Seung says, "There's nowhere we can turn to for comfort, and even if we asked for help, there is no way to receive compensation due to lack of legal grounds. The unfair SOFA is infringing on the rights of not only Korean citizens but foreign women as well. The SOFA must be revised as soon as possible."
Lee also pointed out, "It is almost impossible for a victim to receive compensation through a civil lawsuit, because the US Army is not legally bound to follow Korean court orders in the process of the provisional seizure of property owned by American servicemen, since the SOFA only stipulates that the US army should "render assistance (Article 9)" in such cases. Lee goes on to explain, "When a member of the US Army inflicts damage on an employee, there are stipulations obliging the US Army as the employer to pay for indemnities should the Korean government decide on the amount and notify the US Army. But as this has hardly any effect, we have no choice but to sue the US Army or employer."
Explained section chief Woo Sam Yeol with the Counsel Office, "When suing the US Army for damages, there are no appropriate procedures or measures to actually start the legal proceedings, because the SOFA does not have any stipulations governing how to send the legal papers to the defendant or employer or how to guarantee that he will appear in court."
Woo went on to emphasize, "When migrant workers sustain civil or criminal damages due to the US Army or its dependents, Korean courts should have jurisdiction over the cases to make sure that the migrant workers at least have the right to an attorney. The American serviceman who committed a criminal violence goes unpunished while the victim does not even have good chance of receiving compensation. This is something that can happen to not just Elena but any other Korean national or foreigner living here."
The Russian Consulate in Busan has stated that it is watching Elena's case closely, showing that the damages sustained by migrant women in Korea is not just an issue involving the two signatories of the Korea-US SOFA.