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(Guest opinion)Environmental clause in SOFA revision

Posted July. 17, 2000 16:33,   


It is shocking news that the U.S. Forces Korea (USFK) drained a large amount of toxic chemicals, called formaldehyde, into Han River. Because formaldehyde is highly hazardous to the human bodies and used to prevent corruption for producing animal samples, its treatment is strictly regulated by the Toxic Chemical Disposal Law. In accordance with its own stipulations, the USFK is treating the toxic chemicals in Okinawa, Japan, where disposal facilities are provided.

The question is that the government has been helpless, despite the commitment of such criminal acts. This is mainly because of the Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), which totally lacks the related environmental clauses.

The environmental contamination by the U.S. forces here is persisting: The U.S. airforce base in Kunsan drained some 3,000 tons of polluted water to the West Sea or the nearby rivers through sewerage pipes for six months. Diesel lowed from the U.S. Madison military base located on the valley of Mt. Paekwun in Uiwang city, Kyonggi-do, contaminated the nearby mountains and farmland. But these are no more than the tip of iceberg. There is no way of knowing that what is happening in the American military compounds, with regard to environmental pollutions causing damage on our land and air.

Since the inter-Korean summit in Pyongyang, the relations between the two Koreas are moving toward peace and reconciliation. Likewise, in order to further improve the Seoul-Washington relations need to be further improved with the restructuring, the existing equal relationship should restructured into genuine partnership and that the unequal clauses of SOFA, the cornerstone of the Korea-U.S. relationship, must be revised. In addition, in view of growing necessity of constant environmental preservation, health safety and quarantine measures, new clauses in this regard should be provided.

In fact, the USFK is under obligation to abide by the environmental direction of OEBDG issued by Pentagon in 1992 for the overseas American troops to observe. The directive contains 19 clauses including air pollution, portable water, waste water, toxic materials, natural resources, asbestos and lead contamination.

According to the directive, the environmental management officials appointed by the Defense Minister are under order to manage these environmental affairs in the nations where major American forces are stationing. However, the USFK is not following the directive as a whole.

In light of the international law and principles, the American forces in Korea is obligated to observe environmental stipulations in tandem with the principle of personal jurisdiction or territorial principle. Therefore the USFK is required to keep the Korean environmental law in accordance with its territorial principle.

If the USFK is difficult to fully abide by the afore-said principle due to special military status, it needs to observe at least the environmental directive handed down by Pentagon and make its implementation of the directive transparently clear.

The U.S. forces agreed with the Korean government to provide environmental clauses in the course of bilateral negotiations in September, 1996 and worked out detailed stipulations at that time.

If the U.S. is to maintain partnership relations with Korea to usher in the 21st century, it must revise the unfair clauses of the SOFA, newly provide clauses related to the Korean people¡¯s lives, environment and quarantine, and implement them faithfully.