Go to contents

[Editorial] Pardon and reinstatement require principles

Posted August. 03, 2000 21:10,   


The presidential decree to grant amnesty or reinstatements annulling the legal consequences of an offence has the effect of terminating or rescinding the force of the court`s final judgments. It is prescribed by our Constitution as a presidential prerogative. However, it is an extra-judicial right that invalidates judicial decisions. Therefore, it behooves the President to judiciously exercise this right only in exceptionally rare cases and under extraordinarily extenuating circumstances. Otherwise, exercising it can become arbitrary and hardly justifiable.

Historically, our presidential pardons or reinstatements have had an unfortunate association with the nation`s politically stained constitutional past. Past military governments produced many political prisoners as a means to justify and maintain their unlawful seizure of power. They later resorted to the use of pardons and reinstatements to release these prisoners in the name of promoting national reconciliation. This gave rise to a vicious circle of imprisoning and pardoning people as their political circumstances dictated. Under the country`s sixth republic in particular, presidential pardons were abused to release criminals convicted of corruption in their dealings with political power.

Reports indicate that the government is going to grant pardons, reinstatements, reduced prison terms and paroles en masse on the occasion of Liberation Day on August 15. To commemorate the first observance of the anniversary in the new millennium and watershed progress in inter-Korean relations and national reconciliation, the government is reportedly going to grant special presidential pardons to some 30,000 people. It was also reported that the government will consider commuting death sentences.

Needless to say, we welcome the presidential pardons for the causes of national reconciliation and human rights. Yet we can`t hide our surprise at the government`s decision to include in the pardon criminals convicted of corruption for abusing their political power or violating the election law.

This is surely very unbecoming of the `government of the people,` the present administration`s catch-phrase, which has steadfastly emphasized political reforms and the elimination of corruption. The prosecution authorities have always pledged to take a firm stand against and rigorously investigate election law violators. The courts have also made clear their determination to render stern verdicts on election law offenders, including depriving them of their eligibility to hold an elected office. Given these moves, the government`s decision to pardon or reinstate election law violators leads us to question its desire to uphold the rule of law.

We have also some reservations about the pardoning of former high-ranking public employees and politicians convicted of corruption. They were brought to justice as a consequence of the government`s comprehensive anti-corruption campaign, an effort to win the people`s support. Now, the administration is annulling their crimes under the pretext that we must forgive them and forget their pasts for the sake of national reconciliation.

Would this really be conducive to the promotion of national harmony? On the contrary, our view is that it will exacerbate the people`s distrust of the government. People are rightly cynical about politicians who were once convicted but later acted like politically persecuted democracy fighters after they were released.

Now is the time to set sound principles that must govern any future pardons. As our history of amnesty testifies, the almost routine exercise of pardons in the name of mutual harmony and forgiveness, which total some 16 instances annually, completely disregards any principles used to justify them. The government should uphold the view that people must observe law and order to make this abuse of pardons unnecessary in the future. Political expediencies should not give rise to the paralysis of the rule of law.