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[Opinion] The Guilt-By-Association System on Corruption

Posted May. 28, 2004 22:41,   


A young man graduated from college and passed a public official exam. However, he was not announced officially. The reason was that it was revealed by looking into his background that his close relative went to North Korea. After receiving an order to go on a business trip abroad, a salary man applied for the passport. However, his application was rejected. The reason was that his father was a political offender. These were common situations 10-20 years ago, but have almost disappeared these days. It is “Guilt-by-association system,” in which “problematic relatives” adversely affect a person’s prospects, such as going on to university, getting a job, and business trips abroad.

The Guilt-by-association system has a long history. In Koguryo, Baekje, and Sinla, the families of rebels were killed or forced to become servants. In Chosun, the range of involvement was explained concretely. In cases of treason, convicts was beheaded, and a convict’s father and son over sixteen years old would be hanged on a gibbet. His mother and son under sixteen years old would became servants. Sometimes the family of a convict was moved to a remote region. The Guilt-by-association system was abolished in 1894 after reformation at the 31st binary term of the sexagenary cycle. However, it was revived under the rule of Japanese Imperialism and the partition of the Korean peninsula. The partition of the peninsula in particular, which is a special situation of Korea’s, mass-produced victims. The role of Sul Kyung-ku in the movie “Silmido” is a person, who failed to be adopted by society in the Guilt-by-association system caused by his father who went to North Korea, and belonged to a criminal organization.

The Grand National Party (GNP) announced that it would drive forward a Guilt-by-association system for corrupt politicians. According to their claim, the provision saying, “If a politician’s representative or relative, such as partner, executive secretary, driver and manager, accept a bribe, he would be punished, because it is regarded as his own wrongdoing,” should be included in corruption preventive law or criminal law. Even though it has a different character from the past, the Guilt-by-association system is the same one. In our political world, where only “feathers” are punished and “bodies” usually escape the law, the Guilt-by-association system could be thought of as a way to clear up corruption.

However, the purpose cannot completely justify the method. If it is against the principle of law, it would be problematic, despite its good intentions. Clause 2, Article 5 of the constitution prohibits guilt-by-association systems, declaring, “No one will be treated against his interest by a relative’s wrongdoing, which is not his.” The important thing is not such a system but the decisive decision of a politician and his relatives not to be corrupt. It might be called as “The guilt-by-association system in heart-act.”

Song Young-un, Editorialist, youngeon@donga.com