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Kicking the Rights of Victims in Korea

Posted July. 27, 2004 22:02,   


Are the victims of crimes subject to oblivion?

With the process of criminal suits becoming more democratized, the rights of the criminals have been better protected, but the rights of crime victims and the remedy system for damages caused have not improved much.

Criminal suit processes such as investigations and trials are operated centering on the criminal and the government (the investigation agency and court), while leaving the victims excluded. As a result, victims don’t trust the judicial system.

Members of the judicial system point out that image of a police officer kicking down the mother of a victim murdered by serial killer Yoo Young-chul symbolizes the status of victims in Korea.

Victims are Forgotten—

Mr. A (50) who took early retirement from his 20-year-long job, was coaxed by Mr. B (42), last October, and lost 20 million won by investing when Mr. B told him, “You can earn about two million to three million won every month by selling healthcare products online.”

Mr. A sued Mr. B for fraud this February, but he does not know what happened afterwards.

The police told him, “We cannot tell you the progress of this case,” and it was impossible to access the records of the case. Hence, Mr. A inquired on his own and found out last month that Mr. B was indicted without being arrested and was placed on probation at the first trial but disappeared afterwards. As one can see in the case of Mr. A, in Korea, victims of crimes are often “subject to oblivion.” They cannot participate in the legal process unless they are a plaintiff, attester, or witness.

A prosecutor of the Seoul District Public Prosecutor’s Office said, “Investigators don’t have any obligation to discuss the progress of a case to the victims, or the plaintiffs, and in principle, we only notify the plaintiff in case the defendant is acquitted.” An officer of the Supreme Court said, “The biggest complaint by the victims is that they are not provided with information regarding the progress of the investigation and trial.”

Regarding a case that took place in June in which a mother who become enraged and cut off her finger and sent it to the judge after hearing that her imprisoned husband who was accused of raping his step-daughter was set free, people working in the judicial system point out that this incident occurred because the victim was excluded from the judicial process.

In 1985, the U.N. adopted a “Declaration of Basic Principles of Justice for Victims of Crime and Abuse of Power” and declared that “victims should be treated with compassion and respect for their dignity. They are entitled to access to the mechanisms of justice and to prompt redress, as provided for by national legislation, for the harm that they have suffered.”

In the U.S., over half the states have laws stipulating the rights of victims to access information in criminal investigations and the right to make a statement to the judicial system.

Germany revised its law on criminal suits in 1987, and all victims are allowed to access investigation records.

Efforts to Rediscover Victims—

The Judicial Reform Committee (JRC) under the Supreme Court is discussing this issue. The JRC plans to recommend concrete methods to improve the rights of victims to Chief Justice Choi Jong-young, based on the report delivered on July 27 by the second division expert analyst research team titled: “A Plan to Protect Crime Victims.”

The report suggests improvements, such as notifying the victims of the first day of trial, the verdict of each trial, and of information regarding the imprisonment or release of the suspects or defendants.

A member of the JRC said, “The criminal judicial process basically has the aspect of being a judicial service to victims,” adding, “Efforts to rediscover the victims as the ‘main constituent of criminal judicial processes’ are necessary.”

Soo-Hyung Lee Sang-Rok Lee sooh@donga.com myzodan@donga.com