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President Roh’s Proposal Stirs up Controversy

Posted August. 16, 2005 03:09,   


President Roh Moo-hyun said yesterday, “Regarding crimes that infringed on the people’s human rights and democratic fundamental order by the abuse of powers, indemnities and reparations given to those who were encroached on by the government’s activities, the government should legislate a law that excludes or properly mediates the application of the statute of limitations to both civil and criminal charges.”

In a celebration ceremony to mark the 60th anniversary of Korea’s liberation from Japanese colonial rule held in the square in front of Gwanghwamun in Sejongno, Jongno-gu, Seoul, on the same day, President Roh proposed the above, saying, “In a bid to reach a sincere reconciliation, thoroughly getting to the bottom of such cases, apologies, compensations or reparations, and retrieving one’s honor should be achieved.”

In response, since the Grand National Party (GNP) and Millennium Democratic Party (MDP) are showing signs of a backlash against the idea, calling it unconstitutional, difficulties are expected in the process of enacting a bill based on the idea.

Concerning this controversy, senior presidential secretary for civil affairs Moon Jae-in explained, “Expanding the statute of limitations of civil charges faces no stumbling block.” However, he added, “as for the matter of statute of limitations of criminal charges, since there are precedent cases in which a government excluded applying the statute of limitations regarding human rights infringements predicated on the international law, feasible measures will be discussed in the process of being legislated in the National Assembly.”

However, if in cases involving human rights infringements by the government’s illegal activities since the foundation of the country in 1948, the government pushes ahead with a special law that will mete out criminal charges and make reparations and indemnities regardless of the statute of limitations, a controversy over whether it is unconstitutional is likely to engender. Korea’s Constitution prohibits criminal charges to be administered retroactively.

The GNP immediately opposed to the idea, saying, “It is an unconstitutional idea beyond constitutionalism and an even more dangerous concept than one to overthrow free democracy and the market economy.” The MDP also sided with the GNP, saying, “Conflict within the political circles is likely to arise due to its unconstitutionality.” On the other hand, the ruling Uri Party and the Democratic Labor Party agreed on the idea. Accordingly, in regards to the special law, the political circles are likely to square off against each other.

Concerning the controversy surrounding the retroactive law, Cheong Wa Dae spokesman Kim Man-soo noted, “The issue of excluding or adjusting statute of limitations of criminal charges needs to be discussed, but in principle, it is something for future,” suggesting that the government is putting more weight on expanding statute of limitations on cases that have not expired yet.

On top of that, President Roh revealed his position, saying, “The government should consider legislating a complementary law if it believes that the Basic Act on Probing into Past History alone is not sufficient,” adding, “I hope that the government will pave the way to restoring the honor of victims who were falsely charged by making it possible to more flexibly reexamine definitively settled rulings.”

Jung-Hun Kim jnghn@donga.com