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Interrogation Victim’s Kin Get 1.8B Won

Posted February. 15, 2006 04:43,   


The Seoul High Court led by Justice Jo Yong-ho overturned a lower court ruling yesterday and ordered the payment of 1.848 billion won in compensation to the family of the late Seoul National University law professor Choi Jong-gil, who died suspiciously during an interrogation by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (the predecessor of the National Intelligence Service) on charges of espionage in 1973.

The court based its decision on what is known in legal circles as “the principle of good faith.”

The ruling came yesterday after Choi’s family filed an appeal against the government. “In principle, the statute of limitations had already run out. But the family’s inability to exercise its right to claim compensation until the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Deaths revealed the details of its investigation in 2002 should have been taken into consideration,” the court said. “The government’s position goes against the principle of good faith given that huge government agencies like the Central Intelligence Agency systematically covered up torture incidents by manipulating documents.”

“The principle of good faith” is a civil law principle that states two parties should demonstrate honesty and keep good faith with each other. In the case of a human rights violation by a former government agency, the government should compensate victims on basis of the principle of good faith. In other words, since protecting the public’s human rights is the government’s duty, it should take responsibility for breaching that faith.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Lee Yong-hoon said at his confirmation hearing before the National Assembly last year that the government, which is supposed to defend human rights, is abusing its power in violation of the principle of good faith.

Controversy is brewing over the impact of this ruling on other suspicious death cases, however. Opinions are divided over whether to apply the ruling to other incidents, such as suspicious deaths of soldiers serving in military, or of deaths at the Samcheong Educational Institute (SEI), a government agency that practiced torture in the 1980s.

In 1996, the Supreme Court ruled against SEI torture victims seeking damages and said, “When the president made a special statement about indemnity for victims, he was just appealing for support from the public. It was not an abuse of power in violation of the principle of good faith.”

But yesterday’s ruling admitted the injustice of the government’s statute of limitations claim, and it may affect similar cases.

Neither the Choi family nor the government reportedly have plans to appeal the decision.

Meanwhile, a high court justice upheld a lower court decision ordering a Korean Central Intelligence Agency inspector to pay 20 million won in damages to the Choi family in a libel suit.