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[Editorial] Abuse in barracks

Two weeks ago, the Korean National Police Agency issued a statement promising to end verbal abuse, beatings and other types of harassment and violence done to recruits and junior combat police. But before the ink was dry, six junior combat police went AWOL, claiming that they had been subjected to all types of abuse in barracks located in Gangwon Province.

After deserting the base on the early Sunday morning, they said, in an email sent to the Seoul Police Agency, that they had been beaten and underwent other types of abuse on numerous occasions since they were assigned to the base in December. When they returned to the base in the afternoon, they were taken to Seoul for an inquiry.

The Korean National Police Agency says that if the allegations are confirmed to be true, it will press criminal charges against the perpetrators. It also says it will disband combat police units if “beatings and other types of brutality have been chronically conducted” at their bases.

But it is yet to be seen whether or not the measures the agency promises to take will produce the intended results. The reason is that few improvements have been made for the life of recruits and junior ranks in the barracks though the agency has repeatedly promised in the past to stop bullying, verbal abuse, beatings and sexual harassment.

According to a report from the agency to the National Assembly last year, recruits and junior ranks were beaten on 297 occasions during the period from the outset of 2007 to August 2010. The agency also reported 202 AWOL cases and 18 suicides.

One way to solve the problem will be to put combat police under the stricter supervision of their commanding officers during the off-duty hours and hold them more accountable for violations of rights in the barracks.
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