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[Weekender] Netflix series about abuse in military emboldens calls for changeBy Choi Si-young
Published : Sept. 18, 2021 - 16:00
“D.P.,” short for Deserter Pursuit, aired Aug. 27 and is one of the top shows in Korea. It looks at the country’s mandatory conscription system, and physical and mental abuse in the military take center stage.
Most of this abuse takes place within the military police units that hunt down deserters, who often run because of abuse in their barracks.
“I am not looking for someone to blame here. The series is me repenting for having stood there and done nothing to stop the abuse from running its course,” Kim Bo-tong, the writer of the webcomic that inspired the series, said of his own military past as part of a deserter pursuit team.
More needs to be done to stamp out the culture of abuse that has long gone unnoticed by the military, he said. The military, which is facing unprecedented reform efforts led by an outside panel, has openly called the series misleading because of certain “dramatic scenes.”
Abuse scandals dogging military
Public confidence in the military is at its lowest. The civilian-led advisory panel was put together in June to boost civilian oversight of the military, but many scandals have since come to light. These involve allegations of abuse, including sexual assault, and subsequent cover-ups.
At the panel’s recommendation, the military recently handed over to civilian authorities the power to investigate and try sex crime cases. For other crimes, the military courts are responsible for first trials. But even first trials must go to civilian courts if they involve a soldier’s death.
Some panel members originally sought to abolish the military court system altogether. The military has been accused of thwarting their efforts and pressuring the parliament to water down its recent reform legislation.
The military said it needed to maintain its jurisdiction over first trials for cases involving military security. But Kim of the Center for Military Human Rights Korea says such cases account for only a small percentage of the total and that soldiers want to be tried in civilian courts, which they consider more impartial.
One conscript named Park, who recently completed his service, said he felt the military had its own set of rules, and they compromise transparency when dealing with crimes taking place on the inside.
“I don’t know, but if I were to stand before court for some reason and given a choice, I’d rather go to a civilian one. More people are watching the trial there so I think I could expect a ruling I can trust,” said Park, asking to be identified by his surname only.
But Park stressed that he was never subjected to physical or mental abuse in the military, nor had he witnessed others being abused, though he’d heard from other soldiers that bullying and hazing took place in front-line units in the name of tradition.
A long way to an overhaul
The civilian panel advising the military on its reform is set to complete its work this month, but the military has yet to embrace one last piece of reform that many say is needed to stop rights violations.
“An outside human rights commissioner. That’s what we have needed for the past seven years to accelerate change,” said Oh Byung-doo, chair of the Center for Judicial Watch, referring to the beginning of the debate on this topic in 2014.
Oh said the military has all the right institutions in place to process complaints but those responsible for running them have failed to act for many reasons, one of which he said was “inertia.”
The military, which has not publicly opposed bringing aboard an independent expert, is nevertheless reluctant to give away its jurisdiction again.
“Letting an outsider in and out of bases whenever he or she feels appropriate could lower discipline on the inside,” the military said, adding that the commissioner could access military secrets.
Lee Ji-hun, a former military prosecutor who worked for the Defense Ministry, said an outside arbiter would instead prevent discipline from deteriorating by offering the military a fresh angle without bias. Lee highlighted the intervention as key to revamping a culture prone to glossing over abuse.
“History shows you just can’t work it from within,” Lee said.
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