South Korea Confronts History of Abuse Within Its Military

A recent survey of soldiers revealed about 4-thousand allegations of violence that went unreported.

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Jumat, 24 Okt 2014 17:13 WIB

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Jason Strother

South Korea Confronts History of Abuse Within Its Military

South Korea, Military, abused, conscripts, Jason Strother

Six South Korean soldiers are accused of killing one of their fellow conscripts. 20 -year old Yoon Seung-joo died earlier this year after being force fed and beaten. 

Abuse within South Korea’s military ranks has long been a problem. A recent survey of soldiers revealed about 4-thousand allegations of violence that went unreported.

Correspondent Jason Strother spoke with a former South Korean conscript, who like Yoon, endured repeated abuse while serving. 

It’s a time that almost all South Korean men dread. The moment when they begin their mandatory service in their country’s armed forces. 

Kim Tae-hwa joined the ranks of Korea’s riot police, when he began his conscription ten years ago. 

“I didn’t want to go to hardcore army, and something like riot police you mostly live in police department which is city, you don’t have to live in the mountains, also there is more vacations.”

But Kim, now 29, soon found out that duty in Korea’s riot police was anything but a vacation. Kim tells me about his first experience, which happened soon after starting his service.

“I remember one senior got a BB gun, with some gas…he was aim to me and he shoot my face and some bleeding come out.  At that time I was mostly upset, I just want to go home.”

But Kim couldn’t go home. For the next two years, Kim says he and other conscripts were constantly beaten, tortured and humiliated by their senior officers. Kim has a theory as to why it happens.

“No one wants to go to army, but they are forced to come there.  So they get stress.  They want to stress out and the junior is a good target to stress out, because when they are junior they got same abused.  When they become a senior, ok, this is the target, everybody do this, so I am going to do this without guilty feeling.   So I think this kind of isolated, stressful situation make people really crazy, I think, really crazy.”

Kim says the only person he confided in about the abuse was his father, who more or less told him just deal with it.

Ahn Mi-ja’s son, Yoon Seong-joo, didn’t tell anyone about the violence he was suffering inside his army barracks. I met her outside the military courthouse where her son’s fellow soldiers were standing trial for causing his death. 

“I didn’t know what was going on, so when they told me that my son had died, I didn’t believe it.  It wasn’t until I saw the bruises on his body that I found out what was going on.”

The details of her son’s abuse were only made public 3 months after his death. That was thanks to an investigation by the Military Human Rights Center. 

Lim Tae-hoon, the group’s director, says the violence will continue unless the system is changed.

“The problem is that the punishments aren’t severe enough. Soldiers accused of violence should be tried in civilian courts and the military’s courts and prisons should be abolished.”

South Korea’s Ministry of Defense declined an interview request.

Some South Korean media reports say that some abused soldiers try to escape the cycle of military violence by taking their own lives or the lives of their abusive senior soldiers.

The latest of several revenge killings occurred in June when a sergeant went on a shooting spree, killing five of his comrades. He was allegedly a victim of bullying.

Former conscript Kim Tae-Haw says he knows the feeling.

“I was kind of getting crazy.  There was no way to protect myself. I thought if something, really I can’t endure anymore, I have to kill him.”

Kim says not all of his memories of his time spent in South Korea's riot police are negative. But it’s not an experience he’d want anyone else to go through. 

“I do not want my son to go the army, even though I don’t have yet, in the future.”

Kim adds no matter how many improvements are made for the lives of conscripts, some things might never change.

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