Around three-quarters of petitions for rights violations in the military are turned down by the state-run human rights commission, officials said Monday.
The high rate of rejection has raised concerns that violations in the military are not given due scrutiny.
According to the National Human Rights Commission, a total of 1,177 claims of human rights infringement were filed between 2009 and 2013, but 875 of them ― or 74.3 percent ― were dismissed without investigation. Another 18 percent were investigated but were ruled as non-violations. The NHRC took measures on just 6.4 percent of cases.
The figures suggested a possible lack of effort from the NHRC in uncovering abuses in the military, despite it being the only outside organization that can directly investigate rights violations against soldiers.
This was best demonstrated in the recent death of an Army private first class surnamed Yoon. In April, he died after what appears to have been physical abuse by his senior servicemen.
Days after Yoon died, a relative filed a petition suggesting his death may have been connected to physical abuse, saying that bruises and cuts were found on Yoon after he was sent to hospital.
After an initial investigation, the NHRC closed the case in June and said that it was being investigated by the military. Their attitude abruptly changed when a local civic group unveiled the severe level of abuses against Yoon to the public on July 31.
Earlier this month, the NHCR belatedly decided to conduct an ex-officio investigation into the case, after public furor rose over abuse in the military.
On the other hand, the high ratio of rejected petitions in the report suggested that petitioners may be facing pressure from within the military to drop their cases. In 58 percent of the cases that were not investigated, the initial accuser had withdrawn his or her appeal.
Experts said the commission must consider the characteristics of the military when dealing with such cases. Soldiers are confined within an isolated area and are more susceptible to pressure from higher-ranking officials, they argued.
“The NHRC should have considered whether or not (military) victims had faced wrongful pressure that led to their dropping the petition,” said Kim Hyung-wan, the chief of the Korea Human Rights Policy Institute.
By Yoon Min-sik (firstname.lastname@example.org)