The defense ministry said Wednesday it plans to introduce a system of compensating conscripts for reporting violence at barracks as part of efforts to eradicate deep-rooted ills and reform an outdated military culture.
The plan, unveiled at a meeting of major military commanders presided over by President Park Geun-hye, comes following a series of deadly incidents involving enlistees that has laid bare a decades-old ill practice of bullying and even assaults in barracks.
An Army private first class died in April after long suffering from physical and mental abuse by his senior comrades. In June, an Army sergeant went on a shooting spree, killing five people, after allegedly being bullied by his colleagues.
"The military will revise legal and institutional measures and strengthen efforts to promote enlistees' human rights in order to create a safe and rights-based environment and to maintain tight discipline," the ministry said.
As part of short-term measures to be implemented within this year, the ministry plans to offer incentives for those who report any physical and verbal abuse in barracks, while coming up with ways to protect whistle-blowers.
An online system to allow soldier victims and their families to ask for help in an easier fashion will be set up this year, and the ministry plans to expand a panel in charge of monitoring on-base situations to include not only draftees and commanders but their parents.
The ministry will also push to enact a law that would ban conscripts from giving instructions to their comrades or interfering with their private lives. The law was first envisioned as a necessity in 2005, but little progress was made and no details about it have ever been released.
Parents whose sons are serving at general outposts (GOP) in heavily fortified front-line regions facing North Korea will be allowed to visit their children if they apply for the reunions two weeks before.
Currently, the draftees assigned to guard duty at GOPs are not allowed to meet their parents at their units.
The military has begun work to reform its system of managing troops by drawing up "a list of soldiers requiring extra care," according to the ministry.
Though the military conducts personality tests on draftees and classifies at-risk soldiers into three categories, the system was found to have loopholes, with many of the conscripts involved in recent suicides and a shooting rampage case being on the list.
The plan calls for shortening the process of deciding whether an enlistee is unfit for active duty to easily let them be discharged from the military.
"We will remove two steps from the four-step system to return maladjusted soldiers to the society, while strengthening evaluation criteria for potential enlistees," a ministry official said.
In order to raise awareness of human rights among servicepersons, the ministry said it will increase the number of "rights instructors" from 250 to 2,000, and to strengthen punishment for any rules violations.
All able-bodied South Korean men are subject to compulsory military service for about two years in a country facing North Korea across the heavily fortified border. The two counties are technically at war as the 1950-53 Korean War ended in a truce, not a peace treaty. (Yonhap)