Starting Monday, enlisted men were allowed visits by families and friends on weekdays after work hours, in addition to the weekend visits. Soldiers posted at general outposts, who were previously not allowed visits, are now able to receive visitors on weekends. At some units, shared cellphones are available.
The measures are part of the reform plan announced last month that the Ministry of National Defense has decided to implement immediately. The measures are being instituted to prevent tragic incidents such as the beating to death of a private first class identified by the surname Yoon. Yoon, while being beaten and abused for several months, was not allowed visits by his parents, making it impossible for the family to know about the danger he was in.
The greater visitation rights and access to cellphones may calm the fears of families and friends whose loved ones are serving in the military. The measures may also alleviate the stress and sense of isolation felt by soldiers.
However, the measures that kicked in Monday are stopgap measures that do not address the fundamental problem. The tripartite commission on reforming barracks culture should seek ways to ensure that the human rights of soldiers serving the country are not violated. Anything less than that would be window dressing.
The horrific account of the egregious violation of Yoon’s human rights makes us shudder at the evilness of the perpetrators who, according to witness accounts, knew exactly what they had done ― commit murder.
The military should, first and foremost, inculcate a respect for human rights among its ranks, from the very top to the very bottom. The military has a unique culture due to the importance of hierarchy and the need to live in a constant state of alert. However, those conditions are an immutable aspect of being in the military, and only so much can be done to improve them. The reform of barracks culture should begin with teaching the soldiers to respect each other as fellow human beings.