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Unfair SOFA Must Be Revised
Two Korean middle school students lost their lives on June 13. They were walking on a roadside in Hyochonli, Yangju county, Gyeonggi province, and were run over by a U.S. Army armored bridge carrier.
After the accident, the U.S. armed forces in South Korea insisted that nobody was responsible for it. Korean's anti-American sentiment was fueled again. A number of memorial ceremonies for the two dead girls and demonstrations against American Forces were held in Seoul and other cities. All over the campus, wall posters let students know about the injustice of the accident and asked them to join the demonstrations.
On August 7, however, the U.S. armed forces refused to hand over the defendants in the accident to Korean authorities. Thus, many Koreans called for a thorough revision of the "unequal clauses" in the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA), the legal code governing the 37,000 U.S. soldiers stationed in Korea.
Signed in 1966, SOFA contains stipulations pertaining to military bases and other facilities as well as jurisdiction in criminal matters in South Korea. Although the agreement was revised in 1991, it still amounts to an unfair deal compared to the agreements the U.S. has signed with dozens of other countries.
The most problematic clause is Article 22, which lays out the two countries' jurisdiction in criminal cases. According to it, the U.S. Government has the exclusive initial jurisdiction over any U.S. soldiers who are involved in any crimes or incidents in South Korea while they are on or off regular duties. Currently, Korean officials are given custody only after a final judgment of guilty.
The agreement also contains a number of abstract words, which could be interpreted in many ways and leads to friction between South Korea and the U.S. For example, SOFA stipulates that the U.S. has jurisdiction over U.S. military personnel, their families and civilian employees. However, the definition of "families" is too broad.
Some U.S. soldiers have committed cruel crimes against Koreans. And those crimes will continue without the revision of the many unequal SOFA clauses. The agreement should be revised so that American criminal suspects are handed over to Korean authorities shortly after an indictment.

Kim Dong-ho  dgudp@dongguk.edu

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