SK considers call center for victims of crimes committed by US personnel
September 14, 2012
SEOUL — South Korea may open a call center to handle questions from citizens who believe they are victims of crimes committed by U.S. servicemembers, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
A decision on whether to open the center will be made after the 2013 budget is finalized later this year, said a top official with the ministry’s status of forces agreement team, or MOFAT. The official, speaking on condition of anonymity, said consideration of the call center was prompted by last year’s brutal rape of a South Korean teenager, a crime that sparked nationwide protests against U.S. Forces Korea.
Pvt. Kevin Lee Flippin was eventually convicted of raping the 17-year-old inside her home, and given a 10-year prison sentence.
Following the rape, numerous activist groups complained there was no government organization that victims of crimes committed by U.S. troops could turn to for advice, the MOFAT official said.
“These days, sexual violence by USFK servicemembers is serious, and there are many traffic accidents involving USFK,” she said.
South Korean media have reported that the center would be staffed by attorneys, though the ministry spokeswoman would not confirm those reports.
If established, the center would also advise citizens who say they suffered property damage because of USFK activities, such as environmental pollution from bases or a military plane crash, she said.
She said MOFAT has not discussed the center with USFK because the ministry “is doing this job for our peoples' rights and interests.”
In South Korea, citizens who are hurt by USFK personnel can receive money from the South Korean government through a state compensation system, though procedures differ based on whether the damage was caused by troops while they were on or off duty.
The announcement about a possible call center comes after South Korea began distributing information about how victims of crime or accidents can apply for compensation, both from the South Korean government and USFK. MOFAT posted a pamphlet on its website in June that outlines procedures for applying for payments for everything from crop damage to medical and funeral expenses for “damage” caused by the military.
The ministry also issued a more detailed manual about obtaining compensation to police and government offices in areas where U.S. troops are stationed, though the manual is not being released to the public “because it is meant for experts,” a ministry spokesman said. The ministry would not provide a copy to Stars and Stripes.
The information in both documents is meant to help ordinary citizens understand the procedures for applying for compensation, according to a MOFAT statement. However, a MOFAT spokesperson could not answer whether victims typically have difficulty applying for compensation.
Pyo Chang-won, a criminology professor at the Korea National Police University in Yongin, said there appears to be little demand for such information, and the distribution of the manuals and pamphlets may be part of a broader effort by the government to demonstrate its assertiveness in foreign affairs.
South Korean officials have been widely criticized for not acting more decisively in disputes earlier this year with China over the fate of North Korean defectors and in discussions about a possible intelligence-sharing agreement with Japan.
“The government is trying to show its independence in its relationships with foreign countries and its ability to protect the people’s interests,” Pyo said.
USFK officials referred questions about the manuals to South Korean ministries and issued a statement Friday saying most personnel “make the right choices and conduct themselves in a professional and courteous manner.”
“We expect our servicemembers to be respectful neighbors to our Korean hosts and we will continue to work with our Republic of Korea allies to hold accountable any servicemember who has been found to violate that trust,” the statement said.