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(LEAD) Defense minister calls for prompt military judiciary reform

All News 16:47 June 10, 2021

(ATTN: ADDS more info in last 3 paras; CHANGES photo)

SEOUL, June 10 (Yonhap) -- Defense Minister Suh Wook called Thursday for reforming the military's judiciary system to reduce commanders' influence over the investigation and trial process amid intense criticism the Air Force mishandled a sexual abuse case that led to a noncommissioned officer taking her own life.

The minister made the appeal during a parliamentary session, apologizing again for last month's death of the master sergeant, surnamed Lee, three months after she was groped and suffered other abuse by a colleague of the same rank.

The incident sparked public outrage following revelations that the military failed to properly protect the victim despite her repeated calls for help while instead trying to persuade her to reach a settlement with the perpetrator in a suspected attempt to cover up the case.

Commemorative messages are posted on a board at an altar for an Air Force noncommissioned officer at a military hospital in Seongnam, south of Seoul, on June 10, 2021. She was found dead in an apparent suicide on May 22 after being victimized in a military sexual harassment case and forced to remain silent by her seniors. (Yonhap)

"In order to restore trust in the military's judiciary system, we need to reduce commanders' influence in the criminal procedures and carry out reform tasks as planned to guarantee independence and fairness in the investigation and trial process," the minister said.

In 2018, the defense ministry rolled out a series of tasks to reform the military's judiciary system and proposed a law revision the next year. The bill is now pending at the parliament's legislation and judiciary committee.

The proposed reform measures include transferring appeals cases to the Seoul High Court and appointing civilian legal experts as military judges to prevent commanders' influence in trials, according to the ministry.

"Such military judiciary reform will serve as the cornerstone to prevent crimes and corruption in barracks, including sexual violence," Suh said, vowing efforts to build a "new barracks culture" based on justice and human rights.

During the parliamentary meeting, the head of the gender equality center under the Air Force said she failed to promptly report the March case to the ministry, thinking that it was "not important."

The center was notified of the incident just three days after it took place but a report to the ministry was made a month later as part of a monthly report.

Asked if the ministry is willing to set up a sexual assault prevention organization under the immediate control of the minister, Suh said he will review the proposal at a task force on overhauling military culture.

Defense Minister Suh Wook attends an emergency plenary session of the National Assembly's legislation and judiciary committee in Seoul on June 9, 2021, on the death of an Air Force noncommissioned officer. She was found dead in an apparent suicide on May 22 after being sexually harassed in the military. (Yonhap)


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