Draft Sewol act may sow new seeds of conflict

By Lee Kyung-min

The bereaved families of the Sewol ferry victims are vehemently opposing a government-proposed special act to investigate the ferry sinking and pay compensation for the tragedy, claiming it will not meet their demands.

Due to the fierce backlash, a vice ministers’ meeting scheduled for April 9 to discuss follow-up measures was postponed. The promulgation of the act scheduled for April 14 was also postponed.

The families say the draft act would largely work against finding out the truth surrounding the sinking of the overloaded Sewol, making it difficult to hold responsible parties accountable for the disaster

Under the act drawn up by the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and the Ministry of Public Safety and Security, government officials could be empowered to direct the investigation.

“A thorough investigation will be virtually impossible when it is conducted by government officials who should be held responsible for the incident,” Park Joo-min, a lawyer from the Lawyers for a Democratic Society said. “It’s important to ensure the independence of investigators for a fair examination. ”

“That is why the investigation should be conducted by a disinterested party neutral to the probe results. The bill would only deteriorate the public’s trust against the government making many citizens doubt whether it has a will to actively pursue the truth, or is merely hedging against the future damage in aance,” he said.

Also stated under the act are the limits of what the committee can do in the course of the investigation.

Regarding how to determine the cause of the Sewol sinking following the inept initial government response, the act states that the committee is only allowed to read and analyze reports after they are drawn up by the government.

No independent investigation is allowed, nor can they request material pertaining to the investigation without government approval, according to the act.

The move is equivalent to fundamentally denying access, ultimately preventing the truth from being made public, he said.

“Reading and analyzing reports means nothing if people cannot verify whether it was fabricated in the first place,” Park said.

“The investigation begins with unfettered access above all. What good can come from an investigation if it is launched, managed, and completed without a disinterested party involved? That is practically a public relations scheme,” he added.

Also, under the act, the number of committee members was cut by 30 to 90 from the initial 120.

Moreover, the majority of the 90 will be government officials including nine from the Ministry of Oceans and Fisheries and eight from the Ministry of Public Safety and Security.

Park Chan-un, a former aisor to the National Human Rights Council (NHRC) and professor of Hanyang School of Law, said a majority of the members should be selected from experts that do not have ties to the government.

“Non-government officials maintaining a majority is really important, considering the rest will be from the ministry. Also crucial is that the investigation be conducted by a non-government party. If key positions are all filled with government officials, the investigation results will have hard time gaining credibility form the public,” he said.

Park said that reducingmembers by 30 is worrisome as well.

“They say they can increase the number later, but I see that is unlikely–Especially with the committee’s term being only one year The majority of members are from the government. It would result in a whole other time-consuming discussion over how many people and from what background should be chosen. Setting everything from the beginning is better for effective work in the long run,” he said.

An Internet user posted a comment online regarding the bill.

“This is why we cannot trust government. Their priority is obviously making the investigation stay as far from the truth by controlling access and who conducts the investigation. That attitude is what got us in the mess in the first place,” read the comment.

SOURCE: The Korea Times