“Sorry, mother. I don’t have enough confidence to make anything out of my life. Every time I wake up, I always hope everything is just finished. I want some peace and quiet.” At four o’clock, on July 19th, a private first class called ‘K’ from the 22nd Division of the Korean army committed suicide by jumping off the Korean Armed Forces Capital Hospital in Bundang, Gyeonggi-do. He visited the hospital for dental treatment. He came back to the first floor with his colleague and said to his colleague that ‘I left something in the library’. Finally, he made his decision like that. Private first class ‘K’ was my friend and might be your friend, he was a Hongik university student.
1. Beginning of the incident
His front tooth was broken because of some accident that occurred in training when he was a recruit. He suffered cruel treatment from his military seniors when he went to his own unit. The names of his military seniors who harassed him and their acts of cruelty are written in his note. The military senior’s cruel treatments were as follows: The military seniors grabbed him by the collar just because he did not take his side dish, they verbally abused him because he was inexperienced about his job, they taunted him by touching his face and neck with their face. Also they said ‘Do you want to lose another tooth? How sad for your parents if you lose one more tooth.’ He had suffered from his military seniors consistently, reported that he suffered beatings and cruel treatment to counseling centers in his unit on July 14th. As a result, he was excluded from working at the GOP(general outpost), however he was not separated from his military seniors. The army did not separate the victim from his attackers. On July 19th, he finally committed suicide.
2. An Urgent Press Conference by the Center for Military Human Rights, Korea. (CMHRK).
This case was publicized by an urgent press conference by the Center for Military Human Rights, Korea on July 20th. Teahoon Lim who is a representative of CMHRK reported the beginning of the case and made requests as follows.
-Imprison assailants immediately and punish them severely.
-Make Major General Jungsoo Kim and Battalion Commander Jungyeol Kim resign their assignment and impose severe disciplinary action to them.
-Require the military authorities and investigative agency to treat the dead with respect and return his keepsakes to the family of the deceased.
-Have the judging committee of Korea army immediately admit the private died on the job.
Also in this report, Teahoon Lim disclosed that his unit were derelict in their duty because they sent him without any officer. Military authorities showed chronic problems that avoided their responsibility and concealed the case and the reaction from it. Military police expressed the unit’s management responsibility as a ‘mistake’ to the family of the deceased at a briefing. The family of the deceased requested his will and the note, however the military rejected it because they are now criminal investigation materials. They also rejected taking photos.
3. Pending Issue Meeting
At 7:40a.m. on July 21st, there was a pending issue meeting held in the room of a Vice Chief of Staff and was proceeded by Youngbong Jun who is a Vice Chief of Staff. The Center for Military Human Rights, Korea(CMHRK) got the resultant report of the pending issue meeting and made it public.
There is no discussion about some self-reflection of the case, an apology to the family of the deceased, an announcement about measures that can prevent a recurrence and a strict investigation. Their interest is focused on controlling the thoughts of the public. Especially highlighted discussions are ‘the Vice Chief of Staff’s emphasized subjects’ and we can find that their interest is just on the settlement of the case. Also ‘check and manage’ the family of the deceased is too disrespectful to the dead and his family.
After disclosing the results of the meeting, army authorities explained it. They said ‘Orders that the CMHRK is disclosing are distorted and the arguments of the CMHRK are not true.’ Also, they said ‘We express pity for the dead and we are doing our best to investigate the case.’ However the explanation by the army authorities is not convincing grounds and we have not heard any results from the investigation yet.
4. A Press Conference at Hongik University
At 10 a.m., on July 24th, there was a press conference named ‘Insisting the truth about the cruel treatment that made Piljoo Ko, named private first class ‘K’ commit suicide.’ A press conference progressed through a speech by student representative of Hongik University, a speech from the teaching staff of Korean Language and Literature, a speech by a student representative of Korean Language and Literature and a speech by a class of fifteen students. Their speeches have a lot in common. They demanded a truth ascertainment, strict punishment and recurrence prevention. In a speech by a teaching staff member from the Korean Language and Literature Department, ‘He was an ordinary university student who loved Korean novels and indie music. However, in Korean Language and Literature, he was a special student who worked on the student council of Korean Language and Literature, also he was the head of the Humanities Society. I am sure that it was not a problem of the person’s maladjustment if a nice person like Piljoo Ko can’t adjust to army society. It is a problem of the Korea army system.’
The last speech was presented by a class of fifteen students who are entered university with Piljoo Ko. The speech was a little bit different with other speeches because it’s form was a letter to Piljoo Ko. It recollected memories with him and hoped the dead to rest in peace. In their speech ‘My missed friend, Piljoo. You are the strongest and finest person I have ever known. Your bravery to say it is wrong to the wrong was great. I will remember you, you will live forever in my daily life. My friend, Piljoo. We will regret and are sorry forever. We hope you know that you are the one who was really precious to us. Look around the world freely, be happy. Then if you have a little time, just listen and come here and please know that we are sending these feelings to you. My friend, Piljoo. Thank you for being my friend. We are your friend forever, we love you.’
After the press conference, a group memorial altar was set. Friends prepared some of the snacks and drinks that he liked. On a table, there were lots of flowers that people gave to him. Many people were sad and cherished him. If you had visited there, you might see some notes. There are notes that students of Korea Language and Literature used as a group diary. We shared our daily life or personal feelings through those notes. Of course, Piljoo used the notes. His sentences and feelings were recorded in them. Some of his friends posted his pictures. In the pictures, he does not look sad or suffering. He looked so happy there. Pictures were memories with him and windows that connect his past and our present. Whenever I see his pictures, I can be sure that he lives with us and will live with us.
A problem of human rights in the Korea army is a chronic illness. After this case, another problem happened called ‘General Chanjoo Park overused his power’. Lots of problems have already past, some problems will happen in the future. Serving in the military is an unavoidable duty because Korea is a divided country. However, violating young men’s human rights and taking their precious lives are unforgivable on any account. There is no reason for these chronic ills to continue. If a nation takes two years from people’s lives, they should make sure that the two years are safe and a meaningful time to both the people and the nation. It is what a nation should do for it’s people. However in reality, often a nation and army authorities do not care about their soldiers.
Problems of the Korean army are not a long-ago story. I have heard lots of bad news about the Korean army since when I was young. However, it was the first time that my friend suffered the problem. Piljoo is my and your friend, he had classes in the same buildings with us, had meals at the same restaurants we went to and drank at the same bars as you and me. However, we can’t have a class together, have a meal and drink with him anymore. We can’t see his bright smile and eyes anymore. When I entered Hongik University, he was a member of student council for his major and Head of the Humanities Society, who helped run his major. His bright smile and energy made many freshmen adapt to their new school life well and enjoy many activities with their major. Now, he lives in our memories. Do not forget him and live with good memories of him. Uncover the truth about his unfair death and do not allow this tragedy to happen again. These are the ways to keep him alive and live with meaningfully memories of him. These are what friends can do for him. For him. For my friend, Piljoo.
Heo Junyoung firstname.lastname@example.org
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