Over a year after deadly Itaewon crush, S. Korean parliament passes law to investigate tragedy

Posted on : 2024-01-10 17:17 KST Modified on : 2024-01-10 17:51 KST
Opposition lawmakers unilaterally passed the bill as lawmakers with the ruling People’s Power Party staged a walkout in protest
People who lost family members in the crowd crush on Oct. 29, 2022, in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood sit in the National Assembly chamber as lawmakers vote on the passage of a special act that would initiate a probe into the disaster. Before voting, lawmakers with the ruling party walked out of the chamber to boycott the vote. (Yonhap)
People who lost family members in the crowd crush on Oct. 29, 2022, in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood sit in the National Assembly chamber as lawmakers vote on the passage of a special act that would initiate a probe into the disaster. Before voting, lawmakers with the ruling party walked out of the chamber to boycott the vote. (Yonhap)

A special law to investigate the deadly crowd crush that occurred in Seoul’s Itaewon neighborhood in October 2022 passed the National Assembly on Tuesday, by opposition lawmakers.

The legislation comes 15 months after the tragedy occurred.

In a regular session that afternoon, the National Assembly approved the Democratic Party’s amended bill for guaranteeing the rights of victims of the October 2022 Itaewon tragedy, investigating the incident, and preventing similar incidents from occurring, with 177 out of 177 lawmakers present voting in favor.

The ruling People Power Party (PPP) exited the session and boycotted the vote to protest the opposition’s passage of the legislation after a failure to reach a bipartisan consensus.

As recently as that morning, the two parties had been negotiating over the formation of a special investigation commission based on an arbitration plan presented by National Assembly Speaker Kim Jin-pyo, but they ultimately failed to reach an agreement.

The special act passed on Wednesday calls for the establishment of a special investigation commission with 11 members in all, including three permanent members. Three of the members are to be nominated by the National Assembly speaker based on discussions with relevant groups, including family members of the victims. The ruling party (defined as a party to which the president currently belongs or has belonged) is to name four members, and the president is to appoint four others nominated by the opposition.

One permanent member each is to be nominated by the speaker, ruling party, and opposition parties.

The chairperson will be selected from among the permanent members by a special commission vote.

The commission is to remain active for a 15-month period. The act is to enter effect as of April 10, which means its investigation activities will begin after the general election.

In consideration of ruling party objections, provisions in the opposition’s original draft that would have granted the special commission authority to demand a special prosecutor were removed, and the activity period was reduced by three months from the original 18 months.

In a statement, Democratic Party floor spokesperson Lim O-kyeong said, “I apologize to the family members of victims in the Itaewon tragedy and to the South Korean public for the fact that it has taken over a year since the Itaewon tragedy occurred for a special act to be passed.”

She went on to call for President Yoon Suk-yeol to “take to heart the suffering of the family members and the voices of the public and immediately accept and proclaim the special act for the Itaewon tragedy.”

The PPP responded by expressing objections.

While the vote was taking place, PPP floor leader Yun Jae-ok gathered with other lawmakers in the party to protest in the Central Hall of the National Assembly’s main building.

He denounced the opposition for “choosing partisanship and conflict rather than the safety of the Republic of Korea.”

But the PPP also indicated that it planned to survey opinions within the party rather than immediately discussing the possibility of Yoon exercising his de facto veto authority to request reconsideration of the legislation.

The presidential office shared a message with reporters expressing “dismay over the Itaewon special act being once again unilaterally forced through without a bipartisan consensus.”

It also said that a “statement will be made after the legislation is sent to the administration and opinions have been gathered from the party and relevant ministries.”

Also passed at the regular session that day included were amendments to the Act on Registration and Evaluation of Chemical Substances and Chemicals Control Act, which relax the standard for registering hazard information when manufacturing and importing new chemical materials from 100 kg to 1 metric ton, with variable regulations based on the degree of danger associated with specific chemicals.

Votes were also held on a special law for the creation and management of a Korean space agency and a special law to end the dog meat trade, which bans the raising, breeding, and slaughter of dogs for food. 

By Sun Dam-eun, staff reporter; Kang Jae-gu, staff reporter

Please direct questions or comments to [english@hani.co.kr]

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