President Park Geun-hye sees off a delegation of representatives of deceased and missing passengers from the Sewol ferry after their meeting at the Blue House on May 16. (provided by the Blue House)
By Kim Ki-seong, Kim Il-woo and Park Su-ji, staff reporters in Ansan
A committee of family members of victims in last month’s Sewol ferry sinking demanded on May 16 that the investigation into the accident focus on the roles of government officials and agencies and President Park Geun-hye.
The Countermeasures Committee for Victims, Missing Passengers, and Survivors in the Sewol Ferry Disaster also called for forming an independent expert fact-finding committee to investigate and urged the National Assembly to enact a special law.
Meanwhile, Park met with representatives of the families the same day and apologized for the government’s failures in its response to the disaster.
The Countermeasures Committee announced its demands at a press conference at 9:30 am in the second-floor press lounge of Wa~ Stadium in Ansan, Gyeonggi Province. The press conference was held to mark the one-month anniversary of the sinking.
“The healing process begins with true reflection by all the responsible people, and the culmination will be a full determination of the truth,” the committee said.
In a prepared statement, the committee said the Sewol investigation “will need to focus on the basic cause of the disaster, the direct and indirect factors, the early response, the rescue and recovery process, and the response from the National Assembly and press, and sufficient time will need to be ensured for the investigation.”
“The investigation will also need to look at all relevant officials, the National Assembly, the media, and relevant non-government parties, including everyone from the public services involved on the scene to education institutions, government agencies, and even the President,” the committee continued.
“To ensure a proper investigation, all information, from the voices on the ground to the Blue House reports and orders will need to be disclosed in a transparent manner,” the committee added. “Trends in reporting and orders throughout the process will need to be available for proper identification and assessment.”
In particular, the committee demanded that victims’ family members be allowed to participate in the entire investigation process, which it said should “be conducted by an independent expert fact-finding organization that is not under government or National Assembly leadership.”
On the nature of the organization, the committee explained, “This means that it should center on family members and politically unbiased investigation experts. It is not a demand for a special prosecutor.”
The committee went on to ask for the National Assembly to enact a special law for the investigation, with the media performing a role of criticism and monitoring. It also called on civic groups and the public to take part in a signature campaign for the investigation.
“If the truth is to be learned, the most crucial thing is the President’s commitment,” said committee chair Kim Byeong-kwon. “All those precious lives lost in the disaster are heroes who showed us our shame for all that time down in the cold, cold depths of the ocean.”
“Whether they will be made into simple victims or made into heroes is completely up to us, the living,” he added.
Meanwhile, Park met with committee representatives at the Blue House that same afternoon.
“I’m sure you are going through unspeakable suffering right now, and I want to offer you my deepest condolences,” Park told the family members. “I would like to apologize once again for the government’s shortcomings.”
“I feel that the way of making sure that those tragic sacrifices are not in vain will be to correct society’s safety system from its foundations so that this kind of thing does not happen again, to reestablish the groundwork of society and consider it a kind of ‘great renovation of the nation,’” she continued.
It was Park’s first personal apology to family members since the sinking.
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