[Editorial] Even as Commission is ended, work on investigating the Sewol must continue

Posted on : 2016-10-01 17:56 KST Modified on : 2019-10-19 20:29 KST
Staff destroy some documents and pack at the Special Sewol Investigative Commission offices in central Seoul on Sep. 30. (by Shin So-young
Staff destroy some documents and pack at the Special Sewol Investigative Commission offices in central Seoul on Sep. 30. (by Shin So-young

The Special Sewol Investigative Commission had its activities forcibly halted as of Sep. 30. The government announced the closing of its activities that day on the grounds that the special Sewol Law had been implemented one year and nine months earlier on Jan. 1, 2015. The time period should really have been calculated from Aug. 2015, when the commission actually had the budget and staffing to begin its activities, but the administration wasn’t hearing that. The staff and equipment were pulled, the budget and data processing cut off. The nine passengers who were never found remain in the sea, and the facts of the sinking have yet to come to light, but Seoul insists on what amounts to a forcible disbanding of the commission anyway.

Efforts to hinder the commission’s operations had been intense from the beginning. Since the time the law was enacted, the government and ruling Saenuri Party had been trying to reduce its authority. The enforcement decree hamstrung it from the get-go, limiting its investigation activities to examination of existing government findings while the government itself - the target of the investigation - controlled the investigation process. Saenuri Party lawmakers became a veritable obstruction squad, refusing to comply with any of the commission’s activities and denouncing and insulting them on farfetched and distorted grounds. The President showed her displeasure with repeated talk about “tax money,” and the Korea Coast Guard - arguably the chief culprit in the tragedy - refused the committee’s requests to supply evidence. The commission’s request for the National Assembly to appoint a special prosecutor was foiled by the government and ruling party’s refusal. Even the government employees sent to work for the commission openly obstructed its operations by disregarding orders from the chairperson. We have to wonder just what they are so afraid of that they have so insistently blocked the commission from getting at the truth.

Even when faced with these difficulties, the commission did produce some minor results. It found out about the complete absence of any kind of government control tower during the sinking, the Blue House’s interference in reporting by the KBS network, differences between the government’s announcements about the rescue and search efforts and the facts, and the possibility of doctoring and deletion in communications audio and video from the time of the tragedy. But what it learned is just part of the truth, and many other questions were buried away unanswered.

Really finding out the truth of the disaster and achieving the kind of fundamental social change that would prevent similar tragedies from happening again was never something that could have been accomplished in the short space of a year and a few months. The commission may have been shut down by the government, but the investigation cannot end here. Whether it’s enacting a new special law and pushing for a special prosecutor or continuing the investigation at the civilian level, there is still work to be done.

 staff photographer)
staff photographer)

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