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The Status of Forces Agreement

The Status of Forces Agreement governs the administrative affairs of 37,000 U.S. military personnel in Korea. The agreement was first signed in 1951 during the Korean War and revised in 1967, 1991 and 2001. Many Koreans believe the agreement is unfair to South Korea.

“The U.S. army in Korea defames our national sovereignty and commits many crimes, but we can’t do anything about it except watch because of the unfair accord, the Status of Forces Agreement,” UCA News quoted Fr. Bartholomew Moon Jung-hyon as saying at a memorial Mass for the girls killed by a U.S. armored car last June.

Criticism of the current Korea-U.S. agreement has targeted how it handles criminal cases. The agreement gives U.S. military authorities primary jurisdiction over crimes committed by its soldiers while on duty in South Korea.

Activists in Korea note that a similar agreement with Japan was substantially revised in 1995 following a U.S. soldier’s rape of a Japanese schoolgirl in Okinawa. Korea, however, has won few concessions.

Another source of contention is whether U.S. military bases comply with Korea’s environmental regulations. This is in sharp contrast to Status of Forces Agreements in European countries that have strict environmental regulations, such as cost sharing for pollution cleanup and disclosing environmental impact information.

Activists also point out that the U.S. military does not pay rent for many bases and facilities in Korea.

In December, the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Korea sent its U.S. counterpart documents outlining specific provisions and cases in the areas of criminal jurisdiction, civil claims, labor, facilities and environment where the agreement violates or infringes on the sovereignty of Korea. The Korean bishops asked the U.S. bishops to support Korea’s efforts to revise the agreement.

-- Dennis Coday

National Catholic Reporter, February 28, 2003