Letter From the Catholic Bishops Conference of Korea, December 5, 2002

Year Published
  • 2013
  • English

December 5, 2002

Most Rev. Wilton D. Gregory
United States Conference of Catholic Bishops
3211 Fourth St. NE
Washington, DC 20017-1194

Prot. No. 244/2002

Your Excellency,

Re: For A Fair Revision of the Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA)

† Praised be Jesus !

The Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea (CBCK) and the Korean Catholics have very much appreciated the positive collaboration of the United States Conference of Catholic Bishops (USCCB) regarding the revision of the unfair Korea-U.S. Status of Forces Agreement (SOFA) by responding to our requests of Dec. 7, 2000 and Apr. 23, 2001. As a result of collaboration and the efforts of many people seeking justice and peace among our two nations, the second amendment of the Korea-U.S. SOFA was concluded on December 28, 2000 following that of 1991.

In a letter to His Eminence Bernard Cardinal Law, Chairman of the Committee on International Policy of USCCB from Mr. Frank R. Stone, Director of the Foreign Military Rights Affairs of the U.S. Department of Defense, Mr. F.R. Stone wrote "the SOFA in Korea is not considered to be more favorable to the United States than those in other countries," meaning that Korea is treated the same as the other countries. However, we don't agree with Mr. F.R. Stone's view on the Korea-U.S. SOFA because we are not treated equally.

Surely the second amendment of the Korea-U.S. SOFA has made some improvements. However, when it is compared to the Agreements of the U.S.A. with other countries, there are still many areas that need to be reconsidered and amended. To make further steps in our efforts to pursue a peaceful coexistence with the United States of America based on mutual respect and fair partnership, we the Korean Bishops have prepared the enclosed document entitled "Comparison between the Amended Korea-U.S. SOFA and the SOFA of Other Countries".

This document intends to compare the Korea-U.S. SOFA with the Agreements between the U.S.A. and other countries such as the ‘NATO SOFA', the ‘U.S.-West Germany Supplementary Agreement', ‘the U.S.-Japan SOFA and the' ‘U.S.-Philippines Military Base Agreement' aimed at pointing out unequal or insufficient elements of the Korea-U.S. SOFA and to contribute to a fair amendment and eliminate all elements which are still unequal, unjust and infringe on the sovereignty of the Korean people.

The Korean people expected so much from the second amendment of the Korea-U.S. SOFA, but, most regrettably, it has provoked profound disappointment and more than ever furious reactions from many Koreans who considered it very far away from being a fair amendment and very distant from meeting their just demands. Korean people think that the U.S.A. made only a minimum change of the contents, amending very minimum parts of questionable points, and did not even start to amend controversial articles.

We the Korean Bishops are profoundly concerned more than ever about the issue of the ‘unfair' Korea-U.S. SOFA because its consequences are provoking new and widespread anti-U.S.A. sentiment among the Korean people who in fact feel that their national pride and sovereignty have been undermined and trampled underfoot. We know this by the increasing anti-U.S.A. tension that is building up day by day across the country.

The following story is just one of the many stories that are caused by the unfair SOFA and has greatly provoked the Korean people's anger.

On June 13 of this year, two U.S. soldiers, Sgt. Fernando Nino and Sgt. Mark Walker, hit and crushed instantly two 14-year-old girls, Shim Mi-son and Shin Hyo-sun to death, while they were operating a 45-ton armored tank in a rural area, Yangju, Gyeonggi Province. Two middle school girls were going to a birthday party of their classmate walking together along the country road.

After this sad and tragic incident the Korean people constantly demanded that this case be investigated and tried by the Korean court. Protest rallies were organized across the country seeking a fair, thorough investigation and trial by the Korean court. Korean people's appeal was denied and the two U.S. soldiers were tried by a U.S. military court, and despite strong criticism from all walks of Korean society including civic, religious, student activists, intellectuals and artists, the U.S. court martial found, on November 20 and 23 respectively, Sgt. Fernando Nino and Sgt. Mark Walker innocent of the negligent homicide charge of the deaths of the two girls. They were returned to the United States almost immediately after the trial.

Under the current Korea-U.S. SOFA, the U.S. military has jurisdictional rights over American soldiers accused of crimes while on duty, though it can allow South Korea to try them on a case-by-case basis. Nationwide protests against the court-martial's acquittal of the two servicemen of U.S.A. are organized on an every day basis across the country while anti-U.S. sentiment is building up day by day. For your information, we enclose here an article from The Korea Times (domestic daily newspaper in English) of Dec. 3, 2002. that reflect the current situation.

World peace is menaced more than ever and people live constantly under fear of war since the tragic incident on September 11, 2001. At this critical juncture, the Korean Bishops feel a great responsibility to act for peace and justice in our world, and for the peaceful coexistence of all peoples, therefore, we urge ‘complete' revision of the unfair Korea-U.S. SOFA based on mutual respect and equal partnership. The objective of the SOFA revision is to develop a solid foundation and cooperation for the security of the Korean peninsula and Asia pacific region, and a mature and future-oriented relationship between our two allies.

Thus, the Korean Bishops agreed to make the third appeal of solidarity to Your Excellency and all brother Bishops of the USCCB to intervene with related U.S. authorities, government bodies and organizations so that a truly fair treaty can be made between the two countries.

At this special time of Advent as we prepare for the coming of the Prince of Peace we assure you of our brotherly prayers, and thank you for your continued concern and support in this matter of a complete revision of the Korea-U.S. SOFA.

With all my best wishes and prayers, I remain

Sincerely yours in Christ,

Andrew Choi Chang-mou
Archbishop of Kwangju
Catholic Bishops' Conference of Korea