SEOUL, March 22 (Yonhap) -- In a landmark ruling, the Constitutional Court on Thursday declared a series of emergency decrees promulgated by the military regime of the late President Park Chung-hee in the 1970s as unconstitutional. In the ruling, the court said the emergency decrees No. 1 and 2 and 9 "greatly limited and infringed upon people's basic rights."
Park ruled the country from 1961-1979 after seizing power in a military coup. The father of incumbent President Park Geun-hye solidified his grip on the country by adopting the "Yushin," or "revitalizing," Constitution in 1972. A total of nine presidential emergency decrees, issued under the Park Chung-hee regime, empowered him to take extraordinary liberties in a time of national crisis and ban all activities opposing or slandering the Yushin Constitution as well as any press reports of those activities.
The top court's unanimous ruling illustrated that cases of human rights violations under the decrees no longer hold judicial justification and confirmed they are illegal. It will become a milestone in the country's constitutional history as it illustrates that people's basic rights should be protected under any situation. It is hoped that the National Assembly will enact a law aimed at restoring the honor of more than 1,100 people victimized by the decrees, which would be the culmination of the ruling.
A Seoul man, one of six people who had filed a petition against the decrees' constitutionality in 2010, is a typical example of the kind of injustice and violence against individuals the decrees promoted. The man, only identified by his surname Oh, was convicted in 1974 for criticizing the government, in violation of the decree. Oh was found guilty of making critical remarks in public against the Park administration and served three years in prison. Agents of the now-defunct Korea Central Intelligence Agency, a spy organ during Park's regime, took him into custody after he was caught criticizing government policies to a high school student on a bus, and committed atrocities on him.
Now inconceivable, cases of human rights abuses were prevalent. A 2006 report released by a presidential commission tasked with the investigation of alleged wrongdoings by past authoritarian governments revealed that the number of people involved in 589 cases indicted for violating the decrees topped 1,100. In about half of the indicted cases, or 282 cases, perpetrators were arrested after criticizing the Yushin regime while mostly drinking or taking school classes.
Incumbent President Park Geun-hye took part in the submission of a bill in November last year, when she was a presidential hopeful and a lawmaker, to enact a law that would pave the way to restore honor of the people victimized by the Yushin regime and compensate them. The envisioned legislation holds more meaning now than ever before after Thursday's ruling by the Constitutional Court.
Both the ruling and opposition parties welcomed the court's ruling and vowed to cooperate in making efforts to proceed with related legislation. It is a fine line, and one that should help the nation be healed over the dark and difficult time it went through decades ago. The parliament must ensure that it will come up with a concrete plan on the legislation work at an earlier date.
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