Violence against U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert has lead Koreans to discuss anti-terrorism legislation. The ruling party is calling for the swift passage of an anti-terrorism bill proposed by lawmaker Lee Byung-suk. Last month, he pressed for the necessity of a new legal approach against terrorists or acts joining terrorist groups, following a South Korean teenager joining ISIS and the jihadist group's execution of hostages.
The bill calls for heavier punishments of acts or sponsorship of terror than criminal law. Unlike existing laws, an anti-terror law will allow for preventative actions. It also provides a legal ground for upgrading the state anti-terror council to an organization directly under presidential supervision and the establishment of a terror response center under the NIS director.
The lawmaker claimed that it is currently impossible in Korea to have prevented the attack on U.S. Ambassador Mark Lippert, because there were no legal grounds to keep watch over the assailant, Kim Ki-jong. Despite his criminal record of being arrested for throwing two chunks of concrete at the Japanese diplomatic envoy, the assailant was not hindered from approaching the U.S. envoy in broad daylight in the center of Seoul. A police officer who recognized Kim simply asked if he was going to attend the forum, and did not take any further action. With this failed security system, Seoul would be helpless against more terrorist attacks.
However, the main opposition party, the New Politics Alliance for Democracy, and other opposition parties still oppose the bill, as they are concerned about the potential abuse of authority by state intelligence agencies. They insist that the bill contains unconstitutional elements, standing a chance of human rights violations, and suggest establishing security measures within existing law boundaries.
There have been continual attempts to pass anti-terrorism laws since the Kimg Dae-jung administration, which joined other administrations' efforts to curb terrorism under the influence of the September 11 tragedy. The attempts, however, have been blocked in the National Assembly by worries that they would be abused, used to oppress human rights.
The only anti-terror regulation in South Korea is the guidelines on state anti-terror activities established in 1982. The guidelines are not law, but presidential decrees, so they have clear limitations in facilitating cooperation among government agencies or in executing commands at the state level. For such a reason, they cannot legally bind private organizations to install security equipment or facilities to take any preventive measures, such as tracking financial transactions and collecting communications intelligence.
Yet fighting against potential terrorist actions are vital. Until now, Seoul is far from efforts to comply with the new United Nations resolution that obligates countries to prevent foreign terrorist fighters from crossing their borders, and to legislate laws to criminally prosecute such fighters and their supporters. According to lawmakers, in the past 5 years there have been more than 50 incidents in which foreigners have been found to be involved in terrorist acts in Korea. Under current laws, the only way to punish terrorist activities here in Korea is through forced deportation.
The threat of terrorism exists in Korea. Although the assault on Lippert can be an occasion to cement ties between Korea and the U.S., it can’t cover the loopholes in Korean law. It is necessary to face the scar left on Mark Lippert's face, and as he tweeted, to "go together" towards peace.