By Kim Rahn
The state should compensate victims of inhumane crimes it committed regardless of the deadline to make the claim, according to the Supreme Court Thursday.
The ruling is expected to affect numerous cases where the lower courts refused to accept victims’ claims citing the termination of due prescriptions.
The top court turned down a lower court ruling which went against four bereaved family members of victims of a 1949 massacre in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province, where South Korean soldiers shot about 100 villagers. The plaintiffs demanded the state pay about 1 billion won in total compensation.
“It is difficult for people to claim compensation for the infringement of basic rights through the usual legal process when the infringement was systematically committed directly by the state or under the state’s tacit rule. The plaintiffs had reason enough not to have exercised their rights to claim compensation,” the top court said.
“It is unacceptable that the state, which had covered up the truth about the incident and neglected fact-finding efforts, refuses to compensate the bereaved families and blames them for failing to claim within the legal period,” it said.
The court said the lower court’s decision was wrong because it ruled limiting the period for claims was not an abuse of authority.
In the Mungyeong massacre, soldiers staged a shooting rampage against about 100 residents on Dec. 24, 1949 because “the villagers cooperated with communists.” A total of 86, including women and children, were murdered.
The state disguised it as a massacre by communist guerillas, but it was found later that South Korean soldiers did it, designating the town as a “communist village” after the residents didn’t welcome them.
After the Truth and Reconciliation Committee’s fact-finding investigation, the bereaved families filed a compensation suit against the state in July 2008.
Both a local court and the Seoul High Court acknowledged that the massacre was an illegal act by the state authority, but ruled the state was not responsible for providing compensation as the five-year prescription ended in December 1954.
In June, the top court made a similar ruling for another massacre in Ulsan during the Korean War, overturning a high court decision that also ruled against the victims’ bereaved families.
It said the state should compensate the plaintiffs in the case of the “Bodo League,” or National Guidance Alliance, where thousands of members were classified as leftists and killed in 1950.