Human rights, defined by the United Nations, are rights inherent to all human beings, regardless of race, sex, nationality, ethnicity, language, religion, or any other status. Also, everyone is entitled to these rights without discrimination. This is irrefutable as we prioritize values such as equality and well-being. Because of this, the fundamental role of the government is to protect these rights of individuals, so that they can live humane lives. However, even for this absolute concept, exceptions exist—-one is for the criminals, individuals who have proven to have caused harm to the society by violating the law. In the context of criminal rights, it’s extremely difficult to make a compromise between the rights of criminals and victims. Now here is the hardest debate we must have regarding criminals’ human rights.
Is Capital Punishment justified?
We normally respond to law violations with proportionate measures. Simple crimes such as stealing are met with compensation and education. Worse crimes, such as committing violence, are met with a few years in jail. So here’s the question: if there are offenses which are simply too vicious to be ever forgiven, is the act of the government taking away the life of this individual justified? There has been an overall increase in the demand for harsher punishment, including capital punishment, in Korean society. This is due to the unsatisfactory decisions given by the court to horrible criminals. In October 14th, 2018, a young man was violently stabbed and murdered in a PC room located in Gangseo-gu, Seoul-a case that was soon named ‘Seoul Gangseo-Gu PC Room Murder Case’. The prosecution requested capital punishment—-however it was rejected, with the final sentence of 30 years. This fueled notable backlash from the public. This was a particularly inhumane case. The victim was stabbed in the face and the neck approximately 80 times, and the motive was simply that the victim, who was working in the PC room at the time, was ‘unkind’ and ‘insulting’. These elements made this case intolerably appalling. So the question is: should the proposal of the prosecution have been accepted? Capital punishment technically still exists in Korea as it is stated by law. However, as there hasn’t been any executions for the past 10 years, it is considered virtually “dead”. Comparatively, countries like China or the USA still execute many criminals sentenced to death. We can understand that each country interprets the value of life and the standards of justice differently. People that are for capital punishment assert they should prioritize the victims and do justice for them, and to forever seperate dangerous individuals, who are deemed to harm society in the future, from society. But here, we must ask the question: does the government have the right to do such a thing? This is an ironic concept, as the government was created to protect the citizens regardless of the conditions; however now as a separate entity, it measures the value of lives within citizens and chooses who is worthy of living or not. Furthermore, we must look at the structural context of how crimes occur. While impulsive, emotional crimes exist, there are also planned, well-crafted crimes. The imperfection of society, like poverty, ignorance towards minorities, vulnerability to domestic abuse, alcohol problems, and bullying, plays a considerable role in criminals committing crimes. This may be for survival reasons, stealing becoming their livelihood, or just an expression of the animosity they have for society. The government was given a mission to comprehensively care for every member of society, and while this seems unrealistic, the disparity in society still speaks a lot about the flaws of the government. But to this we may argue, then what about the members of the low class, who are holding onto their morality? Isn’t it a disgrace to them, if we were to provide mercy to structurally discriminated criminals? Furthermore, it must be emphasized that normally, the victims are also low-class citizens of society, meaning that this hate isn’t even directed at a right place-but rather worsens the vicious cycle. So must we direct this perilous at the criminals, in the name of justice?
Now, to be sure, this is never meant to romanticize criminals in any way-the horrendous crimes they’ve committed are objective facts, and they cannot be justified by any reason. However when it comes to the question of how our society will deal with these individuals, we must also consider the weight ‘life’ has. The right to live is the most fundamental, paramount right within human rights, and a one-sided perspective is dangerous when such an important right is at risk.
“Human Rights.” United Nations, United Nations, www.un.org/en/global-issues/human-rights.
Son, Ui Yeon. “'강서구 PC방 살인' 김성수, 어떻게 사형 면했나.” 이데일리, 4 June 2019, www.edaily.co.kr/news/read?newsId=03932726622518440&mediaCodeNo=257.
Choi, Eun Jin. "'PC방 살인' 김성수, 심신미약 아냐"...동생 '폭행공범' 검토, KBS, 15 Nov. 2018, n.news.naver.com/mnews/article/056/0010640763?sid=102.