All sex crimes and homicides committed by military members will now be tried by civilian courts rather than courts-martial, following multiple scandals and victim suicides.

Parents of an Air Force master sergeant who committed suicide after a sexual assault incident cry during a news conference in Seongnam, South Korea, June 28, 2021.
Parents of an Air Force master sergeant who committed suicide after a sexual assault incident cry during a news conference in Seongnam, South Korea, June 28, 2021. (Yonhap News Agency / Reuters)

Sex crimes and homicides committed by members of South Korea's military will be tried in civilian courts under a new law, sparked by multiple scandals and victim suicides.

Activists and victims had accused South Korea's powerful military of standing in the way of previous efforts to reduce the power commanders have over the process, but reform efforts gathered steam after a series of deaths and prominent crimes.

Under the revised Military Court Act, all sex crimes, as well as violent crimes such as homicides, will be tried from the start at civilian courts, rather than courts martial.

Military courts will be consolidated, while military police and prosecutors will be placed under the defence minister and the chiefs of each service branch in an effort to reduce the influence of commanders.

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Crimes against women and children

South Korea has in recent years been hit by a rash of sex crimes against women and children, including hidden-camera crimes, “revenge porn” and online networks that blackmail women and underage girls into sharing sexual and sometimes violent images of themselves. Sex crimes have also been reported in the military, which is one of the largest in the world with over 600,000 troops. Service in the military is mandatory for all able-bodied men.

Fewer than 10 percent of almost 2,000 sex crime cases tried in military courts from 2016-20 resulted in prison sentences, compared with about 30 percent of such cases in civilian courts, according to court documents.

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Source: Reuters