June 30, 2023
SEOUL – About 150 soldiers and civilian military personnel have died over the past year with suicide being a leading cause of death in the military, data showed Thursday.
According to the National Human Rights Commission of Korea, the number of deaths of soldiers and civilian military personnel reported to the Military Rights Protection Office as of June 20 was 147. The Military Rights Protection Office is a dedicated organization that investigates human rights violations and discriminatory acts in the military and recommends corrective measures and policies. It was established on July 1 2022.
By cause of death, suicide accounted for 44.9 percent or 66 cases of the total, while death from disease recorded 36.7 percent, and death from accidents stood at 18.4 percent.
By position, warrant and non-commissioned officers accounted for 44.9 percent, followed by enlisted soldiers at 27.9 percent, civilian military personnel at 15.6 percent and commissioned officers at 11.6 percent.
By division, the death toll from the Army accounted for 56.5 percent of the total, and those from the Air Force accounted for 17.7 percent, the Navy for 15 percent, and the Marine Corps for 6.8 percent.
The Military Rights Protection Office was established under the National Human Rights Commission of Korea in the wake of the death of the late Master Sgt. Lee Ye-ram. Earlier, on March 2, 2021, Lee was sexually harassed by another master sergeant, known by his surname Chang, against her will. When she reported the incident to her superiors, they tried to silence her. Investigations by military police and prosecutors were repeatedly put on hold. Two months later on May 21 of the same year, Lee died by suicide at the age of 23.
Under the Human Rights Act revised in December 2021, the defense minister must notify the Military Rights Protection Office of all deaths occurring in the military.
The Military Rights Protection Office can then launch further investigations into the deaths.
The National Human Rights Commission of Korea said it conducted a basic investigation into 94 of 147 deaths, and conducted an investigation through on-the-spot surveys into 53. The rest are currently under investigation. The commission also conducted an ex officio investigation into one death. After investigation, four cases have been recommended for internal improvement measures, including a recommendation for a General Out Post in Inje-gun, Gangwon Province, to make changes to its military culture. In November 2022, a 21-year-old private serving in the GOP died by suicide after being bullied.