South Korean Military Infringes on the Right to Request Trials and Appeals

South Korean Military Infringes on the Right to Request Trials and Appeals
Courtroom. Source: Magara/Flickr, 2007.


Jasmine Velasquez

East Asia and Human Rights Researcher 

Global Human Rights Defence

On the 30th of November 2022, the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Committee held the 46th conference and announced its investigation into the human rights violations of “denying the Silmido military unit to request a fair trial and appeal” (Park, 2022). This is the second time the Silmido incident has been investigated since the execution of the four agents in 1972.

The Central Intelligence Agency and the Air Force established the Silmido unit in 1968 with the aim of infiltrating North Korea (Summon, 2022). After more than three years of military training, 22 agents fled to Seoul in 1971, objecting to the practices of the unit (Summon, 2022). In the process, all but four of the fleeing agents were killed (Summon, 2022). The surviving agents were handed over to the Air Force Headquarters General Court and sentenced to death on December 6, 1971 (Summon, 2022). They appealed but were dismissed in two weeks at the High Court (Summon, 2022). After, although they intended to appeal to the Supreme Court, they did not, and their death sentence was confirmed, with all four executed in March of 1972 (Summon, 2022).

The Truth and Reconciliation Committee judged that the abandonment of the Supreme Court appeal was due to coercion and threats from the head of the Air Force unit, who feared that the appeal would expose the other violations enacted by the Silmido unit (Park, 2022). The unit’s means of recruitment were also criticised for imposing unlawful conditions and making false promises (Kim, 2022). 

The right to due process and a fair trial are protected under international human rights law, in particular, the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR). However, South Korea only ratified the ICCPR in 1981 (Ratification Status by Country). Despite this, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission points out that the right to a fair trial and the right to appeal is protected under the South Korean Constitution, under Articles 101 and 27 (Supreme Court of Korea). Thus, this is a violation of human rights norms developed from state practice and also of domestic political rights at the time. 

Moving forward, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the Ministry of National Defense apologise to the bereaved families of the executed soldiers and take appropriate measures to remedy the damages (Kim, 2022).

Sources and further reading:

Kim D, “진실화해위 ‘군이 실미도 공작원 재판 청구권 침해’” (YTN, November 30, 2022) <> accessed November 30, 2022 

Park K, “사형된 실미도 공작원 4명, 군이 재판 포기 강요 '진실 드러났다'” (경인일보, November 30, 2022) <> accessed November 30, 2022 

“Ratification Status by Country” (United Nations Human Rights Treaty Body Database) <> accessed November 8, 2022 

Summon W, “진실화해위 ‘사형된 실미도 공작원 4명...군이 재판 포기 강요’” (SBS NEWS, November 30, 2022) <> accessed November 30, 2022 

Supreme Court of South Kora, “The Judiciary” (Supreme Court of South Korea) <> accessed November 30, 2022