The Government’s Response to the Itaewon Disaster, This is Not Right

On 3 November 2022, South Korean disaster and industrial accident victims’ organizations, religious, civil society, and labor organizations held a press conference to express their views on the Itaewon disaster and the government’s response. At the press conference, they criticized the government’s perception and its response to the Itaewon disaster and presented a legal analysis of government responsibility, problems with media reports that do not comply with disaster reporting guidelines and recommendations on the victim’s rights and support process.

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20221103_이태원참사기자회견1


The Government’s Response to the Itaewon Disaster, This is Not Right

We pray for those who lost their lives in the Itaewon disaster and hope for the quick recovery of the injured. We saved our words with grief and sorrow. However, while listening to the government’s statements during this mourning period, we are deeply concerned that it is avoiding its responsibility and making scapegoats. Our condolences are to respect the victims, stand in solidarity with them and identify the cause of the disaster to take measures to prevent a recurrence. Therefore, we decided to speak out instead of being silent.

Do Not Avoid Responsibility. The Government is The One Who is Responsible.

The government tries to avoid its responsibility to protect people’s safety by saying, “We bare no responsibility because there is no organizer of the event.” However, Article 34 of the Constitution of the Republic of Korea stipulates, “The state shall endeavor to prevent disasters and to protect citizens from harm therefrom.” The Act On The Performance Of Duties By Police Officers and the Framework Act On The Management Of Disasters And Safety also clarify the safety management responsibilities of the police and local governments. If there were no manuals nor organizers as the government argues, the government, police, and local governments would be more responsible for safety management. This is what the government exists for. The responsibility for this disaster lies with the government, which has failed to properly assess the risks and run the safety management system.

Do Not Make Scapegoats. The wrong investigation only worsens the disaster

Police, who sent only 137 officers to the Halloween festivities site, has now deployed 501 officers to establish a special investigation headquarters. It is hard to believe that the police, who have been avoiding their responsibility, will be able to properly investigate the police themselves, local governments, and the government. The direction of the investigation is also worrisome. Police say that they will secure CCTVs at the disaster site, investigate witnesses, and look into videos on SNS. We note with concern that they are trying to make scapegoats by creating an issue with the Halloween participants’ actions. It is also concerned that the responsibility may only be passed on to front-line police officers for failing to respond to the emergency call systems properly. Responsibility should be held regardless of rank. The most important thing is the structural problems that led to the disaster, the safety management system that did not work, and the appropriateness of response by the government, local governments, and police.

Do not revictimize the victims.

It is the duty of the government to support the victims. While the government publicizes its support for the victims to the media, the victims are not receiving proper information. The government has issued a press release on providing funeral expenses and consolation money, even its amount. Considering responses from the previous disaster, it is clear that victims will be revictimized once the government mentions consolation money. Why does the government repeat the same mistake? If the government genuinely wants to support the victims, it has to respect them and take action in consultation with them.

Stop looking at the disaster in terms of ‘regime security’

The government declared a period of national mourning and said, ‘Now is the time to mourn.’ However, while many people grieve and mourn, the Bureau of Intelligence on Public Peace and Security of the National Police Agency produces a confidential document called ‘Policy Reference’. It suggests conflict management measures out of fear that the Itaewon disaster will burden the government, as seen in the subheading of “Need to pay attention to government burdens.” The police also analyze public opinion trends. This raised doubts that they are trying to manage the disaster from the perspective of “regime security.” We still have painful memories of the past disaster in which the government suppressed voices calling for truth-finding and punishment of those responsible as “anti-government forces.”


We urge the government as follows:


First, the government should apologize sincerely.
Survivors say they are sorry for the victims. People who went to rescue to save at least one more person also feel sorry for the victims. However, the government, police, and local government officials are not apologizing properly. An apology is a starting step in taking responsibility. They should apologize sincerely.


Second, independent, fair, and victim-centered fact-finding should be conducted.
Investigations into disasters must be independent, fair and prompt, reliable, and transparent. However, it is difficult to trust the police to investigate itself. Independent investigations from the government are needed. The needs of victims and people should be reflected in the investigation and preparation of measures to prevent a recurrence.


Third, the government should provide humanitarian support to the victims.
A space for victims to gather should be provided. Procedures for the victims to deliver their voices should be established. Information about the cause of the disaster and support to the victims should be transparent. Victims should be the first ones who are informed about the support. Unwanted information about the victims should not be leaked. Hate speech against the victims should be firmly responded to.

The Itaewon disaster left a lot of pain and grief for everyone in our society. We will heal the pain of the community by standing in solidarity with the victims. We will follow the people’s compassion who tried to save at least one more person during this disaster and will find the truth and come up with measures to prevent a recurrence. In the process, we will also respect victims so that their voices can be fully reflected. If the government does not accept our demands and continues its irrational actions, it will continue to gather the voices of more people, including victims.

Korean Version >>

Proofread by Gayoon Baek

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