Civil Society Stands in Solidarity with the bereaved families and victims of the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster
We pray for those who lost their lives in the Itaewon Disaster on October 29 and would like to express our deepest condolences to those who lost their families and loved ones. We also wish for the recovery of the injured in the disaster, and for those who had to witness the terrible incident.
Over the past 25 days, we have been furious watching the government’s indiscretion and the irresponsible high-ranking officials. It is disastrous that none of the most responsible people admit responsibility. Secondary victimization through media reports, comments, and YouTube videos continue, but the government is not taking swift action. Above all, we can not longer overlook the fact that the government fails to guarantee the Right to Know, the Right to Heal, and the Right to Participate for the disaster victims and the bereaved families.
In response, civil society organizations are actively working to ensure the right to truth, to find out the responsible, to remember and mourn the victims, and to grieve and heal with the bereaved families in the truth-finding process.
First, the Government Must Respond to the Demands of the Bereaved Families of the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster.
On November 22, the bereaved families held a press conference and made it clear that the responsibility for the October 29 Itaewon Disaster lies not with the citizens who visited Itaewon, but rather with the government, local governments, and police. The families demanded a sincere apology to all victims from the responsible parties. The families stressed the importance of a thorough investigation, and victim-centered investigation, and demanded specific measures to be taken to ensure communication, humanitarian support, remembrance of victims, and to prevent secondary victimization.
We send our support and solidarity to the demands and appeals of the bereaved families. We also would like to note that disaster response should start with the voices of the victims. We hope the government will let the voices of the victims be heard and do its best to establish a support system based on their needs.
Since the Disaster, the government has not provided any information on how the disaster occurred and the progress of the investigation to the bereaved families and the victims and has not opened a communication channel. Not just the bereaved families and the victims, but also the survivors, citizens who were rescued at the time, and residents of Itaewon are also obvious victims of the disaster; however, nothing is known regarding what governmental support measures are available. To prevent victims from being socially isolated, government support and community efforts are urgently needed.
The government should regularly inform the bereaved families, victims, and the public of the progress of the disaster investigation at the Special / Central Investigation Unit, and immediately establish a system for victims to express their opinions and communicate. Furthermore, we call for comprehensive support measures for victims, bereaved families, rescued citizens, witnesses, and local residents. We will also join forces with the victims, ensuring the right to mourn and right to know of the bereaved families and victims, and urging the government to provide clear plans and social support for healing and recovery.
Second, Any Form of Secondary Offense or Secondary Victimization is No Longer Acceptable.
In the Itaewon Disaster, the media revealed various problems such as indiscreet use of photos and videos cited from the online community and social media; tabloid depictions of tragic scenes; unfiltered quotations of unidentified claims and rumors; guesstimation over the cause of the disaster; witch-hunting and scapegoating; and red-herring reports on the government responsibility. This type of report not only causes additional secondary offense, but also leads to secondary victimization to the deceased, bereaved families, and survivors.
We will conduct monitoring activities with citizens to prevent secondary victimization in media reports, comments, and YouTube videos. We also demand compliance with disaster reporting rules for online platforms. In addition, we will demand social responsibility by rapidly blocking and deleting reports, comments, and content criticized to cause secondary harm. We will actively take legal measures against serious abuse to ameliorate the suffering.
Third, an Independent Investigation of the Entire Disaster Safety Management System both before and after the disaster Should Be Conducted With the Participation of the Bereaved Families and Victims.
The essence of the Disaster is that the government did not fulfill its duty to protect the lives and safety of the people, despite predictable signs such as the expected gathering of more than 100,000 citizens and multiple desperate reports on that day. It is important that we thoroughly reveal the structural problems that led to the disaster, the failed disaster safety management system, and the response of the government, local governments, and police. On top of that, the participation of the bereaved families, victims, and their representatives in all investigations should be guaranteed.
The Special Investigation Unit, which has been criticized for its scapegoating investigation, recently launched an investigation into the “top brass” including the Ministry of the Interior and Safety. Concerns are raised over whether the investigation will be carried out properly since the Ministry has the authority over police personnel. An independent institution should carry out the fact-finding mission to ensure objectivity and fairness. In addition, the Unit does not hold press briefings, and only shares information with certain journalists through background briefings, which is a serious lack of transparency.
The National Assembly is set to conduct a parliamentary investigation into the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster. Thorough fact-finding and accountability are not limited to the investigation and criminal responsibility of the Special Investigation Unit. In order to properly identify the cause of the disaster, it is necessary to investigate why there were no prior safety management measures in place at the local government and police level, why the disaster reporting and cooperation system did not work on the day of the disaster, and why personnel was not deployed to control the crowd.
The parliamentary investigation should also focus on clarifying the responsibility of policy decisions, such as the operation plan and police instruction on the day of the disaster, and on finding out the institutional background and cause of why the country did not recognize the situation as a crisis before the disaster occurred. Additionally, the investigation should examine whether any human rights measures were taken for the victims on the day of the disaster and whether there have been any attempts to conceal or minimize what went wrong. We urge both the ruling and opposition parties to diligently engage in the parliamentary investigation to ensure the process of revealing the government’s responsibility for protecting the right to life, rather than turning it into political strife.
We will represent the voices of the bereaved and the victims with their inclusion, and defend their rights so that they seek truth without sanctuary and accountability. We will work to include their perspectives in the entire process of truth-seeking, including National Assembly’s investigation.
Fourth, Records of Remembrance and Disaster-Related Evidence Should be Transparently Disclosed and Preserved.
Transparently disclosing, collecting, and preserving relevant evidence is crucial for properly commemorating and getting to the bottom of the Itaewon disaster. Not only evidence related to the cause of the disaster, but also memorial records of citizens should be thoroughly disclosed, preserved, and managed. However, Yongsan-gu suddenly made open open documents private, and the Central Disaster and Safety Countermeasures Headquarters declined the data request by civic groups. The internal report alarming the Halloween festival crowd drafted by the information department of the Yongsan-gu Office has already been deleted. It is essential that all disaster-related records produced by state agencies before and after the disaster be preserved and disclosed in order to uncover the truth and identify those who are responsible.
These records related to the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster should never be intentionally deleted, or concealed.The records that have been accumulated at the makeshift memorial near Exit 1 of Itaewon Station are currently being managed by volunteers. However, it is not sustainable for them to continue to handle these records on their own. The Seoul Metropolitan Government should come up with measures to prevent the loss of memorial records, such as requesting the designation of national records and granting access to the records to bereaved families and victims. Furthermore, we call for the start of social discussions to create a physical space for citizens’ remembrance.
Civil society will stand with the bereaved families and victims of the 10.19 Itaewon Disaster to prevent any unnecessary deaths or societal disasters caused by the absence of the government. We will work with them until the end to seek remembrance and mourning, truth, accountability, healing, and recovery, as well as reasonable compensation for the 10.29 Itaewon Disaster.
November 23, 2022
163 Disaster and Industrial Disaster Victims Associations, Religion, Civil Society, and Labor Organizations
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