The approach of the Halloween holidays in South Korea reopens the wound of the massacre in Itaewon, a district of the capital known for its nightlife, where on 29 October 2022 the crowd created for the celebrations caused the death of over 150 people and the wounding of dozens of young people in their twenties.
One year after the event (the worst faced by the country since the Sewol shipwreck in 2014), new security measures have been announced in which artificial intelligence will be used to detect potentially dangerous gatherings.
In the meantime, however, the legal question of responsibility for the tragedy remains open, with the families of the victims still waiting for justice.
The tragedy had put President Yoon Suk-yeol’s administration under scrutiny. In February, South Korea’s National Assembly impeached Interior Minister Lee Sang-min, leading to speculation that he would resign from his position.
However, the impeachment was overturned a few months later by the Constitutional Court, which ruled that no single person could be blamed for a tragedy resulting from a failure involving multiple government agencies.
Immediately after the event, responsibility was attributed to the police. Only just over 130 officers were present patrolling Itaewon that night, of which only about fifty were in uniform, an insufficient number to cope with the crowd that had gathered for the celebrations.
Last year’s Halloween party was in fact one of the first post-pandemic social events.
According to the Korea Herald, which collects data from the Seoul subway, on the night of October 29, about 130 thousand people traveled to and from the Itaewon stop, an increase of almost 30% compared to October 26, 2019, i.e. the latest end Halloween week before lockdown.
An investigation whose results were shared in January this year also highlighted the lack of adequate security measures: that night the police officers, in addition to being insufficient in number at the site of the tragedy, ignored the emergency calls of the pedestrians who were reporting the dangerous increase in people on the street – no more than four meters wide – where the disaster then occurred.
Police station transcripts show that several calls had been received nearly four hours before the first deaths were reported.
The investigation led to the arrest of six people whose trials are still ongoing. However, according to the families of the victims, the cases concern minor officials of the Seoul municipality, absolving the officials belonging to higher levels of the government from any responsibility.
Having abandoned the institutions, the family members are aiming for the approval of special laws that could authorize an independent investigation.
The proposal has been submitted to the National Assembly and could be approved during the December plenary session.