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English Translations of Post-Second World War South Korean Laws – Global Legal Collection Highlights

The following is a guest post by Sayuri Umeda, a senior foreign law specialist at the Law Library of Congress. It continues our Global Collection Highlights Series. Sayuri previously contributed a post on Japanese family law to this series. She also recently wrote a post on the laws and regulations passed in the aftermath of the Great East Japan Earthquake.

Inscription noting the death toll for the U.S. and its United Nations allies at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carol Highsmith) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, digital file from original, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.14308).

Inscription noting the death toll for the U.S. and its United Nations allies at the Korean War Veterans Memorial in Washington, D.C. (Photo by Carol Highsmith) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, digital file from original, http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/highsm.14308).

It is very difficult to translate laws written in foreign languages into English. Where translations are not available, researchers may find it hard to learn about the laws of other countries. This is true for Northeast Asian countries, with Chinese, Japanese, and Korean being in the group of languages that are the hardest for native English speakers to become fluent in. Thankfully, English translations of recent major South Korean laws are now easily accessible. The Korean government established an institution, the Korea Legislation Research Institute (KLRI), which translates and publishes Korean laws. The Law Library of Congress previously subscribed to a loose-leaf service of the Statutes of the Republic of Korea from 1997 to 2009. However, this publication is now only available online. Registration is required to use it, but both registration and access are free.

I recently researched the availability of English translations of older (post-WWII) Korean laws. I was surprised to find that Korean laws have actually been translated much more than I thought. Some of the translations that we have here in the Law Library are not widely available. To understand who the translators were and the reasons for the translations, we must consider the modern history of Korea.

After Japan’s surrender in 1945, Korea, which was annexed to Japan in 1910 under the Japan–Korea Annexation Treaty, was divided into zones of occupation by the United States and the Soviet Union. In the U.S. occupation zone, the United Army Forces in Korea established the United States Army Military Government in Korea (USAMGIK) in September 1945. In 1948, two separate governments were established, each claiming to be the legitimate government of the entire Korean peninsula: the Republic of Korea (South Korea) in Seoul, in the American zone, and the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea (North Korea) in Pyongyang, in the Soviet zone. During the time that USAMGIK governed South Korea, it issued ordinances, proclamations, directives, regulations, etc. in English, Korean, and Japanese. These are available in two publications that the Law Library of Congress has in its collections:

A Korean citizen drops a vote into ballot box in the presence of supervising election officials during today's first democratic election in Nae Chon, Korea (Photo by U.S. Army, May 10, 1948) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, b&w film copy neg. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b13550).

A Korean citizen drops a vote into ballot box in the presence of supervising election officials during today’s first democratic election in Nae Chon, Korea (Photo by U.S. Army, May 10, 1948) (Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, b&w film copy neg. http://hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/cph.3b13550).

Since 1948, the National Assembly of South Korea has enacted a Constitution and passed laws. In June 1950, the Korean War started. The U.S. supported South Korea and China supported North Korea. In October 1950, the United Nations (UN) General Assembly established the UN Commission for the Unification and Rehabilitation of Korea (UNCURK) to bring about the establishment of a unified, independent and democratic government of Korea. UNCURK existed until 1973. To support the South Korean government in its task of reconstruction, the UN General Assembly also created the UN Korean Reconstruction Agency (UNKRA) in December 1950. UNKRA ceased to exist in 1958. In addition, just after the Korean War started, the UN Command sent a group of people from its Public Health and Welfare Section in Tokyo to Seoul. The functions of this group were transferred and raised to the status of a major command of the Eighth Army of the United States and renamed the UN Civil Assistance Command in Korea (UNCACK) in January 1951. It was later succeeded by the Korea Civil Assistance Command (KCAC) in July 1953.

The Law Library of Congress has copies of translations of laws enacted between 1948 and 1981, and presidential decrees promulgated between 1948 and 1953. Many of the earlier translations have the following description at the top of the first page: “Headquarters, Korea Civil Assistance Command, Korea, Korean Communications Zone, APO59, c/o PM, San Francisco, California, Joint UNCACK, UNKRA, UNCURK Translation Service.” In 1953, as noted above, UNCACK was replaced by KCAC. The last law translated by the Joint Translation Service was Law No. 349 (Oct. 16, 1954). Sometimes, the names of the translator and/or editor and the date of the translation are listed at the end of the translation.

After 1954, it appears that the translation work was done by a different organization. The first page of the translations states simply “Unofficial translation of Law [number].” No translator’s name or date of translation was noted. Some of translations were translations of earlier laws, such as Law No. 127 (Apr. 14, 1950). They were probably translated by the Korean Legal Center.  In the foreword of the “Laws of The Republic of Korea (2nd ed., 1969),” a compilation of translations of major Korean laws, it is stated that “the Korean Legal Center was founded in 1956.” The foreword of the first edition of the same book that was published in 1964 stated that “the Legal Center started a project of English Translations of all the enacted laws and some of important decrees and the translations have been distributed to many organizations … since the year of 1958.”

The Law Library acquired the individual translations of earlier laws and decrees by the Joint Translation Service and the Korean Legal Center and bound them. I believe these earlier compilations of translations are not very well known to the public. If you are interested, please visit us to see them.

One Comment

  1. william oyadomari aka spade
    June 8, 2014 at 1:39 am

    Wow korea japan. I remember the japan china war involved taiwan. Japan also recently had a broadcast with there emperor like there old emperor from world war 2 declaring war on america in japanese. Same style more in language and gowl.

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