The wind and the sun argued one day over which one was stronger. Spotting a man traveling on the road, they challenged each other to see who could get the man to take off his coat the quickest. The harder the wind blew, the tighter the man held on to his coat. The sun shone down hard on the traveler. Surprisingly, the traveler took off his coat. There is a lawyer just like the sun, who shines among the weak. In 2011, he became the first Korean lawyer to defend pirates. He defended the Somali pirate, Mahomed Arai, after South Korean naval commandos raided the Samho Jewelry in the Arabian Sea. Furthermore, he listens to the voice of the weak and struggles to protect their human rights. With great concern by jurists over enforcement of law school since 2009, and the courtroom drama, I can hear your voice, the Sookmyung Times (SMT) met with lawyer, Kwon Hyukkeun (KWON) to listen to the voice of a lawyer.
SMT The bar exam is well known to be a difficult and hard exam to pass. It must have been backbreaking spending each day studying during your undergraduate years.
KWON When I entered university in 1986, Korean society was undergoing a huge changeover. At that time, student activists took the lead in university culture, and I shared their critical mindset towards the problematic society. However, I didn’t expect society to change from prodemocracy movements or demonstrations, so I didn’t participated in them. I had a different point of view for solving problems. Rather than requiring judges or prosecutors to devote to their duties, I wanted to be the person that solved problems fundamentally. I passed the preliminary national bar exam on my first year of university, but I failed the secondround state bar exam, so I had to serve in the military. It was a really strenuous time for me. Also, just like other students, I had some romantic relationships, but they all ended in failure. These experiences left me scarred for life. However, I think the events also led to psychological maturity.
SMT There was big public attention on you as the first Korean lawyer to defend pirates in Korea in 2011. It must have been a really hard decision to defend pirates accused of harming Korean citizens.
KWON Commonly, people see pirates as brutal criminals or cruel gangsters. However, if pirates had had the chance to improve their quality of life or had had hope of a better life by exerting every effort, they would never have chosen to be pirates. Mahomed Arai, who was suspected of hijacking a South Korean freighter and shooting its captain, was head of his household, supporting three children and his wife. There was no other way for him to support them except by becoming a pirate. Throughout the trial of Arai, I hoped people would understand what makes one turn to piracy and what measures should be taken to eradicate piracy. Rather than protecting our freighters with advanced weaponry or with a strong navy, the government should provide economic aid that aims at economic development or offer employment licenses to people from developing countries. However, I have realized that this is just wishful thinking. I conversed with Arai thanks to the help of an interpreter during the trial. He wanted to live in Korea even after the trial. Perhaps, this was because the food and living environment provided in the detention center in Korea were much better than in Somalia.
SMT After becoming a lawyer, you have worked for pirates, foreign immigrants and fired workers. You seem to take great interest in human rights.
KWON In June of 1987, students’ effort for democracy came to a head with the direct presidential election system. I felt a great burden as I had not had enough faith in change, and it influenced me a lot after becoming a lawyer. I am involved in several human rights movements nowadays. Recently, I took part in forming the fund, Solidarity of 10,000won to support unfairly discharged workers; I opened a bank account for them. All in all, a majority of people feel the index of human rights in our society has relapsed over the last five years. The worse action being done now is the taking of bread out of somebody’s hungry mouth, especially one who merely offended a person of power. This is no more tragic than pretending not to witness injustice or observing silence for one’s livelihood. Therefore, I try to support fired workers financially to keep them fighting for their rights. Also, I am involved with regressed human rights and suppression of ideology, so called ‘the play of pro-North Korea activist (Jong-buk-nol-ee).’ Looking at our conservative press and investigative agency, it is clear the regression of human rights in our society will linger for quite some time.
SMT The job of a lawyer is to trust the accused even if one’s guilt seems obvious, so in the courtroom drama I can hear your voice, the public defender, Jang Hyesung, wishes to hear others’ inner voices.
KWON I think the most important virtue for a lawyer is ‘Modesty.’ In this regard, people should not forget that judgment ability is imperfect. Also, the trial system was enforced based on human imperfection. Therefore, a defense is possible even if the accused claims innocence despite clear guilt. In addition, arguing a case for a defendant can be attempted without genuine trust for the accused. Thus, I do not wish to hear others’ inner voices. Perhaps, when reflecting on one’s heart, the miracle or mystique of our life disappears. I started to work for foreign immigrants in 1999 when I first took on a case for an industrial trainee from another country. I am also taking part in an organization that fights for the rights of foreign spouses, so I frequently counsel foreigners. Thus, if I could choose one extrasensory perception, I would like to have the outstanding ability to acquire languages rather than the ability to read people’s minds.
SMT Please offer some advice for students struggling towards their dreams, including those who dream of being a jurist.
KWON In fact, I look forward to an increase in female jurists. People usually have a fixed stereotype of jurists; they think of them as engaging in boring and tedious work. There are jurists that are conservative or authoritative. However, cognition is improving thanks to young jurists. In this context, an increase in young female jurists might contribute a lot to alleviating negative sentiments. Also, I hope university students stop the rush to enter working society. If the opportunity arises or even if you create the opportunity yourself, I hope you study abroad for at least 1~2 years. In addition to learning languages or acquiring knowledge, you can feel the culture of others and learn about others’ lives. It is necessary to get out of today’s limitless competitiveness for a while. I hope you to make an effort to find new ways of pioneering your way through life, not simply following what others do. Perhaps, after a decade, proper rewards will knock on your door.