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Truth and Reconciliation Activities of the Past Three Years(1)

 

I. Historical Background of Korea's Past Settlement

 

 

 

 

(1)

 

CONTENTS

 

President's Greeting

 

  1. Historical Background of Korea's Past Settlement

 

  1. Introduction to the Commission
    1. Outline: Objective of the Commission
    2. Organization and Budget
    3. Introduction to Commissioners and Staff
    4. Composition and Operation

 

  1. Procedure for Investigation
    1. Procedure of Petition and Method of Application
    2. Investigation and Determination of Truth-Finding
    3. Present Status of Investigation
    4. Measures for Recommendation and Reconciliation

 

  1. Extra-Investigation Activities
    1. Exhumation Work
    2. Complementary Activities of Investigation

 

  1. Analysis of Verified Cases
    1. National Independence and the History of Overseas Koreans
    2. Massacres by Groups which Opposed the Legitimacy of the Republic of Korea
    3. Massacres
    4. Human Rights Abuses

 

  1. Major Achievements and Further Agendas
    1. Major Achievements
    2. Further Agendas

 

Appendices

  1. Outline and Full Text of the Framework Act Clearing up Past Incidents
  2. Frequently Asked Questions about the Commission
  3. Primary Media Coverage on the Commission's Activities
  4. Web Sites of Other Truth Commissions: Home and Abroad

 

 

President's Greeting

 

In entering the third year of operation, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea (the Commission) is proud to present the "Activities of the Past Three Years" and is thankful for all of the continued support. The Commission, launched in December 2005, has strived to reveal the truth behind massacres during the Korean War, human rights abuses during the authoritarian rule, the anti-Japanese independence movement, and the history of overseas Koreans.

It is not an easy task to seek the truth in past cases where the facts have been hidden and distorted for decades. With the support of many determined to discover the truth however, we were able to achieve notable results. As of now, the Commission completed a total of 3,271 cases, including the successful truth verification of 1,813 cases among the 10,962 cases submitted to the Commission. This report explains the results of the past three years, as well as tasks for the future.

The Commission is publishing this progress report to evaluate the activities thus far as well as to renew the commitment to our mission. The truth-finding activities of the Commission aims to acknowledge the neglected voices of the victims so that the government officially recognizes the uneasy truth, and society accepts it.

The victims as well as the offenders may know the truth already. Although known by many, the truth is not being accepted by society. If public power has the duty to protect its people, but instead inflicts undue pain on innocent civilians, then the government must rightfully reconsider its wrongdoings and apply measures to redeem the victims by restoring their honor and by building trust between the people and the state.

Past wrong-doings are now being rectified through decisions reached by the Commission. Through reexaminations, the court has exonerated those involved in five cases of human rights abuse, including the case involving the Jo Yong-Su of the Minjok Daily. Other cases that have received recommendations from the Commission are currently in the process of retrial.

The Commission investigated fabricated espionage charges against fishermen abducted by North Korea. Due to the truth-finding results, the court reexamined the charges and finally declared the fishermen innocent. For forty years, the victims and offenders in the fishermen’s village remained divided, but as a result of the ruling, they were able to reconcile their differences and pursue a positive and peaceful coexistence.

As a result of Commission findings, the truth behind massacres and behind victims abused by public power during the Korean War is in the process of being uncovered. Also being revealed are the number of victims and the identities of the offenders in the Bodo League massacres, the military and police suppression of rebels, and the U.S. military bombings.

For the Bodo League massacres, the truth of the case was revealed by acquiring a list of the Bodo League members. After the Commission issued the decision, the President of the Republic of Korea delivered an official apology for the illegal acts and abuses of public power at a memorial service.

Under current investigation are cases like the anti-Japanese independence movement, the contributions to Korea’s economic growth from dispatched Korean nurses and miners in Germany, and the international introduction of Taekwondo and its enhancement of Korea’s national prestige; all of which provide a new perspective on the national level.

 

 

The results of the excavation of massacre sites and the results of the field study on the status of victims were also included in this report. We hope this will be helpful for those who are interested. Even at this moment, many countries around the world are investigating the truth behind their country's past wrong-doings. From Germany and Spain in Europe to Chile and Argentina in South America, and from the Republic of South Africa to Canada and Australia, settling of the past has now become a global trend. We hope that the "Commission Report on the Activities of the Past Three Years"

will serve as a useful text in preventing the reoccurrence of these past wrong-doings and will pave the way for national solidarity through true reconciliation. As President of the Commission, I would like to ask for your continuous concern and support for the Commission's activities.

Thank you.

March 2009

 

Ahn Byung-Ook,

President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea

 

 

  1. Historical Background of Korea's Past Settlement

 

 

The issue of revisiting and clarifying historical events surrounding colonialism, Fascism, and massacres, which constituted the darker side of 20th century history, is being controversially discussed around the world. With such international attention focused on the ongoing settlement of the past, Korea’s own efforts extend beyond one nation and emphasize to the world the importance of settlement.

The experiences of Germany, South Africa, Spain, Argentina, and other countries provide guidance for Korea's past settlement activities. In turn, Korea will also provide lessons to other nations confronting similar issues. The country’s history of suffering under war, imperialism, a series of dictatorships, and finally its successful democratization can be particularly notable in the progression of world history.

Throughout the 20th century, Korea’s history was marked by oppressive governments and hardships beginning with Japan’s invasion and subsequent colonization of the country in 1910. After its liberation in 1945, the Global Cold War created ideological confrontations that divided the Korean peninsula into the Soviet-supported North and the U.S.–supported South. This eventually led to the Korean War and transformed the center of the peninsula into one of the most heavily militarized regions in the world. While an armistice exists, tensions continue to this day.

During the escalation, ideological confrontations prompted conflicts which resulted in executions to serve the political causes of each side. In South Korea, a civilian upheaval toppled Syngman Rhee's government in 1960. The following year, Park Chung-Hee, a military general, staged a coup. Park’s hard-line authoritarian rule was marked by notorious human rights abuses which lasted until an aide assassinated him in 1979. In May 1980, another group of politically-motivated military generals seized power by massacring civilians in Gwangju. In 1987, a civilian rebellion ushered in the democratization process by overturning the military government.

Considering the events that have occurred in Korea’s modern history, an accumulation of abuses and tragedies has left number of tarnished legacies. Without ever being fully dealt with, those who collaborated with the Japanese colonialists and with the subsequent dictatorial regimes, and acted as executioners for colonialism and dictatorships, as well as the systems and methods they operated under, remained impediments to Korea's democracy. Thus, in order to prevent these past wrong-doings from adversely affecting current Korean society, “the settlement of past incidents” attempts to examine and correct past misconduct.

The issues of past settlement are separated into three categories: Bringing to justice pro-Japanese supporters during the colonial era, revealing the truth behind massacres during the Korean War (including before and after the conflict) in order to restore honor to the victims, and verifying the facts of massacres and human rights abuses during Korea's democratization period so as to bring historical justice and truth. While these are three separate classifications, they share the common thread of dealing with repressive structures that ruled Korean society.

 

The Legacies of Japanese Colonialism

 

The issue of clarifying and resolving the legacies of Japanese colonialism by bringing to justice pro-Japanese collaborators has been controversial since 1945. After

 

 

the South Korean government's inauguration in 1948, it enacted the Special Act on Punishing Anti-National Conducts and established a committee to investigate and arrest pro-Japanese collaborators, but this failed to produce any results.

The Rhee government, which was established under the protection and guidance of the United States, had a policy of re-hiring officials who previously worked with the Japanese colonial government. In order to strengthen their political position in Korea, the United States and the Rhee government employed pro-Japanese officials rather than punishing them for their past wrong-doings. As a result, the committee’s activities were hindered, and they were eventually disbanded by the Rhee government. This allowed bureaucrats, policemen, and military officials who cooperated with Japanese colonialism to maintain their power and influence during the Rhee government and through the subsequent military regimes.

The Rhee administration's actions served to inflame discontent among the Korean people until it erupted in the 1960 Civilian Uprising and led to an upheaval as people demanded overdue freedom and democracy. The conservative force, threatened by public aspiration and opposition, relied on violence to preserve their vested interests and power. In 1961, General Park Chung-Hee orchestrated a military coup. Park supported U.S. military interests, and as a former low ranking Japanese officer, he also sympathized with conditions that appealed to Japanese interests. Influenced by the extreme rightist ideology of Japanese nationalism and the sophisticated manipulation skills of the U.S. military, the Park military junta introduced an extreme right-wing Fascist regime into Korean society

during a time when the nation lacked thoughts, values, and awareness of democracy.

This enabled him to initiate repeated military rule in Korea. After his 18 years of authoritarian dictatorship, he left an environment conducive to another 13 dark years of military and authoritarian governments. Thus, Korean social activists regard the failure to resolve pro-Japanese influence as a root cause for Korea's misfortune and they continue to cause major social controversy by raising this issue in public discourse.

 

Massacres during the Korean War

 

Following Japan's surrender in 1945, the United States and the Soviet Union occupied the Korean peninsula. The leaders of Korea, depending on their own ideological inclination, were divided over the ruling system for the new independent nation. Some preferred a socialist state, while others sought a capitalist state with U.S. support. As a result of these conflicting views and the leaders' failure to reach a compromise, Korean society erupted into warring chaos with two opposing forces, one supported by the United States and the other by the Soviet Union, engaged in a severe ideological war.

In this war of ideologies, ordinary Koreans, who knew little about either ideology, were sacrificed in the political upheaval that followed. In 1948, two governments were established; the Republic of Korea (South Korea) and the Democratic People's Republic of Korea (North Korea). Two years after the division of the Korean peninsula between North and South, the Korean War began. The ideological disputes in Korea involved the participation of 20 UN member countries and developed into a proxy war for global Cold War conflicts. In the midst of this chaos, tens of thousands of Korean civilians died.

More than one million people were killed in the conflict. The casualties included not only military personnel killed in action, but also innocent civilians massacred during the process of ideological confrontation.

During the war’s initial stages, the South Korean government executed political

 

 

prisoners and anyone “suspected of being a cause of a riot or assisting the enemy.” When North Korean forces occupied South Korean territory, they killed countless right-wing personnel and forcibly transported right-wing leaders to North Korea. As South Korean forces regained their territory, they killed their own civilians after accusing them of “collaborating with the enemy” during North Korea’s occupation of South Korean territory. However, the South Korean military, police, and right-wing groups ignored judicial procedures during the executions. The victims were never given a trial, an official accusation, or even a reason for their execution.

The Korean government has since explained that the incidents were conducted "as reprisals against North Korean communists for killing innocent South Korean civilians." While hundreds of thousands of people are suspected to have been killed, it is difficult to confirm the exact sequence of events and the death toll since raising this issue was prohibited within the military government. After the 1960 Civilian Uprising, the victims’ families requested answers from the government. In 1961, the military junta responded by punishing them. Therefore, these families remained silent for nearly 60 years.

The people responsible for the massacres maintained their control of Korean society and justified the killings according to their own reasoning. The families of the victims, afraid of being stigmatized as communists, remained quiet. However, due to Korea’s recent democratic progress, these families have finally spoken after nearly sixty years of silence. They began by demanding the enactment of the Special Act on Unveiling the Truth on the Massacres of Civilians in order to "correct the distorted history." The settlement process of one of Korea’s most tragic periods has just begun. After over half of a century, social movements have emerged to restore honor to the victims and survivors by rectifying the distorted history that buried the truth of these massacres.

 

The End of Authoritative Politics and Democratization

 

The most notable achievement in modern Korean history is the democracy that was achieved after decades of military rule. In the struggle against thirty years of military regimes, Korea's democratic activists endured unbearable pain and tremendous sacrifice with over 800 people dying in the process of democratization.

This figure includes activists who died in the 1960 upheaval and the 1980 Democratic Movement in Gwangju, victims of death sentences, assassinations and torture, and those who performed self-immolation to protest against the government. They were killed not in war, but because of illegitimate politics and government violence. The organized involvement of the military, police, and intelligence agencies like the KCIA enabled the government to commit such abuses. As a result of the democratization efforts and considerable sacrifice, Korea expelled its military rulers and established a civilian government. This power shift marked the beginning of democratization.

Since the installment of democracy with the inauguration of the civilian government in 1993, a movement was initiated to prosecute two former presidents, Chun Doo-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo for the coup in December 1979 and the massacre in Gwangju in May 1980.

In 1997, the two ex-presidents were criminally charged. Along with the others involved, they were arrested, tried, and sentenced to death. This was a belated judicial punishment for their crime of committing a massacre. The sentence represented a rare occasion in history with settlement of the past being completed through the judicial system. Usually, bringing to justice a military dictator or military rule was possible only

 

 

in the midst of a turbulent period following a public upheaval.

This incident triggered strong demand for past settlement movements which came into fruition when the Kim Dae-Jung government established several truth-seeking commissions in 2000. The Commission for Democratization Movement Activists' Honor-Restoration and Compensation evaluates the democratization movement under the military dictatorships and compensates the victims, as well as restores their honor.

The Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths investigated unidentified victims suspected of being killed under the military regime. However, these commissions were limited to their respective areas in investigating Korea’s past wrong-doings and did not resolve other forms of historical issues. Their work raised considerable public interest in settling the past and in other issues not covered by the commissions. In order to provide a more comprehensive resolution, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea was formed in 2005.

 

Establishment of the Commission

 

As a government entity independent of any ministries and comprised of 15 commissioners who serve two year terms, the Commission is able to act independently in conducting its investigations. The mandate of the Commission is to investigate illegal massacres before and after the Korean War, human rights violations due to constitutional and legal violations or unlawful exercise of authority, incidents involving suspicious manipulation of the truth, and other historical incidents deserving the Commission's attention.

The Commission will operate for four years, and if necessary, can request a two year extension. Every six months, the Commission publishes a report on the results of investigations which is submitted to the president and National Assembly and disclosed to the public.

The Commission, now in its fourth year since its inception, has been criticized for not performing as well as originally expected. A group of complicated factors including those that are internal and those associated with the socio-political environment are negatively impacting the Commission’s performance.

Truth commissions in general are intended to achieve true forgiveness and reconciliation based on their findings. In order to achieve this, the wrong-doings of the government and any hidden facts from the past should be clearly disclosed. However, it may be said that Korean society is still maturing socially and politically, and therefore has yet to reveal its shortcomings.

The deeply embedded perception that the development of military dictatorships was responsible for Korea’s economic development only adds to the challenges of investigations. There are many limitations and constraints in investigating misconduct by the military regimes and in satisfactorily identifying the truth. Special interests in Korea are closely linked with one other as beneficiaries of authoritarian rule, and using this association, they work to strongly suppress democratic social transition. These forces hinder most of the commissions from fulfilling their goals.

Despite there being questions raised about the performance of these commissions, the formation of a truth commission is in itself a partial fulfillment of the goal of uncovering the truth. The establishment of a truth commission can create a feeling of forgiveness for the victims. Forgiveness precedes reconciliation, which is one of the two pillars of the truth commissions' activities. The ultimate goal of these activities is to steer

 

 

Korean society away from conflict that may disrupt reconciliation and peace. The following factors can be cited as reasons to support the long term continuation of the past settlement movement in Korea:

 

  1. Throughout the 20th century, Koreans suffered serious social disruptions which created many complicated issues.
  2. As a consequence of Western involvement in the 20th century, Western culture’s influence altered and adversely affected Korean society by failing to converge with Korea's traditions and creating conflicts, confrontations, and cultural clashes.
  3. Koreans shared homogeneous traditions and social experiences in a community-like society with minimal differences in ethnicity, religion, and social class. This homogeneity contributed to relatively broader social consent in regards to social justice.
  4. The global Cold War and the division of the two Koreas have been primary obstacles in suppressing Korea's democratization movement. These factors were difficult to overcome by the civilian's democratization movement alone. This difficulty prolonged the continuation of the movement, thereby increasing the number of victims.
  5. In the strong communal bond of Korean society, misconduct or disgrace in Korea's past remain in people’s memories for many years to come and continue to affect society and relationships. This continuity leads to incessant social conflicts which require separate measures for reconciliation between the victim and offender.

 

Past settlement movements are about justice in a transitional period of society. Transition of a society should be done without creating victims, especially in times like today when the interests of people are closely interwoven. Misled transition can cause chaos and sacrifice. Therefore, past settlement is a policy for achieving successful social transition and constructing a new future without damaging the communal basis of society.

Today, universal human rights are humanity's most valuable asset. Every society in the world must resist ignoring the abuses of authoritarianism, discrimination, and human rights violations. These are deeds that existed in times of concealment, distortion, and repression. The honor of the innocent victims whose lives were taken away under illegitimate regimes should be restored.

Their families should be consoled and any damages they suffered should be compensated. These issues are not confined to only a few countries. Settlement of past incidents is essential to solving problems for countries in democratic transition, especially those that have yet to overcome the vestiges of government violence. The fore-running countries involved in past settlement can provide partnerships and expertise to those trailing behind. For this purpose, an international coalition can provide the necessary foundation and support. In view of this, I hope that past settlement activities as performed by Korea will be adopted as the best practice and offer alternatives for other countries undergoing democratization.

 

 

Ahn Byung-Ook,

President of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Republic of Korea

 
   

 

 

1905.11

Korea lost diplomatic

1948.10.

Abortive efforts punishing

 

sovereignty to Japan

 

pro-Japanese collaborators began

1910.8.

Japan annexed Korea

1960.5.

National Assembly established a

     

special investigation committee on

1945.8.

WWII ends; Liberation of Korea;

 

massacres before and during the

 

US military occupation begam

 

Korean War

1948.4.

Jeju's April 3 Incident

1985.12.

National Council of Families of

     

Democratic Fighters founded

1948.8.

The Republic of Korea

   
 

established

1988.6.

National Assembly held

     

fact-finding hearings on the

1948.10

Yeosu-Suncheon Incident

 

Gwangju Uprising

1950.6.

The Korean War began;

1990.3.

Special law compensated people

 

Nogeunri and other massacres

 

involved in the Gwangju

     

Democratic Movement

1951.2.

Massacre occured in Geochang

   
   

1995.12.

Former Presidents Chun

1953.7.

Armistice agreement signed

 

Doo-hwan and Roh Tae-woo

     

arrested and jailed

1960.4.

The April 19 Democratic

   
 

Revolution

1995.12.

Special law on the May 18

     

Democratic Movement removed

1961.5.

May 16, military coup

 

the statute of limitations for

     

criminal acts violating

1963.10.

Park Chung-Hee was elected

 

constitutional order

 

president

   
   

1996.1.

Special law reinstated those

1972.10.

Revitalizing Reforms (Yushin)

 

involved in the Geochang Incident

 

proclaimed

   
   

2000.1.

Special law established to

1979.10.

President Park Chung-Hee

 

investigate suspicious deaths;

 

assassinated

 

Special law established to restore

     

the reputation and compensate

1979.12.

Military hard-liners seized power

 

those involved in democratic

     

movements; Special act established

1980.5.

May 18 Gwangju

 

on the Jeju April 3 Incident to

 

Democratization Movement

 

restore the reputation of victims

1980.8.

General Chun Doo-Hwan took

2001.1.

U.S. President Clinton apologized

 

office as president

 

for the Nogeunri Incident in

     

Yeongdong, Chungbuk.

1987.6.

June 10 Democratization

   
 

Movement occured

2004.1.

Special law established to restore

     

the reputation and compensate the

 

 

 

1987.12.

Roh Tae-Woo was elected

 

victims of the Samcheong Training

 

President

 

Camp

1992.12.

Kim Young Sam was elected

2004.3.

Special acts to investigate forced

 

President

 

mobilization and pro-Japanese

     

collaboration under Japanese rule,

1997.12.

Kim Dae-Jung was elected

 

and a special act to restore the

 

President

 

reputation of Nogeunri victims

2002.12.

Roh Moo-Hyun was elected

2005.5.

Framework Act on Truth and

 

President

 

Reconciliation established

2007.12

Lee Myung-Bak was elected

2005.7.

Special law to investigate

 

President

 

suspicious deaths in the military

   

2005.12.

Truth & Reconciliation

     

Commission, Republic of Korea

     

established

   

2005 12

The Special Act to Redeem

     

Pro-Japanese Collaborators'

     

Property was promulgated and

     

entered into effect

   

2008. 1

President Roh Moo-Hyun

     

apologized for the killing of leftists

     

by past regimes

 

(to be continued)

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