Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Korea)
|Truth and Reconciliation Commission|
|Hangul||진실 화해를 위한 과거사 정리 위원회|
|Hanja||過去事 整理 委員會|
|Revised Romanization||Jinsil hwahaereul wihan gwageosa jeongni wiwonhoe|
|McCune–Reischauer||Chinsil hwahae rŭl wihan kwagŏsa chŏngni wiwŏnhoe|
South Korea's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (Korean: 진실·화해를 위한 과거사 정리 위원회), established on December 1, 2005, is a governmental body responsible for investigating incidents in Korean history which occurred starting from Japan's rule of Korea in 1910 up until the end of authoritarian rule in Korea with the election of President Kim Young-sam in 1993.
The body has investigated numerous atrocities that were committed by various government agencies during Japan's occupation of Korea, the Korean War, and the authoritarian governments that ruled afterwards. The commission estimates that tens of thousands of people were executed in the summer of 1950. The victims include political prisoners, civilians who were killed by US forces, and civilians who allegedly collaborated with communist North Korea or local communist groups. Each incident that is investigated is based on a citizen's petition, with some incidents having as many as hundreds of petitions. The commission, staffed by 240 people with an annual budget of $19 million, is expected to release a final report on their findings in 2010.
- 1 Objective
- 2 Historical background
- 3 Scope of Investigation: Korea under Japanese rule
- 4 Scope of Investigation: Human Rights Abuses under Allied occupation
- 5 Scope of Investigation: Human Rights Abuses under Authoritarian Regimes
- 5.1 Fabricated espionage charge against Seo Chang-deok
- 5.2 Fabricated espionage case against five fishermen kidnapped by North Korea
- 5.3 Detainment and torture of Lim Seong-kook
- 5.4 Coercion of the Dong-a Ilbo
- 5.5 Falsified espionage charge against Lee Soo-keun
- 5.6 Abduction of Taeyoung-ho fishing crew
- 5.7 Falsified espionage charges against the family of Shin Gui-young
- 5.8 Aram-hoe Incident
- 6 Scope of Investigation: Civilian Massacres during the Korean War
- 6.1 Ulsan massacre
- 6.2 Wolmido Incident
- 6.3 Bodo League Massacre
- 6.4 Uljin Massacre
- 6.5 Geumsan Massacre
- 6.6 Gurye Massacre
- 6.7 Massacre at Muan-gun
- 6.8 Ganghwa Massacre
- 6.9 Mass Murder of Accused Leftists in Naju
- 6.10 Bodo League-related massacres in the Gunwi, Gyeongju, and Daegu regions
- 6.11 Bodo League-related massacres in the Goryeong, Seongju, and Chilgok Regions of South Jeolla Province
- 6.12 Bodo League-related massacres in Miryang, South Gyeongsang Province
- 6.13 Bodo League-related massacres in Yangsan, South Gyeongsang Province
- 6.14 Bodo League-related Massacres in Yeongdeok, North Gyeongsang Province
- 6.15 Bodo League-related massacres in Busan and Sacheon
- 7 Survey to identify massacre victims
- 8 External Relations
- 9 Future of truth-finding work in Korea
- 10 See also
- 11 Gallery
- 12 References
- 13 External links
Operating under the Framework Act on Clearing up Past Incidents for Truth and Reconciliation, the purpose of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRCK) is to investigate and reveal the truth behind violence, massacres, and human rights abuses that occurred throughout the course of Japan's rule of Korea and Korea's authoritarian regimes. It is hoped that by doing so, Korea can reconcile with its past and foster national legitimacy.
Korea’s history during the last sixty years as it transitioned from a colony to a democracy has been fraught with violence, war, and civil disputes. With Japan’s defeat in World War II in 1945, Korea was divided in two at the 38th parallel with administration of the north side given to the Soviet Union while the south side was administered by the United States (see Gwangbokjeol). In 1948, two separate governments formed, each claiming to be the legitimate government of all of Korea.
South Korea (Republic of Korea) was formally established on August 15, 1948 by Syngman Rhee. The establishment of a legitimate government body in South Korea was marked by civil unrest and several instances of violence (see Jeju Uprising, Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion). Two years after the establishment of Republic of Korea, North Korean forces invaded South Korea precipitating the Korean War.
The war ended with an Armistice agreement signed on July 1953. Syngman Rhee attempted to maintain his control of the government by pushing through constitutional amendments, declaring martial law, and jailing members of parliament who stood against him. His rule came to an end in April 1960 as protests throughout Korea forced him to resign on April 26. (See April Revolution.)
After Syngman Rhee’s resignation, an interim government briefly held power until Major General Park Chung-hee took control through a military coup on May 16, 1961. Amid pressure from the United States, the new military government decided to hold elections in 1963 to return power to a civilian government. Park Chung-hee ran for President in those elections and was narrowly elected. In 1967 and 1971, Park Chung-hee ran for re-election and won using a constitutional amendment that allowed a president to serve more than two terms.
During his rule, Korea saw dramatic economic growth and increased international recognition as it maintained close ties with and received aid from the United States. On October 17, 1972, Park Chung-hee declared martial law, dissolving the national assembly and putting forth the Yusin Constitution which gave the president effective control of parliament. This led to civil unrest and the jailing of hundreds of dissidents.
In 1979, Park Chung-hee was assassinated by Korean CIA Director Kim Jaegyu leading to another military coup by Major General Chun Doo-hwan. This coup led to a more civil unrest and government clampdowns (see Gwangju Massacre). Public outrage over government killings led to more popular support for democracy.
In 1987, Roh Tae-woo, a colleague of Chun Doo-hwan, was elected President. During his rule, he promised a more democratic constitution, a wide program of reforms, and popular election of the president. In 1993, Kim Young-sam was elected President, becoming the first civilian President in 30 years.
Scope of Investigation: Korea under Japanese rule
Independence movements during and immediately preceding the Japanese occupation and efforts by overseas Koreans to uphold Korea's sovereignty are dealt with in this category.
Abuses of governmental power against the Guro farmland owners
The TRCK verified that the government abused its power by fabricating facts concerning the owners of farmland in Guro. In 1942, the Japanese Ministry of Defense confiscated the land of 200 farmers in the Guro area. The farmers continued to use the land under the supervision of the Central Land Administration Bureau, even after Korea’s liberation in 1945. Beginning in 1961, the government constructed an industrial complex and public housing on the land. In 1964, the farmers claimed rightful ownership of the land and brought several civil action lawsuits against the government. The rulings for many of these cases were not issued until after 1968.
At that point, the government began appealing the rulings. They appealed three cases in 1968 and one case in 1970. The government accused the defendants of defrauding the government and launched an investigation. The prosecutor also arrested the accused without warrants or explanation and coerced them into surrendering their rights through the use of violence. The investigation did not uncover any evidence that supported the accusations.
The lack of evidence and the fact that the civil action suit rulings were already passed did not deter the government from demanding the defendants to surrender their rights. After 40 of the defendants refused to accept such a demand, several lawsuits were brought against them. The prosecution accused them of fraud and attempted to punish the defendants by holding criminal trials.
Official documents verify the defendants were eligible for farmland distributed by the government under the Farming Land Reform Act. Therefore, they did not defraud the government as claimed. Although most of the defendants were cleared of suspicion, the government conducted a second investigation to punish them.
The Commission recommended the government to officially apologize, hold a retrial, and conduct relevant measures for the defendants.
Korean nurses and miners in Germany contributed to Korea's economic growth
According to the commission’s findings, Korean miners were recruited and dispatched to West Germany. The Korean government was involved in both their recruitment and dispatch. A total of 7,936 Korean miners were relocated to Germany between 1963 and 1977. In the case of nurses, a total of 10,723 registered Korean nurses were dispatched to West Germany beginning in the late 1950s until 1976. The Korean government also played roles in the later stage of this period.
Between 1965 and 1975, the Korean miners and registered nurses in West Germany wired a total of USD 101,530,000 back to Korea, which comprised 1.6%, 1.9% and 1.8% of Korea’s total export amount in 1965, 1966, and 1967, respectively. Considering that the foreign exchange rate was 100% and the earned dollars in the past were valued much higher than today, the Korean miners and nurses in West Germany are estimated to have greatly contributed to Korea’s economic growth. The commission found it untrue that the Korean government received commercial loans successfully from West Germany in return for forcefully depositing the Korean miners and registered nurses’ income in Commerzbank in West Germany.
From Korea’s total commercial loan of DM 150,000,000 from West Germany, the West German government issued DM 75,000,000 under the “Protocol concerning Economic and Technical Cooperation between the Government of the Republic of Korea and Germany” to guarantee the invoice payments of imported German industrial facilities. It was also found that approximately 60% of the dispatched Korean miners and nurses have resided in West Germany and other nations, and contributed greatly in forming and developing Korean communities in their respective residing nations.
The commission’s findings report the dispatch of Korean miners and nurses to West Germany was considered to be the Korean government’s first attempt to relocate Korea’s workforce overseas. Its impact on Korea’s economic growth has been greatly underestimated and inadequately documented. A significant finding reveals that the commercial loan from West Germany was not a result of the German Commerzbank forcefully holding wages of the dispatched Korean miners and nurses. This was found to be false.
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission recommended that the Korean government collect relevant documents and make full use of them for educational purposes, as well as to take adequate actions to prevent the spread of false information in this regard.
Scope of Investigation: Human Rights Abuses under Allied occupation
Truth and Reconciliation Commission did recommend the reputation should be cleared and compensation paid to the families of those who had been unlawfully victimized by authorities in Daegu October Incident.
Scope of Investigation: Human Rights Abuses under Authoritarian Regimes
The commission's scope included incidents of death, injury or disappearance, and any other major human rights violations including politically fabricated trials, committed through illegal or seriously unjust exercise of state power such as breaking the constitutional order from August 15, 1945 up until the end of the authoritarian governments, particularly under the former generals Park Chung-hee and Chun Doo-hwan.
Sometimes, the commission deals with cases that have already been ruled on in court, but qualify for new trials and need to be re-investigated for truth; and cases that the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths inconclusively investigated and requested the TRCK to re-investigate.
Fabricated espionage charge against Seo Chang-deok
Seo Chang-deok, a fisherman, was kidnapped to North Korea in 1967 while on a regular fishing trip and returned home to the South. 17 years later, security forces in Jeonju arrested Seo without charges using a falsified confession resulted from illegal confinement and torture. As a result, Seo was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment and his human rights were violated.
Fabricated espionage case against five fishermen kidnapped by North Korea
The TRCK’s investigation into North Korea’s kidnapping of the five fishermen found that the organization overseeing investigations illegally detained and interrogated the returning men and their families. Based on the organization’s fabrications, the detained were falsely accused and punished for espionage.
On July 22, 1967, the crew of the fishing vessel Song-yang, operating off the coast of Soyeonpyeong-do, were kidnapped by a North Korean coastal defense ship. After a month of captivity, the North Koreans released the fishermen on the west coast where they were met by police officers who promptly questioned them before releasing them without charges.
In December 1968, a year after the kidnapping, a special investigation organization interrogated, without a warrant, five of the fishermen with regards to their work at the time of the incident.
While it had been determined that sea currents carried the Song-yang within range of the North Korean coastal defense ship, the organization accused the men of escaping to North Korea and then infiltrating South Korea for propaganda purposes. The organization illegally detained the men and one of their wives for eighty-eight days. The wife was accused of receiving counterfeit money and coded messages from three unidentified men thought to be spies, as well as failing to notify the authorities.
During their imprisonment, the organization subjected them to abusive interrogation tactics, including torture and assault. Initial reports indicated that Song-yang was in South Korean waters at the time of the incident, but the interrogators coerced the fishermen into signing false statements saying otherwise. The organization also falsified charges against Ms. Kim, the wife, after they detained her on accusations of accepting counterfeit money. No specific evidence of the unidentified men existed, nor was there any evidence of anyone of that nature visiting her house. The 500,000 won of counterfeit money and the coded message were not found, nor mentioned in any investigative document, and no report describing such an incident was ever submitted to the court.
Based on the charges, the fishermen were sentenced to serve between one to five years in prison. Ms. Kim was sentenced with one year in prison and one year of probation. During their sentences, their families encountered discrimination due to the stigma of being related to a suspected North Korea spy. This ostracism meant that many family members were unable to obtain jobs. Besides the social stigma they experienced after their release, the fishermen suffered psychological trauma from torture and abusive treatment.
The special investigation organization did not limit the scope of the probe to the fishermen. Instead, they extended their interrogations to village acquaintances. Such wide sweeping investigations further ostracized the men and disrupted the amicable relations of the community by exacerbating the hostility and discrimination.
The TRCK recommended that the government apologize to the victims and re-examine or take action to repair the damage and restore the honor of the victims and their families.
Detainment and torture of Lim Seong-kook
The TRCK ascertained Lim Seong-kook was forcefully taken by the Gwangju Security Forces and tortured during twenty-eight hours of detention. At the time of the incident, the Gwangju security forces did not have investigative jurisdiction and it abused its power by repeatedly torturing Lim Seong-kook during the interrogation. He died two weeks after his release.
Without a warrant, the security forces forcibly detained Lim Seong-kook in July 1985 and placed him under custody for an espionage charge based on an ambiguous suspicion that he might be in contact and cooperating with North Korean spies.
The landlord’s family, with whom Mr. Lim had a close relationship until his arrest, was sentenced to imprisonment for meeting his brother, who had been dispatched as a spy from North Korea in 1969.
The security forces’ interrogators in Gwangju were aware of the restrictions of the judicial measurements while investigating civilians. Nevertheless, they illegally arrested and interrogated Mr. Lim.
In accordance with combined statements from eyewitnesses and other sources, including the interrogators, it was found that Mr. Lim was lynched, and that this was the main cause of his death.
Mr. Lim suffered from severe physical and mental damage after the security forces tortured him. However, adequate medical treatment was not given.
Furthermore, with Lim having been the main breadwinner, Mr. Lim’s family suffered severe financial difficulties after he died. The unjust discrimination received from their neighbors drove the family to relocate to Gunsan, North Jeolla Province.
After enduring decades of silence, the bereaved family petitioned the Presidential Truth Commission on Suspicious Deaths and the National Human Rights Commission of Korea (NHRCK) to find the truth concerning Lim’s death. However, their petitions were rejected because they either missed the application period or the statute of limitations had expired.
Mr. Lim’s family testified that people discounted or failed to believe in their claim that his death was a result of the harsh interrogation from the public authority. Additionally, they stated that they did not know which of the authorities was responsible for Mr. Lim’s forceful abduction and torture. In particular, fear of further persecution for seeking the truth inhibited them from bringing the case to attention.
This case indicates that widespread fear and distrust of public power was deeply rooted in Korean society, and suggests that it is necessary to implement adequate education on preventive measures concerning manipulation of public power and protection of human rights.
The commission recommended that the Korean government offer a formal apology to Lim’s family and perform adequate acts for reconciliation.
Coercion of the Dong-a Ilbo
In the latest of a series of findings, the official government Truth and Reconciliation Commission has determined that one of the more famous press suppression cases of the Park Chung-hee years, the “Dong-a Ilbo Advertising Coercion and Forced Layoff Case” during 1974 and 1975, was orchestrated by the Korean Central Intelligence Agency (KCIA, now known as the Intelligence Service), and that The Dong-a Ilbo itself went along with what was unjust oppression by the Yusin regime, as it was then called.
In a report issued October 29, the commission formally recommends that the state and The Dong-a Ilbo “apologize to those who were fired and make appropriate amends” for what the report defines as “a case in which the state power apparatus, in the form of the KCIA, engaged in serious civil rights violations.”
According to the commission, the KCIA summoned companies with significant advertising contracts with The Dong-a Ilbo Company to the KCIA’s infamous facility in Seoul’s Namsan neighborhood and had them sign written documents pledging to cancel their contracts with the company for advertisements with its various periodicals, including the daily Dong-a Ilbo, and also with Dong-a Broadcasting, which Chun Doo-hwan later took from them.
Individuals who bought smaller advertisements with the Dong-a Ilbo expressing encouragement to the paper were either called in or physically detained by the KCIA and threatened with tax audits.
The commission cited The Dong-a Ilbo for “surrendering to the unjust demands of the Yusin regime by firing journalists at the government’s insistence, instead of protecting the journalists that had stood by the newspaper to defend its honor and press freedom.” The report says the KCIA demanded, and the DongA Ilbo accepted, the condition that no less than five newspaper section chiefs always confer with the KCIA, before allowing the resumption of advertising.
On seven occasions between March and May 1975, the Dong-a Ilbo fired 49 journalists and “indefinitely suspended” the employment of 84 others. The commission cited executives at the time for “failing to admit that the firings were forced by the regime” and for thereby “going along with suppression of press freedoms for claiming they were being fired for managerial reasons.”
“Ultimately,” the report says, the DongA Ilbo “will find it hard to avoid responsibility for hurting the freedom of the press, the livelihoods of journalists, and (its own) honor.”
Later on the day the report was made public, members of the Struggle Committee to Defend Press Freedom at the DongA (DongA Teugwi), an organization of journalists who were fired at the time, met with the media in front of the DongA Ilbo Company’s offices along Seoul’s Sejongno boulevard to read a statement calling on the government and the newspaper to “accept the recommendation of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission and apologize to us journalists, and take action commensurate with what happened to correct the damage.”
Falsified espionage charge against Lee Soo-keun
Lee Soo-keun, the former vice president of the Korean Central News Agency in the Democratic People’s Republic of Korea, was exiled to the Republic of Korea through the Demilitarized Zone on March 22, 1967. Lee then worked as an analyst at the KCIA until he was caught by KCIA agents en route to Cambodia under forged passports on January 27, 1969. After returning to South Korea, Lee was charged with violating the National Security Law and the Anti-communist Law by secretly collecting classified information and taking it out of the country among other crimes. Death sentence was imposed on Lee on May 10, 1969 and he was executed on July 2 of the same year. South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission ascertained that the KCIA illegally confined Lee, thereby meeting the prerequisites for a retrial, abiding by provision 7 under Article 420 and Article 422 of the Criminal Law. The commission also said that the illegal confinement during the interrogation and the fact that the prosecution relied solely on the defendant’s statements failed to satisfy the Rule of Evidence. The commission recommended that the government make an official apology, restore of the honor of the dead, and retry the case in accordance with its findings.
Abduction of Taeyoung-ho fishing crew
Five petitioners pleaded for a truth verification concerning the abduction cases of the Taeyoungho crews. The crews were forcibly taken away by North Korean coast guards when were got caught fishing on the North Korean side of the Military Demarcation Line (MDL). They were found guilty by the South Korean authorities for violating the Anti-communist Law soon after they returned from their four-month detention in North Korea. The commission found that the crews were illegally confined and tortured during their interrogations at the Buan Police Office, which qualifies the case for a retrial. Additionally, the commission found that the espionage charges against the abductees were falsified and that the prosecutions were pursued without sufficient evidence, based only on testimony from the defendants, which did not meet the Rule of Evidence. Therefore, the commission advised that the government officially apologize to the victims and have a retrial in accordance with its findings.
Falsified espionage charges against the family of Shin Gui-young
Shin Gui-young was sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment for allegedly collecting classified military information with orders from Shin Soo-young, the senior member of Chosen Soren in Japan. Shin was sentenced guilty at the Busan District Court in 1980 and released upon completion of his 10 year term. The commission ascertained the forceful confinement and the torture given to Shin violated the rule of evidence and advised the government to make an official apology and conduct a retrial in accordance with the findings.
Park Hae-jeon et al., eleven residents of Geumsan and Daejon, whose occupations included teacher, student, salaryman, soldier, housewife, etc., had held regular meetings between May 1980 and July 1981 based on friendship originating from their school days. They were taken to the Daejeon Police Office and arrested soon after for having inappropriate gatherings where traitorous conversations took place. They were accused of violating the National Security Law by joining a treasonous organization and praising enemies of the nation, and sentenced to 10 years of imprisonment. The commission found that the organizations concerned, including South Chungcheong Provinces’s Provisional Police Agency conducted illegal confinement and brutal torture, and improperly pressed charges on the victims without sufficient evidence. The TRCK recommended that the government retry the case and make an official apology to the victims.
Scope of Investigation: Civilian Massacres during the Korean War
||This section contains too many or too-lengthy quotations for an encyclopedic entry. (November 2012)|
Illegal summary executions of civilians were practiced, often on a large scale, from August 15, 1945, up to the end of Korean War. Mass killings were conducted by various parties in both the North and South as well as US Forces who had, in the first days of the war, bombed civilians indiscriminately for fear of disguised enemy soldiers.
The Ulsan Bodo League massacre was committed by the South Korean police against suspicious left leaning civilians, most of them illiterate and uneducated peasants who were misinformed when registering themselves as Bodo League members. In the southeastern city of Ulsan, hundreds of people were massacred by South Korean police during the early months of the Korean War. 407 civilians were summarily executed without trials in July and August 1950 alone. On January 24, 2008, the former President of Korea Roh Moo-hyun apologized for the mass killings. See also the mass killings conducted against prison inmates who were suspected leftists, which took place at prisons in other cities such as Busan, Masan, and Jinju.
The commission concluded on March 11, 2008 that indiscriminate bombing by the US on Wolmido Island, Incheon, Korea on Sept. 10, 1950 caused severe casualties of civilians residing in the area. At the time, the United Nations attempted a sudden landing maneuver in Incheon to reverse the course of the war, and Wolmido Island was a strategically significant location that needed to be secured.  It is assumed the US decided to clear any potential threats therein to minimize casualties among its own troops, and thus conducted indiscriminate bombing of the region, resulting in massive civilian casualties among the local villagers. Surviving villagers were forced to evacuate their homes and have not been returned, since it became designated as a strategically important military base even after the Korean War. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission has recommended that the Korean government negotiate with the US government to seek compensation for those victimized by the incident. 
Wolmido Island, South Korea — When American troops stormed this island more than half a century ago, it was a hive of Communist trenches and pillboxes. Now it is a park where children play and retirees stroll along a tree-shaded esplanade.
From a hilltop across a narrow channel, Gen. Douglas MacArthur, memorialized in bronze, appears to gaze down at the beaches of Inchon where his troops splashed ashore in September 1950, changing the course of the Korean War and making him a hero here.
In the port below, rows of cars, gleaming in the sun, wait to be shipped around the world — testimony to South Korea’s industrial might and a reminder of which side has triumphed economically since the conflict ended 55 years ago.
But inside a ragged tent at the entrance of the park, some aging South Koreans gather daily to draw attention to their side of the conflict, a story of carnage not mentioned in South Korea’s official histories or textbooks.
“When the napalm hit our village, many people were still sleeping in their homes,” said Lee Beom-ki, 76. “Those who survived the flames ran to the tidal flats. We were trying to show the American pilots that we were civilians. But they strafed us, women and children.”
Village residents say dozens of civilians were killed.
The attack, though not the civilian casualties, has been corroborated by declassified United States military documents recently reviewed by South Korean investigators. On Sept. 10, 1950, five days before the Inchon landing, according to the documents, 43 American warplanes swarmed over Wolmi, dropping 93 napalm canisters to “burn out” its eastern slope in an attempt to clear the way for American troops.
The documents and survivors’ stories persuaded a South Korean commission investigating long-suppressed allegations of wartime atrocities by Koreans and Americans to rule recently that the attack violated international conventions on war and to ask the country’s leaders to seek compensation from the United States.
The ruling was one of several by the government’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission in recent months that accused the United States military of using indiscriminate force on three separate occasions in 1950 and 1951 as troops struggled against Communists from the North and from China. The commission says at least 228 civilians, and perhaps hundreds more, were killed in the three attacks.
In one case, the commission said, at least 167 villagers, more than half of them women, were burned to death or asphyxiated in Tanyang, 87 miles southeast of Seoul, when American planes dropped napalm at the entrance of a cave filled with refugees.
“We should not ignore or conceal the deaths of unarmed civilians that resulted not from the mistakes of a few soldiers but from systematic aerial bombing and strafing,” said Kim Dong-choon, a senior commission official. “History teaches us that we need an alliance, but that alliance should be based on humanitarian principles.”
Bodo League Massacre
The Bodo League (National Guidance Alliance, 국민보도연맹; gukmin bodo rungmaeng, 國民保導聯盟) was established on April 20, 1949 in order to convert left-wingers residing in South Korea including former members of South Korean Workers Party(남조선로동당; 南朝鮮勞動黨) and embrace them as citizens of the ‘democratic’ South Korea. However its goal was often considered to be a manipulative tactic of the right-wing South Korean government, identifying potential communists within the South, and eventually eliminating them completely by executing them around the time of the Korean War. Its headquarters was established on June 5, 1949 and regional branches were also set up by the end of March the following year. In the course of recruiting members of the Bodo League, many innocent civilians were coerced to join the League by regional branches and governmental authorities trying to reach their allocated numbers.
Shortly after the Korean War broke out, Syngman Rhee's government became obsessed with the idea that communist sympathizers might cooperate with the communist North and become threats to the South, and ordered to each police station to arrest those who had left-leaning tendencies. From July, 1950 up to September, 1950, police authorities and special troops of the South Korea were organized to strategically conduct the orders from the above.
In most cases, arrested Bodo League members or sympathizers were forcefully held in storage spaces nearby police stations for several days before being summarily executed at sites such as remote valleys in deep forest, isolated islands or abandoned mine areas.
It is estimated that the number of Bodo League members reached 300,000 nationwide before the Korean War, a minimum of dozens of thousands of civilians were illegitimately killed without due process. Additionally, the families of the victims were branded as being associated with communists and often targeted by a series of regimes suffering from extreme McCarthyism.
Goh Gyeong-hwan, a 48-year-old resident of Goyang in Gyeonggi-do Province, felt deeply frustrated as soon as he heard that there would be no chance to find the truth. He had missed his application deadline and now it was too late. He has waited for up to 57 years.
It was mid-May when he made an inquiry regarding his brother’s death with the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Goh drooped his head.
In the summer of 1950, when the Korean War broke out, his brother was taken away for being a member of the National Bodo League by soldiers and policemen who unexpectedly came to the village.
The National Bodo League was organized to offer former leftist forces a chance to turn to the right; organization of the 400-member association followed the imperative of the National Security Act (South Korea), which took effect in December 1948. The association was blacklisted and closely watched.
But people who had nothing to do with the left-wing were reportedly forced to take part in the association. During the early stages of the Korean War, soldiers and policemen massacred them, saying that they might side with the enemy.
Goh said, "The village chief asked that my brother join the National Bodo League to fill the enlistment quota. After a few days, his brother was found dead; his body too damaged to be identified. “At that time, my brother was newly married and certainly didn’t know anything about what it meant to be rightist or leftist," said Goh.
At the same time, Goh was taken away with another 10 villagers, five of whom later died.
Later that night, Goh’s parents buried his brother’s body on a nearby mountain. The family was branded the family of "a communist and political offender" and made to live on the outskirts of society, fearful that this status would bring great danger into their lives.
After half a century, the Truth and Reconciliation Commission was established to clarify truths in connection with people who were sacrificed in this period of Korean history. The committee received 10,859 cases. However, Goh’s brother’s death was not included in the tally because Goh missed the application period, which ran from December 2005 to November 2006.
The committee has received over 200 additional cases, but it needs to amend the law in order to proceed. Rep. Kang Chang-il of the United Democratic Party (Republic of Korea) proposed a revision to the bill to prolong the time limit for a maximum of six months.
Goh stated, “Victims have lived painful lives for 57 years, but the nation, the assailant, has said that it cannot redress its unjust treatment of these people because they have missed the deadline.’’
Goh’s family performs a ceremony for his brother at their hometown in Mungyeong, North Gyeongsang Province, in July every year. Goh hasn’t told his family that they have missed the application deadline and his family is not aware of the fact that they will no longer have a chance to find out the truth surrounding his brother’s death.
||This section may contain content that is repetive or redundant of text elsewhere in the article. Please help improve it by merging similar text or removing repeated statements. (March 2013)|
The commission found that a total of 256 people were killed in Uljin, Gangwon Province by the South Korea’s police forces, Counter Intelligence Corps (CIC), and the 3rd ROK Army after being accused of taking sides with local leftists. The incident took place between September 26, 1959 and the end of December, 1959, and the victims were identified by relevant historical documents, testimony from witnesses and petitioners, records from the Uljin police station, and field research conducted throughout Uljin. The perpetrators of the incident were police from the Uljin police station, CIC, and the 3rd ROK Army. Particularly, on October 20, 1950, the reserved troops from the 3rd Army selected approximately 40 village residents having leftist tendency from Uljin police station cells, based on the lists submitted by the right-winged organizations and village chiefs, and summarily executed and buried their bodies at Budul Valley in Hujeong-ri. Between October and November 1950, the Uljin police office released some of the accused, but some 250 civilians were not so lucky and ended up being scapegoats buried at Olsi Valley in Shinrim. In addition, on November 26, 1950, the Onjeong police office arrested residents of Onjeong-myeon and confined them in a storage space before summarily executing twelve of them en route to the Uljin police station. And in the late fall of 1950, several local villagers were accused of providing food to fugitive relatives who had fled after falling under suspicion of harboring leftist tendencies. Again, they also were slaughtered at Sagye-ri, Buk-myeon by police from the Hadang police office. According to the Commission, a total of 256 victims were massacred in the atrocity of the incident. The victims were accused of holding positions in North Korea’s occupation authority in the region, and this became the cause to target them for the mass killings that South Korean authorities conducted when they re-entered the region. However, at the time of the incident, most of the voluntary collaborators with North Korean forces had already evacuated and crossed the border to the North, and thus it was mostly civilians who spontaneously joined the local leftists that fell as victims of the incident. In addition, there weren’t any clear distinctions to separate the guilty from the innocent, and many used it as an opportunity to eliminate personal opponents. These summary executions of civilians without adequate judicial process are considered to be a crime against humanity; also, the victims' descendants suffered various forms of social discrimination and prejudice in the McCarthyist society of pre-democratic South Korea. After pulling off the findings in this regards, the commission advised the government to apologize the bereaved families of the victims to carry out adequate human rights education, and to place memorial services for those who wrongfully prosecuted and murdered. 
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission (South Korea) found a total of 118 rightists including civil servants were killed by left-leaning regional self-defense forces, communist guerillas, and the North Korean People’s Army in Geumsan County after North Korean troops entered the area, in particular between July and November, 1950. On September 25, 1950, a number of right-wing personnel including civil servants under the South Korean regional government were brought to the ad hoc police entity in Geumsan, which was established by the North after its entry to the region, and slaughtered and buried at a nearby hill called Bibimi-jae. The massacre was carried out by members of the ad hoc police and North Korean troops with orders from the provisional police chief. At dawn on November 2, 1950, a group of communist guerillas swarmed into the Buri-myeon police office controlled by the South, incinerated the building, and captured those inside. In the course of the assault, many villagers were accused of collaborating the South and 38 of them were executed. Additional atrocious mass killings of civilians by communist partisans in locations like Seokdong-ri in Namyi-myeon and Eumji-ri in Geumsan County were also confirmed by the commission during the investigation. Most of the victims were accused of being affiliated with the South Korean governing entities before the North’s entry to the region or of having right-leaning political loyalties. The accused included members of the Korean Youth Association (대한청년단; 大韓靑年團) and the Korean National Association (국민회; 國民會), both of which were representative right-wing political organizations in the peninsula. In spite of the various accusations, the commission discovered the majority of casualties were generated irrelevantly from what described above, but from personal animosities to eliminate their adversaries. According to the commission’s investigation, the perpetrators of the Geumsan Massacre were members of the regional self-defense forces, communist partisans, local leftists residing in the area, or North Korean troops who fell behind their main regiments. Hereby, the commission recommended revising the historical accounts kept in governmental archives in accordance with the commission’s finding.
The TRCK found that between late October 1948 and July 1949 in Gurye County, shortly after the Yeosun Incident, a large number of civilians were illegitimately killed as South Korean troops and police forces conducted military operations to subdue communist insurgents. These mass killings are considered separate from the Yeosun Incident. Approximately 800 civilians were massacred, but only 165 victims were identified after researching various historical records kept in Korea’s National Archives, Historical Records of Subjugating Communist Insurgents (공비토벌사; 共匪討罰史) in the South Korean Army Headquarters (1954), field research, and statements from witnesses. South Korean troops and police forces captured, tortured, and executed civilians accused of collaborating with local leftists or insurgents. It has been verified that villages located near insurgent bases were incinerated and their residents accused of collaboration and executed during operations to “clean up” communist insurgents. A series of such mass killings occurred between late October 1948 and early 1949 near Gurye when the 1st and 2nd Battalions of the 3rd Regiment of the South Korean Army were based in the region. Gurye Police Office detained civilians suspected of collaborating with local communist partisans and commonly tortured their captives before executing them and concealing their bodies in nearby areas or on Mt. Bongseong. The members of the Korean Youth Association (대한청년단; 大韓靑年團) in Gurye also directly or indirectly abetted these systematic operations of mass killings by providing groundless accusations and supporting the extermination of those affiliated with communist guerillas or local leftists. They mostly assisted with the removal and burial of bodies after the executions. Accusations against victims included joining a left-leaning organization, such as the Socialist Labor Party in South Korea (남로당; 南勞黨). Other accusations were as minor as residing near areas targeted by the military or being related to suspected victims. South Korean troops and police forces commonly conducted indiscriminate arrests, detention, and imprisonment. They also tortured and summarily executed people without adequate investigaiton or legitimate judicial process. The martial law proclaimed at the time was not supported by any law, and thus the administrative and judicial authorities of the chief commander under martial law were subject to revocation. Furthermore, administrative and judicial authority were arbitrarily interpreted and implemented by regional chiefs, which increased the number of civilian casualties. Even if martial law is considered legitimate, the principle of non-combatant immunity was neglected for the authority to execute innocent civilians. Perpetrators often practiced a type of extrajudicial punishment (즉결처분권; 卽決處分權) to carry out summary executions. This was often misunderstood to be the authority to arbitrarily kill civilians. Even under martial law, executions should be carried out only in accordance with military regulations. Thus, civilian massacres by the South’s authorities cannot be justified in any sense. The Commission found that the killing of innocent civilians by the public authorities in Yeosu and Suncheon greatly transgressed the constitutional legality given to the military and police force at the time. They failed their sacred obligations of protecting the lives and property of civilians. The Commission advised the government to officially apologize to the bereaved families of the victims, restore the honor of the dead, revise historical records in accordance with its findings, and reinforce education on sustaining peace.
Massacre at Muan-gun
The Truth and Reconciliation Commission, Korea verified that on October 3, 1950, leftists massacred 96 right-wing residents of Cheonjang-ri, Haejae-myeon, in Muan County. Around 10:00 pm on October 3, 1950, four regional leftist leaders drew up lists right-wing residents to be executed.
The selected families were bound and dragged by the leftist perpetrators to a nearby shore. The perpetrators executed the adult family members using knives, clubs, bamboo spears, and farm implements before pushing them off a cliff near the shore. Children under the age of 10 were executed by being pushed into a deep well.
While the Commission identified 96 victims, including 22 children and 43 women, the total number may be as high as 151. The total number of perpetrators is estimated to be 54 leftists. Due to the execution of women and children, this massacre reflects the inhumanity and brutality of the war. Therefore, the Commission found that this incident offers an opportunity for self-examination in regards to the atrocities of war.
The TRCK concluded that the Ganghwa Regional Self-defense Forces accused and killed 139 civilians residing in the Ganghwa, Seokmo, and Jumun island areas around the time of the January 4, 1951 recapture of Seoul by Communist forces.
Details of the incident began to surface when a group of residents in Ganghwa registered their deceased family members as victims under the Korean War Veteran Memorial Law. During the registration period, details about the victims, as well as perpetrators, emerged and revealed enough information to infer the circumstances surrounding the incident.
At the time of the massacre, the Ganghwa Regional Self-defense Forces assumed that if North Korean troops occupied the region, those with left-leaning tendencies, and their families, would collaborate with the North. Therefore, preemptively eliminating the accused became a strategically beneficial objective. A chain of similar mass killings occurred in 12 different myeons in Ganghwa, Seokmo, and Jumun island areas.
In 1951, around the time of the 1.4 Retreat, residents of Ganghwa and their families, who were accused of treachery, were captured by the Ganghwa Regional Self-defense Forces, and detained at the Ganghwa Police Office and its subordinate police branches. The detainees were tortured before being executed at remote sites scattered throughout the region.
The possible number of casualties based on statements from witnesses, petitioners, and numerous documents, is as high as 430, but only 139 individuals have been identified by the Commission. In the case of the Samsan-myeon killings, a total of 53 people from 17 different families were slain. Among the victims were 42 females and 14 children under the age of 10.
It was ascertained that shortly before the 1.4 Retreat, the Chief of the Ganghwa Police Office and the Chief of the Ganghwa Branch Youth Self-defense Forces issued execution orders. These were followed by special measurements issued from the Gyeonggi Provincial Police Chief with regard to traitors. The mass executions carried out afterwards often occurred with the aid or tacit consent of South Korean and U.S. forces.
At the time of the killings, South Korean and U.S. forces were gathering intelligence on the enemy’s tactics and strategic movements along the West Coast. In the course of their missions, they aided right-wing civil organizations, such as the Ganghwa Self-defense Forces, by providing combat equipment and supplies.
These summary executions of civilians without due process are considered to be a crime against humanity. The victims’ pain and suffering have been passed to their descendants as various forms of social discrimination and prejudice.
While direct responsibility for the incidents may be directed at regional governments and civil organizations, the South Korean government must also be held accountable since they neglected their obligations to administer and control the regional authorities’ activities.
The Commission found that the Ganghwa Self-defense Force, an organization outside the control of any U.S. or South Korean authorities, was provided with arms which they then used to assault civilians. This action by the government resulted in the deaths of innocent villagers.
After uncovering these findings, the Commission advised that the government officially apologize to the victims’ bereaved families, seek reconciliation between the victims and perpetrators, and arrange adequate emergency alternatives considering Ganghwa’s geographical circumstances.
Mass Murder of Accused Leftists in Naju
Twenty seven petitioners filed for verification of a mass murder that took place in Naju on February 26, 1951. According to the petitioners, a total of twenty eight villagers were summarily executed at Cheolcheon-ri, Bonghwang—myeon in Naju without due process, having been accused of collaborating with communist guerillas. The TRCK found that the Naju Police Special Forces were responsible for the atrocity, and recommended that the government officially apologize to the families of the victims, restore the honor of the dead, and implement preventive measures.
The Commission ascertained that at least 99 local residents in Gunwi, Gyeongju, and Daegu were massacred between July and August 1950 by the military, local police, and CIC after being blacklisted or accused of being members of the Bodo League. In July 1950, dispatched CIC forces and local policemen arrested and temporarily detained members of the Bodo League at local police stations or detention centers. The detainees were categorized into three different groups before being transported to Naenam-myeon, Ubo-myeon, or Gunwi County and massacred. The Commission recommended that the government issue an official apology, provide support for memorial services, revise official documents including family registries, and strengthen peace and human rights-related education.
The Commission found that a number of civilians were killed by the local police, military, CIC, and military police after being accused of cooperating with leftists or being a member of the Bodo League. The killings took place between July and August 1950 in the Goryeong, Seongju, and Chilgok regions of North Gyeongsang Province. Bodo League members were either arrested by local police or summoned to nearby police stations and detained. As North Korean troops advanced southward, the army and military police took custody of the detainees before killing them. The Commission recommended that the government officially apologize to the families of the victims, support memorial services, revise family registries and other records, and provide peace and human rights education.
The Commission ascertained that members of the Bodo League in the Miryang region were massacred by the local police and the South Gyeongsang Province CIC between July and August 1950. The victims were forcibly confined in various warehouses before being executed in August 1950. The Commission recommended that the government officially apologize to the families of the victims, support memorial services, revise family registries and other records, and provide peace and human rights education.
The Commission found that regional members of the Bodo League and those in preventive detention were killed by the local police and CIC forces between July and August 1950. The victims were either forcibly arrested by the police or summoned to the police station where they were detained or transferred to nearby detainment centers before being executed in August 1950. The Commission recommended that the government officially apologize to the families of victims, support memorial services, revise family registries and other records, and provide peace and human rights education.
The Commission ascertained that in July 1950, approximately 270 regional Bodo League members and those held in preventive detention were illegally victimized by the military and police forces in Yeongdeok County, North Gyeongsang Province. Shortly after the outbreak of the Korean War, the 23rd Regiment of the 3rd Army and Yeongdeok Police were concerned that Bodo League members might collaborate with the North Korean People’s Army and conduct sabotage behind the front lines. In order to prevent this, the police and army executed them. The Commission recommended an official apology, revision of family registries and other records, peace and human rights education, and financial support for memorial services.
The Commission found that regional Bodo League members and those in preventive detention were killed by the Busan CIC, the military, and local police between July and September 1950. Bodo League members in the Busan and Sacheon regions were forcibly arrested or summoned to local police stations where they were detained before being executed. The Commission recommended that the government officially apologize to the families of the victims, support memorial services, revise family registries and other records, and provide peace and human rights education.
Survey to identify massacre victims
This project was a survey of the number of civilian victims of the mass killings the took place during the Korean War and was carried out in collaboration with outside research teams. In 2007, the Seokdang Research Institute at Dong-a University carried out a survey of civilian victims in the cities of Gimhae and Gongju as well as rural areas in Jeolla, Chuncheong, Gyeongsang, and Gyeonggi provinces. The selected regions were chosen after estimating the scale and the representative-ness of each mass killing. In particular, Ganghwa County, near Incheon, was included because it was on the military borderline between the two conflicting powers at the time, and Gimhae was significant because a large number of mass killings against civilians occurred there even though the region was never taken by the North.
In 2007, the above-mentioned investigative process was conducted on a total of 3,820 individuals including bereaved family members and witnesses. As a result, some 8,600 victims were uncovered.
Categorized by region, there were found
- 356 victims in Ganghwa County,
- 385 victims in Cheongwon County,
- 65 victims in Gongju,
- 373 victims in Yeocheon County,
- 517 victims in Cheongdo County,
- 283 victims in Gimhae,
- 1,880 victims in Gochang County,
- 2,818 victims in Youngam County, and
- 1,318 victims in Gurye County.
Divided by the type of victim, there were found
- 1,457 leftist guerillas killed by the army or police forces of South Korea,
- 1,348 Bodo League members,
- 1,318 local leftist victims,
- 1,092 victims from the Yeosun Incident,
- 892 victims accused of being collaborators of North Korea, etc.
Collaboration with truth-finding organizations and regional autonomous entities
The TRCK is an organization independent from any governmental or non-governmental political entities, and has sought to uncover the truth behind previously unknown or popularly misconceived historical incidents, thereby pursuing reconciliation between the victims and the perpetrators. It has been important for it to maintain cooperative relationships with regional governments and organizations, since its investigations cover a time period of nearly a century and deal with areas throughout the Korean peninsula.
Collaboration with the government and other truth commissions
The TRCK is an organization established to discover the truth behind incidents in the past, and thus it has been crucial to call upon assistance from governmental authorities such as the nation’s police forces, the Ministry of Defense, and the National Intelligence Service. The TRCK held a monthly gathering with the heads of other truth-finding commissions and had meetings and seminars with various governmental organizations. Through building a cooperative relationship among the mentioned organizations, the TRCK sought to increase efficiency in carrying out its work by exchanging relevant documents, sharing thoughts on the selection of research subjects, adjudicating duplicated work, and so on. Furthermore, the TRCK co-hosted a conference on the ‘Evaluation of Truth-finding Works and the Prospect Thereof’ with the Presidential Commission on Suspicious Death in the Military, the Truth Commission on Forced Mobilization under the Japanese Imperialism, the Presidential Committee for the Inspection of Collaborations for Japanese Imperialism, etc. The concerned commissions shared various field experiences with respect to truth-finding work and exchanged ideas through various seminars and conferences.
Collaboration with regional organizations
The TRCK is authorized to delegate part of its work to local organizations or to cooperate with them. It relies on local organizations to solicit and gather petitions and to carry out on-the-ground research. The TRCK, together with 246 local organizations, led an awareness campaign soliciting petitions for a year starting on December 1, 2005. During this period, Song Ki-in, the first president of the TRCK, visited 16 different cities and numerous civic groups, and engaged in a media campaign to raise awareness of the significance of the TRCK's truth-finding work. As a result, a total of 10,860 petitions were filed. This number is considerable, since most of the incidents in question took place decades ago and there still isn’t concrete trust built between the victimized and the authorities.
Collaboration with bereaved family members
The TRCK has the authority to hold conferences and consult with experts regarding its work. Especially in the case of investigations on Korea’s independence movement and Korean communities abroad, the commission can carry out its investigation in collaboration with relevant research institutes or other agencies. In particular, since the organization representing family members of civilian victims killed during the Korean War accounts for a large portion of the petitions filed at the commission, close cooperation with this organization was essential. The TRCK has been working to resolve any misunderstandings from more than 50 bereaved family unions. Additionally, the TRCK paid special attention to civic groups in order to collect diverse opinions and build an alliance to raise awareness and promote its mission through seminars and forums.
Future of truth-finding work in Korea
Since the conservative Grand National Party (한나라당) came to power in Korea in February 2008, led by the new president Lee Myung-bak, some perceive that the commission's resources and mandate have become more vulnerable. Other commissions established during the term of former president Roh Moo-hyun have been targeted for cuts under the Lee government's policy of budget reduction.
In November, 2008, Shin Ji-ho, a lawmaker from the conservative Grand National Party, proposed a draft bill to merge multiple truth-finding commissions into one, the TRCK, a move which was met with strong resistance from progressives. On Nov. 26, 2008, Bruce Cumings criticized the Lee's administration's handling of the textbook selection process in his interview with The Hankyoreh Daily.
The commission has been actively attempting to build an international alliance with countries that have similar historical experiences of civil wars and authoritarian dictatorships. Recently, it signed an MOU with Chile.
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- Bodo League massacre
- Ganghwa massacre
- Geochang massacre
- Goyang Geumjeong Cave Massacre
- Ha My massacre
- Jeju Uprising
- Mungyeong massacre
- National Defense Corps Incident
- No Gun Ri massacre
- Phong Nhi and Phong Nhat massacre
- Sancheong and Hamyang massacre
- Yeosu-Suncheon Rebellion
- Yongsan bombing
Near Daejeon, South Korea, 1950
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