Washington International Law Journal


Kuk Cho


For more than a decade, Korean society has taken various legal steps to rectify past wrongs perpetrated by the old authoritarian-military regime. In 1995, the “Special Act Concerning the May 18 Democratization Movement” was passed in the National Assembly. Under this new legal circumstance, the two former presidents were imprisoned on charges of leading the 1979 military coup and brutally oppressing the May 18 Uprising of 1980. However, because such a transition from the authoritarian-military rule was established through a political compromise, Korean society had to experience a limited transitional justice. As another step to rectify past wrongs, the “Act for Restoring the Honor of Democratization Movement Involvers and Providing Compensation for Them” was enacted in 2000. Under this Act, a number of democratization activists have been recognized as “democratization movement involvers.” However, this Act has been strongly criticized because the activists using harsh counter-violence were also recognized as the “involvers.” In 2001, the legislature enacted the “Special Act for Truth-Finding Suspicious Deaths” to handle the suspicious deaths of many democratization activists during the old authoritarian-military regime. Also, broadening the scope of illustrating past wrongs, a series of laws was recently enacted to uncover the activities of pro-Japanese collaborators under the Japanese occupation in the early twentieth century. These various Special Acts for dealing with past wrongs certainly have never been free from political struggle between the liberal and conservative. Some argue that these acts were forged by agreements between these two factions. However, although each side has advocated somewhat differently, they have come together in the belief that Korean society needs to discard the legacy of the authoritarian regime. In this light, the acts are symbolic statements that officially declare the people’s dissatisfaction with the authoritarian regime. Therefore, they are necessary for Koreans to heal old wounds, and to move beyond their tortured past.

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