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The Massacres at Mt. Halla

The Massacres at Mt. Halla: Sixty Years of Truth Seeking in South Korea

Hun Joon Kim
Copyright Date: 2014
Published by: Cornell University Press
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  • Book Info
    The Massacres at Mt. Halla
    Book Description:

    In The Massacres at Mt. Halla, Hun Joon Kim presents a compelling story of state violence, human rights advocacy, and transitional justice in South Korea since 1947. The "Jeju 4.3 events" were a series of armed uprisings and counterinsurgency actions that occurred between 1947 and 1954 in the rugged landscape around Mt. Halla in Jeju Province, South Korea. The counterinsurgency strategy was extremely brutal, involving mass arrests and detentions, forced relocations, torture, indiscriminate killings, and many large-scale massacres of civilians. The conflict resulted in an estimated thirty thousand deaths, about 10 percent of the total population of Jeju Province in 1947. News of this enormous loss of life was carefully suppressed until the success of the 1987 June Democracy Movement.

    After concisely detailing the events of Jeju 4.3, Kim traces the grassroots advocacy campaign that ultimately resulted in the creation of a truth commission with a threefold mandate: to investigate what happened in Jeju, to identify the victims, and to restore the honor of those victims. Although an official report was issued in 2003, resulting in an official apology from President Roh Moo Hyun (the first presidential apology for the abuse of state power in South Korea's history), the commission's work continues to this day. It has long been believed that truth commissions are most likely to be established immediately after a democratic transition, as a result of a power game involving old and new elites. Kim tells a different story: he emphasizes the importance of sixty years of local activist work and the long history of truth's suppression.

    eISBN: 978-0-8014-7067-7
    Subjects: History, Political Science, Law

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Introduction
    (pp. 1-11)

    Over the last three decades, a growing number of countries have undergone the transition from authoritarianism to democracy, and the recent wave of democratization in the Middle East and northern Africa suggests that this trend will continue into the twenty-first century. One of the novel features of this transition is that these new, democratically elected governments are increasingly being expected to address past human rights violations using a wide range of measures such as criminal prosecutions, truth commissions, judicial reforms, reparations, memorialization, exhumations and reburials, and the lustration of police and security forces.¹ This book relates one such story—the...

  5. 1 The Jeju 4.3 Events
    (pp. 12-38)

    No one knows the exact number, but between 1947 and 1954 somewhere between 25,000 and 30,000 civilians were killed or wounded on Jeju Island. In March 2011, the Jeju Commission announced that 15,100 victims had been identified, of whom 10,729 (71%) had been killed, 3,920 (26%) had disappeared, 207 (1.4%) had been injured, and 244 (1.6%) had been imprisoned. The commission also identified 31,255 family members of the victims. As the population of Jeju was around 280,000 in 1948, what became known as the Jeju 4.3 events affected almost every family on the island. Most members of the local elite,...

  6. Part I. The Establishment of a Truth Commission

    • 2 Suppressed yet Stubborn Truths
      (pp. 41-60)

      The period between 1954 and democratization in 1987 marks the first phase of the movement to find truth and restore justice. It was the darkest time for advocacy. The Rhee Syng-man regime, which was responsible for the massacres, remained in power for twelve years and suppressed any hint of a local attempt to bring up past atrocities. A short period of democracy followed after the fall of the regime in 1960, but the new democratic government could not last long, and in 1961 it was overthrown by a military coup led by General Park Chung-hee. Park’s military government was even...

    • 3 From Oblivion to Social Attention
      (pp. 61-82)

      South Korea, after democratization, had as its first president Roh Taewoo from 1988 to 1993. Soon after Chun Doo-hwan stepped down, a nationwide focus was given to the 1980 Gwangju massacre for which Chun and Roh bore responsibility. Roh quickly set up a presidential commission to promote “national unity” and “reconciliation.” The commission acknowledged that the Gwangju uprising was a prodemocracy movement but opposed any punishments for perpetrators or truth seeking in order not to disrupt “national unity.” In response to the creation of the commission, lawmakers set up special hearing sessions in June 1988 and held seventeen hearings, summoning...

    • 4 The Struggle of the Periphery
      (pp. 83-102)

      With the arrival of a fledgling institutional democracy in 1987, civil society required substantial changes to consolidate it. One of the key needs was the decentralization of state power, which had been concentrated in the president under the dictatorial and authoritarian regimes. First, the opposition party and civil society demanded separation of legislative, administrative, and judicial authority. A few demanded adoption of the parliamentary system in order to minimize the exploitation of presidential power, as the Second Republic did after the fall of the Rhee dictatorship. Another need was to transfer some state power to local governments, reinstituting a regional...

  7. Part II. The Process of the Jeju Commission

    • 5 The Establishment of the Jeju Commission
      (pp. 105-125)

      In 1998 President Kim Dae-jung, whose political constituency was based in North and South Jeolla and Jeju Provinces and who had pledged several times to enact a special law for investigating the civilian massacre in Jeju, was inaugurated. Kim made his first public pledge in November 1987 when he visited Jeju during his presidential campaign immediately after democratization:

      People in Jeju have suffered the tragedy of the Jeju 4.3 events. I will be with you in your regrets, pain, and hope. The military and authoritarian governments also falsely accused me of being a Communist, and I myself am a victim....

    • 6 The Jeju Commission, 2000–2003
      (pp. 126-144)

      In order for a law passed in the National Assembly to go into effect, it has to go through consideration by the cabinet and be approved by the president. The law goes into effect three months after its promulgation. Eight people, including six activists and two representatives of victims, were invited to the Blue House, the presidential residence, to join the ceremony of signing the Special Law. This was the first open and public signing of any law passed in the Kim Dae-jung presidency, and it indicated the president’s desire to appreciate the efforts of activists and console the suffering...

    • 7 The Impact of the Jeju Commission
      (pp. 145-161)

      The Jeju Commission worked for three years and released its final report on 16 October 2003.¹ At the same time, the commission released seven policy recommendations: first, issue an apology; second, declare a memorial day; third, use the report to educate students and the general public; fourth, establish a memorial park; fifth, provide essential living expenses to bereaved families; sixth, support excavations of mass graves; and seventh, continuously support further investigation and commemoration projects.² Activists and victims mostly welcomed the report and recommendations even though some activists thought that the commission conceded too much to the demands of the military...

  8. Conclusion
    (pp. 162-176)

    In this book I answered two research questions focusing on the Jeju Commission. First, why and through what process did South Korea set up the Jeju Commission in 2000 to acknowledge the massacre of thirty thousand Jeju islanders that occurred between 1947 and 1954? Second, what has the Jeju Commission accomplished and how has it affected South Korean society? The purpose of this concluding chapter is threefold. First, it summarizes my findings on both research questions and explains the theoretical contributions of my research. I focus on the two key factors that led to the success of the commission: strong...

  9. Notes
    (pp. 177-202)
  10. Bibliography
    (pp. 203-214)
  11. Index
    (pp. 215-224)