Moon looks to S. African model of truth and reconciliation in approaching Gwangju Democratization Movement

Posted on : 2020-05-20 18:44 KST Modified on : 2020-05-21 16:18 KST
S. Korean president emphasizes uncovering truth before seeking reconciliation
South Korean President Moon Jae-in offers his condolences to a family member of someone who was killed during the Gwangju Democratization Movement during the ceremony to commemorate the movement’s 40th anniversary on May 18. (Yonhap News)
South Korean President Moon Jae-in offers his condolences to a family member of someone who was killed during the Gwangju Democratization Movement during the ceremony to commemorate the movement’s 40th anniversary on May 18. (Yonhap News)

One day after South Korean President Moon Jae-in spoke about confession, forgiveness, and reconciliation during a memorial service on the 40th anniversary of the Gwangju Democratization Movement on May 18, in front of the former South Jeolla Provincial Office in Gwangju, the Blue House further elaborated on Moon’s remarks. “The president explained that the model he had in mind was South Africa’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission, which sought to achieve unity through the truth,” Blue House Spokesperson Kang Min-seok told reporters on Tuesday.

The previous day, Moon had said, “We must uncover the truth regarding who gave the order to open fire [on civilians in Gwangju], as well as the massacre of civilians by the martial law forces, the shooting from helicopters, and the allegations of cover-ups and fabrications.”

“If [those responsible] can summon the courage to confess the truth now, this will open up the path to forgiveness and reconciliation,” he urged.

Between December 1995 and July 1998, the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission investigated crimes by the state and human rights violations perpetrated under the country’s apartheid system since 1960. The commission investigated a total of 7,512 people, 849 of whom received pardons.

While the South African Truth and Reconciliation Commission pardoned a number of people involved in racially discriminatory crimes, Moon’s emphasis appears to have been on the “truth” as a prerequisite for “reconciliation.”

“We’re likely to have an investigation of May 1980 going forward, and it will be up to the National Assembly to decide how to address the statute of limitations issue,” a key Blue House official said, quoting Moon as noting that the South Korean Truth and Reconciliation Commission has “ruled out the statute of limitations at the time” for cases of crimes by the state and human rights violations.

His remarks were seen as expressing the hope that the National Assembly will amend the Special Act on the Gwangju Democratization Movement, etc.,to eliminate the statute of limitations for inhumane acts associated with civilian massacres, including the order to open fire, secret burials, and shooting from helicopters. In its 1995 enactment of the Special Act on the Gwangju Democratization Movement, etc., the National Assembly included a suspension of the statute of limitations for criminal acts destructive to the Constitutional order.

Chun Doo-hwan’s complete lack of remorse

Commenting on former President Chun Doo-hwan’s remark the day before that he didn’t “know what I should be apologizing for,” the same Blue House official said, “I believe the National Assembly will be examining the laws concerning distortions of the history of May 1980 and holding discussions.”

“[Chun] shows no indication of confessing the truth, and the historical distortions and defamation continue,” the official added.

The official also provided an explanation on Moon’s remarks in his commemorative address that “the citizens who fell at South Jeolla Provincial Office were certain in their conviction that today’s defeat would become tomorrow’s victory.”

“He was quoting the words of [Gwangju victim] Yoon Sang-won, who said at a conference with the foreign press on May 26, 1980 -- a day before his death -- that ‘we may lose today, but tomorrow’s history will make us the victors,’” the official said.

By Seong Yeon-cheol, staff reporter

Please direct comments or questions to [english@hani.co.kr]

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