Chandra Lekha Sriram’s field research in South Korea
9th January 2015
In November 2014, Chandra Sriram conducted research and interviews in Seoul for the TJDI project. Although the team research is ongoing, and many observations await clearance from interviewees, a number of insights emerged.
As with Japan, discussions of “transitional justice” in South Korea are complicated by the fact that the term itself postdates many of the mechanisms developed in the country. Further, there are at least three sets of atrocities to be addressed, with two having clear transnational dimensions. The first set involves events for which Japanese forces and complicit Korean forces may be responsible during and prior to the Second World War. The second involves events for which American forces and allied Korean forces may be responsible during the Korean War. And finally, there are a range of abuses alleged by civilian and military governments of Korea, spanning several decades. While mechanisms have been developed, to greater or lesser degrees, to address each of these, the Cold War limited the range of the first two. The transnational dimension of accountability, with external states accepting at most limited responsibility for abuses, has also shaped the scope of transitional justice and its potential to affect democratic institution-building.