Utrecht TJDI Team in South Korea for Fieldwork

Posted by: Elizabeth Rhoads

3rd June 2015

In November, Malini Laxminarayan travelled to Seoul and Jeju Island to investigate the link between transitional justice and democracy in South Korea. South Korea is an interesting case to study, both for its complex history consisting of three conflicts and its use of truth commissions as a main measure for dealing with the past.  Furthermore, very often respondents discussed the backwards change to a more conservative government, which has halted progress in terms of transitional justice.

Commissions have been able to illustrate how the abuse of power can be exposed, a warning to the military and others that they could be held accountable for the crimes they commit.  At the same time, they have faced many shortcomings, and therefore are not always effective in making an impact. Though the transitional justice policy of the government is currently denying further progress, positive change can be witnessed, particularly if one considered how before 1987 in Korean society it was taboo to talk about victimization of the democratization movement. The need for a second round of truth commissions was explicitly stated, however, and through specific truth commissions such as that investigating Jeju Island, there is hope that another change in government could lead to changes in the future regarding South Korea’s means of dealing with the past.