Throughout the 20th century, South Korea experienced foreign occupation by Japan, a three-year war during which an estimated 2 million civilians were killed and around 40 years of authoritarian rule. The years of authoritarian rule were punctuated by military coups and several episodes of violent repression, most notably the 18 May 1980 Uprising.
In 1987, mass protests led to the collapse of the regime, the approval of a new constitution and the first free and fair elections, which were held on 16 December 1987.
During the 1990s, the new government approved a number of measures to deal with the past, including criminal prosecutions, compensation of victims and truth revelation processes. From 2000 to 2004, two commissions of inquiry investigated human rights abuses committed during the 1960-1990s and anti-communist counterinsurgency operations carried out in 1948-1954. In 2005, a new truth commission was created to further investigate the high number of human rights violations committed since 1910, including during the Korean War. South Korea is also facing a difficult reconciliation process with Japan.
South Korea is currently a democracy. The judiciary is increasingly independent despite some recent scandals associated with judges’ alleged illegal influence.