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.


  • 18/09/2015 - 19/08/2015. TJDI’s Anja Mihr invited to South Korea by the South Korean Transitional Justice Network. Anja Mihr is invited by the South Korean Transitional Justice Network and Working Group to present and advise on Transitional Justice matters in comparative perspective.
  • 03/06/2015. Utrecht TJDI Team in South Korea for Fieldwork. Elizabeth Rhoads. In November 2014, Malini Laxminarayan and Anja Mihr travelled to Seoul and Jeju Island to investigate the link between transitional justice and democracy in South Korea.
  • 09/01/2015. Chandra Lekha Sriram’s field research in South Korea. Elizabeth Rhoads. 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. For more on Prof. Sriram's preliminary thoughts on the South Korea case, follow the link above.
  • 18/11/2014 - 18/11/2014. Talking about Transitional Justice in Asia, Meeting The ASAN Institute for Policy Studies.. On 18 November, the two ORA team members, Dr. Anja Mihr and Dr. Malini Laxminarayan from The Hague Institute during their field trip in South Korea meet Dr. Shin Chang-Hoon, the Director of the Center for Global Governance, International Law and Conflict Resolution at the ASAN in Seoul, South Korea ( to discuss Transitional Justice in the Korean peninsula with an international perspective. For more on their meeting and what was discussed, click on the link above.
  • 20/11/2014 - 20/11/2014. Field notes: ORA Project Team Presentation at the Academy of Korean Studies. On 20 November 2015, Dr Anja Mihr and Dr. Malini Laxminarayan were invited by The Academy of Korean Studies ( in Seongnam/Seoul, South Korea, to present their research on Transitional Justice. For more on their presentation please click on the link.
  • 04/11/2014 - 04/11/2014. Prof. Sriram gives seminar on “Peace as Justice?” in Seoul. Prof. Sriram gave a seminar at the Foundation for the Development of International Law in Asia while conducting fieldwork in Seoul in November.