Former South Korean governments accused of abuse and deaths in a facility

SEOUL, South Korea (AP) — South Korea’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission has held the country’s former military governments responsible for atrocities at Brothers Home, a state-funded “vagrant facility” where thousands of people were enslaved and abused from the 1960s to the 1980s.

The landmark report came on Wednesday 35 years after a prosecutor first exposed the horrors at the facility in the southern port city of Busan and details an attempt to cover up incriminating evidence that allegedly confirmed a crime sponsored by the state.

Commission Chairman Jung Geun-sik has urged South Korea’s current government to issue a formal apology to survivors and explore ways to alleviate their suffering as it announces the initial results of its investigation into Brothers, including extreme cases of forced labor, violence and death. .

The commission also called on the government to review conditions in current welfare centers across the country and to quickly ratify the UN convention against enforced disappearances.

The commission “confirmed that the direct and indirect exercise of governmental authority resulted in the forced confinement of persons considered to be vagrants at Brothers Home and caused serious human rights violations, including forced labor, physical assaults, cruel treatment, deaths and disappearances,” Jeung said. said at a press conference at the commission’s office in Seoul.

“The state ignored pleas (by detainees) to correct human rights abuses at the brothers’ home, knew of the problems but failed to act to address them, and attempted to misrepresent and minimize the scale of abuse after the incident of the brothers became known in 1987, preventing proper legal treatment (of abuse) based on facts,” he said.

Lee Jae-seung, a senior commission official overseeing the Brothers investigation, said he would not hesitate to define Brothers as a state crime.

The commission’s report was based on reviewing a wide range of evidence, including police, prosecutor and court documents, and the brothers’ own records, such as admission papers and certificates. of deceased. He also found records that suggest the facility improperly administered psychiatric drugs to control inmates.

The commission said the violence and abuse at Brothers was even worse than previously known. He said his review of records so far showed at least 657 deaths at Brothers, which was higher than the previously known tally of 513 between 1975 and 1986 documented in facility records.

The commission also confirmed that the Busan police randomly seized people from the streets to send them to the Brotherhood, whether or not they had easily identifiable homes or families. They often allowed Brotherhood employees, who drove around town in trucks, to do the abduction themselves.

The brothers, led by the late owner Park In-Keun and his family, also embezzled the wages of thousands of inmates who were forced into slave labor, which involved construction work both offsite and at the brothers’ homes. , as well as work in factories making clothes, ballpoint pens and fishing hooks.

So far, no one has been held responsible for the hundreds of deaths, rapes and beatings of the brothers.

Jung acknowledged that the recommendations the Commission was making to the government are not binding, but said its findings could be used as evidence for survivors if they pursue claims for damages against the government or remaining stakeholders. . The commission did not directly recommend the prosecution of criminal charges.

The commission’s report was based on its investigation of the cases of 191 people, who were among the 544 surviving Brethren who have so far filed claims. The commission plans to produce more reports as it continues its investigations.

Jung said the commission also plans to investigate foreign adoptions of Brothers children, which The Associated Press first confirmed in 2019. Through documents obtained from officials, lawmakers or through Freedom of Information requests, the AP found direct evidence that 19 children were adopted. of Brothers between 1979 and 1986, and circumstantial evidence suggesting at least 51 other adoptions.

Some surviving brothers wept from their seats as Jung and Lee announced the results of the investigation.

Choi Seung-woo, who landed at Brothers as a schoolboy in 1982 after being kidnapped by police and suffering severe beatings and sexual abuse for years, said the report gives survivors ” hope and courage”. He urged the government to actively support survivors struggling with financial and health issues and intense “trauma”.

“(The commission’s findings) give us another opportunity to redeem ourselves in court, but no one knows how long that will take,” Choi said.

Lee Chae-sik, another former detainee, said the commission’s truth-seeking efforts would mean little if survivors did not receive immediate help.

“I’m fine. I run three convenience stores, but what about this guy?” Lee said, showing his text messages with another ex-con stuck in a long-term care hospital. that we would die.”

From the 1960s to the 1980s, South Korean military dictators ordered gusts to beautify the streets. Thousands of people – including the homeless and disabled, as well as children – were pulled from the streets and taken to facilities where they were detained and forced to work. The commission said the raids were “unlawful and unconstitutional” because they violated people’s fundamental rights and freedoms.

In interviews with dozens of former Brethren inmates, many said that as children they were brought to the facility after police officers kidnapped them, and that their parents had no idea. from where they were.

Scores of inmates were enslaved, raped and, in hundreds of cases, beaten to death or left to die, their bodies dumped in the woods, according to dozens of interviews with survivors and a review of a wide range of government and brethren documents obtained by PAs.

The commission said the facility’s death records describe many victims as already dead when they arrived at the hospitals, which it says indicates either dismal health conditions in the overcrowded facility or an attempt to concealment of deaths caused by beatings and torture.

The commission said records show Brothers, which had a designated ward for inmates with mental health issues, purchased abnormal volumes of psychiatric drugs. Such drugs were likely imposed on a wide range of inmates as the owners of the facility tried to maintain their grip on a sprawling complex they controlled with harsh violence and military-like discipline.

“Brothers Home arbitrarily administered drugs to inmates who were having difficulty coping or who were rebellious, and the psychiatric ward was used as a so-called ‘disciplinary ward,'” the commission said in its report.

The commission also highlighted the extreme case of a former Brotherhood inmate who was reunited with his loved ones nearly five decades after arriving at the facility.

The man, identified only by his surname Seol, was grabbed from a Busan train station and locked up at Brothers around 1974 and 1975. He was transferred years later to an orphanage, which registered him as an orphan , shortly after his family registered him as dead after years of futile searches. Seol was reunited with his relatives in June last year, following the Commission’s investigation into his family background.

The roundups intensified as South Korea began preparing to bid for and host the 1988 Summer Olympics. Brothers, a mountainside resort in Busan, was the largest of these establishments and had about 4,000 inmates when its horrors were revealed in 1987.

Kim Yong Won, the former prosecutor who exposed brothers, told the AP senior officials blocked his investigation under the direction of the office of military strongman Chun Doo-Hwan, who feared an international incident embarrassing on the eve of the Olympics.

Following Kim’s watered-down investigation and narrow indictments, Park, the brothers’ landlord, was acquitted by the Supreme Court in 1989 of charges relating to unlawful detention of detainees. Park, who served a short prison sentence for embezzlement and other relatively minor charges, died in 2016.

The commission began investigating Brethren abuse in May last year, after a years-long struggle for redemption for Brethren survivors, many of whom are struggling with financial and health problems.

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