An expose charges horrendous human rights abuses perpetrated by the South Korean government in the years surrounding the 1988 Olympics.
An Associated Press reports says that starting in the 1970s and continuing until the late 1980s the South Korean government created a series of facilities to house “vagrants.” The facilities were created by the military dictatorship that had taken over the country in the aftermath of the destructive 1950-1953 war with North Korea.
Scores of people, including children, were swept off the streets — whether they were actually vagrants or not — and sent to the facilities where they lived through what some survivors called a “hell on earth.”
The facilities were supposed to have been set up to help teach job skills to “vagrants” who had no home, but in actuality those interned were abused sexually and mentally, used for slave labor to manufacture products for sale in foreign countries, beaten, and even murdered by guards and officials.
To date, no official acknowledgement of the horrors perpetrated in the facilities has ever been offered by the South Korean government, which more permanently shifted to a constitutional democracy around the time of the Seoul Games.
According to the new expose by the Associated Press, a group of survivors are gathering together and trying to force the current, more democratic government to acknowledge the crimes committed at the workhouses and at the very least apologize for the government’s past atrocities.
The story of the facilities, especially the Brothers Home facility near Busan, is being told by a one-time inmate named Choi Seung-woo.
According to the AP story, Choi was swept up off the streets of Seoul just before the 1988 Seoul Olympics. The extensive sweeps of street people, vagrants, orphans, disabled people, and others was conducted ahead of the Olympics in order to make South Korea appear to be a “modern” nation as thousands of foreign visitors arrived for the games.
When he was 14, Choi was taken off the streets by a policeman and immediately tortured and raped. Choi told the AP that while interned at the Brothers Home facility he was raped nightly and watched others abused and often beaten to death. The AP found that Choi’s experience is no outlier and is sadly typical for those forced into the many similar facilities set up across the nation at the time.
Government officials are thus far resisting taking any actions over the long closed facilities saying that the accusations are simply too far in the past to bother with. But activists are still pressing the issue hoping at least for an apology if not for reparations for those still alive.
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