• Updated : 2019.5.27 월 16:15
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State Violence, Not a Story from a Land far away but a Story of You and I...
강은지, 국제민주연대 코디네이터  |  tribune1968@cnumedia.com
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승인 2014.05.15  14:49:24
트위터 페이스북 미투데이 요즘 네이버 구글 msn

▲ The building of the Korea National Intellegiecne Service

The entire country is in deep sorrow today for the victims of the sunken ship Sewol, which sunk on April 16th, 2014. Many were first shock by the incident itself and the irresponsible actions of the captain and his crew who escaped the ship first without taking care of the hundreds of passengers, in particular when most of them were high school students. Then soon people became extremely frustrated and enraged by the ill responses of the authority. The state authority not only failed to swiftly address the tragic incident but also lost confidence in the people. It is natural for the people to expect the state authority to be there ready to help them anytime anywhere and it is the fundamental duty of the state to protect its people. Therefore, when it fails to meet this expectation, people feel desperately vulnerable and anxious. As child abuse does not just refer to direct violence but also includes neglecting, the state is not fulfilling its protection of its people can be said a kind of state violence.
    When it comes to state violence and human rights violations, many young Koreans tend to think it is not directly related to their daily lives or believe it can be seen only in history or in an under-developed country far from them. However, it is not a story in a history book or on other parts of the world. Direct or indirect, small or big, state violence or human rights violations can be the story of our parents, uncles, brothers, sisters, friends, or even our own.
    The Constitution of the Republic of Korea clearly states that the Republic of Korea shall be a democratic republic and the sovereignty of the Republic of Korea shall reside in the people, and all state authority shall emanate from the people, in Article 1. However, as soon as the republic was founded, the state violated its people’s human rights. With the excuse of the division, the state imprisoned so many people for the charges of being communists or pro-communists. The state also created an organization called the National Bodo League where all of the former communists, supporters, suspects and sometimes family members are listed. When the Korean War broke out, what the state first did was to kill all of the political prisoners and members of the National Bodo League, in fear of them supporting the North during the war. And after recapturing Seoul on September 28th, 1950, the state again killed numerous people for the charges of supporting the North during the occupied period. According to the research done by the Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Korea, hundreds of thousands of people were massacred through extra-judicial killings before, during, and after the Korean War by the state agencies of the Republic of Korea such as the police and the military.
    Even after this fratricidal war, the state violence continued under the name of anti-communism in the division system. There have been so many people arrested, imprisoned, and even executed for fabricated charges of being spies for North Korea. Workers, famers, fishermen, students, and housewives were accused of espionage acts without any evidence. Out of blue, those having family members missing or allegedly heading to the North during the war or being kidnapped to the North during fishing were arrested, tortured, and fabricated as spies. They were forced to make false confessions through horrific tortures for dozens of days in a secret basement interrogation chamber of the state agencies. Common knowledge such as Gyeongbu Highway could be used for military purposes in emergency and was manipulated as top secrets and highly dangerous if leaked to the North. Some were executed and the rest of them had to serve years in prison.
    Moreover, the state brutally suppressed the workers movement, student movement, and democratization movement. Hundreds of citizens were killed by the guns and knives of the military in Gwangju in 1980. Dozens of citizens were killed during peaceful protests by the bloody crackdowns of the state. Thousands of citizens were imprisoned for violations of the National Security Law and other acts of assembly and demonstration.
    Still more, the persistent state violence left a deep trauma of fear among the people. So many people had to be afraid of expressing their opinions let alone exerting their legitimate rights. The democracy, with the 1987 Constitution since the June Struggle, was hard earned through the people’s continuous struggle, dedication, and sacrifice against the state violence.
    The world highly appreciates the Republic of Korea as a model country to achieve both economic growth and democracy at the same time. However, around us, there are still people whose human rights are abused by the state authority even today. The victims of state violence are our neighbors, friends and family.
    Recently, the National Intelligence Service (hereafter the NIS)’s illegal intervention in the presidential election of 2012 was revealed. To win the support for the candidate of the ruling party, the NIS manipulated the public opinion on the internet. The NIS which is supposed to protect people from threats infringed on people’s rights, against the clear provision of the law to prohibit its engagement with politics. Then soon after the NIS scandal aroused anger among people, the NIS arrested Rep. Lee Seok-ki along with other members of the Unified Progressive Party (hereafter the UPP) on charges of an insurrection conspiracy. At the same time, the government requested that the Constitutional Court decide the dissolution of the UPP. Despite so many criticisms from in and out of Korea, Rep. Lee and his colleagues were found guilty at the first trial without critical evidence. Meanwhile, the NIS was found to have fabricated evidence for a spy case of Seoul City’s public servant. In this case, the defendant was found not guilty at the first trial as the judge dismissed the evidence presented by the NIS such as manipulated entrance records of the defendant and forced testimonies of the critical witness, the younger sister of the defendant. The series of incidents in relation with the NIS which has a highly notorious history of abusing the human rights of people since its predecessors such as Korean Central Intelligence Agency and the Agency for National Security Planning demonstrate that state violence is never a past history but a present threat to the human rights of people in Korea. More importantly, as seen in the NIS’ attempts to illegally censor and manipulate the public opinion for the ruling party during the election, it tells that my neighbor, friend, family member, or even I can be the next victim if people are not aware of the possible power abuse of the state.
    The warning of Harry S. Truman in 1950 that “once a government is committed to the principle of silencing the voice of opposition, it has only one way to go, and that is down the path of increasingly repressive measures, until it becomes a source of terror to all its citizens and creates a country where everyone lives in fear” is still meaningful in Korean society in 2014. To prevent the retreat of hard earned democracy, it is important to keep Voltaire’s words in mind that “I do not agree with what you have to say, but I will defend to the death your right to say it.” Only when people join hands together to respect, uphold, and protect each other’s human rights while sternly monitoring the state authority, will the state violence as well as the state negligence resulting in the loss of lives can be stopped. 

By Kang Eun-ji, Coordinator at an Human Rights NGO, Korean House for International Solidarity 

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