Thursday, January 31, 2008

Democracy and the Redressing of Past Injustices

Reflection on the 2007 Gwangju Asian Human Right Folkschool
by Nurul Rochayati

Gwangju Asian Human Right Folkschool Folk School is a medium of education to spread the message and spirit of May 18 Democratic Uprisings in Korea all over Asia. This year folk school was conducted from 1 to 15 September 2007. Twenty-five (25) participants from 14 Asian countries attended the folk school.

During the Folk School, all participants were learning the development of democracy in Korea as well as in several Asian countries on a theoretical and practical basis through seminars, workshops, discussions, and field trips to Korea's sites of democratization movements. The aim of the folk school is to contribute to the development of democracy and human rights throughout Asia and provide participants an opportunity to learn and experience Korea's history and the development process of its human rights and democracy.

Through this program, all participants were learning that democracy in an on-going process. Democratic process demands times and unstoppable efforts. Democracy was fought and won through eternal vigilance and wary surveillance over decades and for many generations despite of their diverse social, cultural or political context. People were bound and united once their democratic and human right was violated.

Democracy is a revolutionary as well as evolutionary process. Revolutionary means democratic process needs to find it momentum to change the status quo. The revolutionary democratic movement can be found in Indonesia’s Reformation Movement 1998, Korea’s Gwangju Democratic Uprising 1980, Malaysia’s April Movement 1973, Thailand Democratic Movement 1974 and 1976, Myanmar’s Democratic Uprisings 1988, and many more. Although the movements didn’t bring the democracy on the plate at once, they serve as the impetus for people to keep the struggle for democracy and human right beyond all sufferings, blood bath, physical and mental persecution, and death.

Democracy also means an evolutionary process of development for the people. Democracy means the strengthening of the poor, the marginalized, the minority, and the weak. Democracy also means consolidating and organizing all civil society elements to be able not only to defend their human right and liberties but also generate public awareness on politic and economic development. According to one of senior participant, George Putikhuyitil, democratic movement needs constructive and diligent educational and capacity building programs, innovative cultural expressions, rigorous monitoring of public governance, responsible citizenship, access to justice and equity, decentralization of power, transparency and accountability of public servants including those in power, and appropriate, scientific documentation. All this efforts should be carried out evolutionary so the values and system could be deeply socialized and internalized within the society. It is the system that should be re-constructed through evolutionary process. And South Korea gave the good example on the evolutionary democratic movement.

The Republic of Korea or widely known as South Korea provides a unique example of the democratic process in Asia. Korea has struggled to achieve a genuinely democratic system of government through continuous movement against three militaristic and authoritarian regimes. Authoritarian regimes in Korea started after General Park Chung Hee took office on December 17, 1963 when he proclaimed the Third Republic following the resignation of President Syngman Rhee due to fraud presidential election in 1960 that leads to student unrest and later military coop in 1961. At the beginning of his office, President Park restored some political freedom that was limited during the forming of Second Republic in August 1960. However, he started to increase his powers by amending the constitution in 1972. He remained in control until he was assassinated by one of his closest colleagues Kim Jae-gyu in 1979.

The death of Park Chung Hee had created a power vacuum and a position of stalemate between contending forces which if often called as the “Spring in Seoul”. During these period, Korean witnessed a series of military coup d’etat – probably the longest in the history – that lead by a new military faction under General Chun Do-Hwan and Roh Tae-woo. The series of coup d’etat ended with the dramatic events in Gwangju where the new military government saw that the popular protest in Gwangju is the last and penultimate obstacle in its path to power.

Military dictatorship in South Korea continued during Chun Do-Hwan and Roh Tae-woo administrations. Despite of being under military, South Koreans remained firm with their demands for democratization. There was no significant progess in Chun Do-hwan leadership. However, things started to change when Roh Tae-woo took power. He tried to accommodate people’s demands with the restructuring of military, though many doubted his intention for democracy. New light came to torch when Kim Young Sam, one of national democratic leader, took office in 1992. Kim Young Sam gave the air to democracy in Korea by following mass demands. He put two former Presidents into trial. He also started the policy of redressing past injustices by acknowledging May 18 Gwangju Uprising and giving compensation and reinstatement to the people related to the events. However, people started to doubt his presidency when he was being seen shaking hands with former President Roh Taw-woo. In 1997, South Korea finally had their symbol of democracy, Kim Dae Jung as president. Kim Dae Jung had being seen equal to Nelson Mandela or Aung San Suu Kyi for his role during democratic movement in Korea since 1971.

The democratization process in Korea was characterized by dynamic interaction between state, political society, and social movements. Most importantly, however, the power that lead to successful process came from below, the civil society that comprises of many elements range from students, labor unions, academicians, religious groups, farmers, and many more. The civil society in South Korea was growing stronger along the years. Their continuous and enormous struggles have manifested in its stronghold position vis-à-vis state. One of the most compelling examples of this dynamic interaction is the government policy of redressing of past injustices or past aristocracies.

Redressing past injustices refers to a process that includes fact finding of abuse of power and crimes against humanity committed by a state or a group in power and realizing justice by punishing the violators and compensating the victims. The redressing always involves the uncovering or vindication of the suppressed truth. Redress is only possible through long-term struggles and efforts by the victims who have been constrained in pursuing fact finding and justice by the power of the criminals or state. In addition, the precondition of redress is a political shift. Under such condition, mass demands and resistance with new government can help to begin judicatory process. If the violators were the past regime, the popular demands would be judicatory process to reveal old regime crimes against humanity. (Cho Hee-Yeon, “Political Sociology of Kwagochongsan in South Korea, The Reviews of Korean Studies, Vol. 6 No.1, June, 2003).

In South Korea, redressing past injustices has been one of the most discussed issues of all times. South Korea's democratic transition exposed a variety of human rights abuses and raised several issues of investigating past human right tragedies under authoritarian regimes, especially during Chun Do-hwan and Noh Tae-woo military regimes. Among the most noted movements in Korea are 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising, 1980 June Movement, and Cheju Incident. South Korean witnessed the largest massacre in Gwangju since Korean War. For most of South Koreans, Gwangju Uprising is always considered as a critical moment for self-reflection and self-awakening for democratic movement. For its notable importance, the redressing of the 1980 Gwangju Democratic Uprising is important, especially for the Gwangju citizens whose family became victims. Approximately 2000 people were dead and thousands missing during the uprising. For nearly 20 years after the incidents, Gwangju people were searching for truth and justice and how to bring the perpetrators to trial. It is during Kim Young Sam administration that the two former Presidents were found guilty of treason and massacre. Chun Do-Hwan was sentenced for life and Roh Tae-woo for 8 years.

Both Kim Young Sam and Kim Dae Jung had made a number of policies in redressing past injustices, including Gwangju Uprisings. However, none of the policy of redressing is made as institutional efforts. Most of the policies were guided for by Special Acts. Moreover, both Chun Do-Hwan and Roh Tae-Woo were released after a year. During the Kim Dae Jung administration, the people sensed that their leader was also reluctant to pursue the task of making the redressing policies intuitional. Kim Dae Jung first changed the name of the event in Gwangju from Gwangju Massacre into Gwangju Democratic Uprising to emphasize its importance. In addition, government was also planning to give financial assistance / compensation to the victims’ family and the honor restoration. However, no institutional policies were taken regardless of people ‘s demands. Among their protests is that most of the victim family organizations generated rallies and campaigns in front of National Assembly.

In the struggle for truth and justice, South Koreans declared and implemented basic principles for resolving the pain brought on by many bloody movements in Korea: truth, justice, compensation, honor-restoration, and commemoration. Such principles and determination have showed the power of civil society in building the justice for human right. It will not exaggerating if the standard can be used as a common standard for solving other military atrocities that may be committed under an authoritarian regime, such as Indonesia.

Redressing past injustices and human right tragedies is essential to establishing conditions of justice in a society scarred by the enduring and pervasive effects of those wrongs. In Indonesian case, Indonesian society is still facing enormous difficulties and confusion to redress the past injustices that occurred during Soeharto regime. When Soeharto was overthrown by massive student movement in 1998, there was a rising hope of judiciary process on Soeharto’s dictatorial maneuvers and humanitarian tragedies. Indonesian was hoping for immediate yet transparent legal process on Soeharto. They hoped that the Supreme Court will be able to reveal all Soeharto’s corruption and humanitarian violations and then give proper sentence to him. In addition, the people also hoped that the court will demand Soeharto to return all national assets that became under his possession during his presidency. Unfortunately, the legal process didn’t meet people’s expectation. The tribunal on Soeharto’s case was constantly delayed

Redressing past injustices and human right tragedies for Indonesian is important to contribute to the reaffirmation of government’s accountability and neutrality. Indonesia has the precondition where new democratically and directly elected government lead the country. However, Indonesian structure, both in bureaucracy and legal system is not yet change. We believe that it take times as redressing itself need times. Therefore, it is our duty to continue the struggle for justice and better Indonesia.

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