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IdentifierCreatedClassificationOrigin
09SEOUL1511 2009-09-23 06:08:00 UNCLASSIFIED Embassy Seoul
Cable title:  

KOREA'S EFFORT TO UNCOVER PAST HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES

Tags:   KS KN PGOV PHUM 
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1. (SBU) Summary: Two members of the ROK's Truth and
Reconciliation Commission (TRC) told us they have sent the
Ministry of National Defense updated findings regarding
several Korean War incidents in which U.S. military aircraft
allegedly killed ROK civilians indiscriminately. Our TRC
interlocutors cited a lack of Blue House support for the
commission's work and the TRC's lack of enforcement or
compensation powers as the primary reasons why the commission
will not be able to clear its case backlog by April 2010,
when its mandate will expire; accepting new petitions from
human rights abuse victims is now out of the question.
Despite its challenges, supporters hail the commission as a
model for other countries in the region. Our contacts
asserted that the Blue House is unlikely to extend the
commission's mandate in the hope that public interest in past
human rights abuses will fade. End Summary.

Comment


--------------------------





2. (SBU) Korea,s movement to find truth and reconciliation
for the thousands of verified incidents of human rights
abuses during its history has always been a controversial
issue. Although the TRC commissioners have been pushing for
more public support before their mandate expires, all
indicators show that the current administration is determined
to see the TRC administrators replaced and the movement
slowed to a close after the commission,s term expires. In
particular, the Lee Administration is likely to be
particularly cautious concerning the alleged American
incidents, as it will be eager to avoid anything like the No
Gun Ri controversy.

Challenges Facing the TRC


--------------------------





3. (U) The ROK's Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC)
was formed in 2005 by late ROK President Roh Moo-hyun to
investigate human rights abuses during the Japanese colonial
era, the Korean War and the ROK's authoritarian rule period.
It has, since its creation, been a politically polarizing
organization; critics on the right have highlighted its
leftist bias while TRC supporters have, for example,
criticized the Lee Myung-bak (LMB) Blue House for allegedly
hindering the commission's ability to investigate petitions
properly. Poloff recently met with two senior officials from
the TRC, as well as ROKG officials, to get a sense of where
the organization is headed as its mandate winds down.



4. (U) Kim Dong-choon, Standing Commissioner of the TRC,s
Civilian Massacres Unit, told us pointedly that a lack of
Blue House support for the commission's work and the lack of
enforcement or compensation powers have effectively hamstrung
the TRC. Kim claimed the Blue House recently attempted to
integrate the TRC into another, related commission in order
to undermine its efforts. The TRC's official ROKG liaison,
Chung Peong-ho, rejected Kim's accusations. Chung emphasized
that the LMB administration has provided the same mandate,
budgetary resources, personnel and interagency support as
previous ROK governments. Chung also said the attempt to
merge the TRC was a part of President Lee,s broader public
sector reform effort.

Big Backlog Remains, Many Cases Unresolved


--------------------------





5. (U) Commissioner Kim and You Han-beom, Director of the
TRC's External Affairs Division, lamented that the TRC would
not be able to finish its case backlog by next April. They
said that, as of September, the commission had investigated
6,097 of the 11,017 petitions submitted to it. The TRC
determined that 4,387 petitions (72 percent of the
investigated cases) were found "verifiable," with the rest
being classified as "unverifiable" or "dismissed."



6. (SBU) The TRC officials related that the commission has
allegedly confirmed seven Korean War incidents (involving 119
petitions in Yeochon, Wolmido, Danyang, Gyeonggi, Pohang,
Euiryoung and Haman) in which they claim U.S. military
aircraft killed Korean civilians indiscriminately. (Note:
The TRC has been investigating U.S.-related abuses since


2005. The results of the TRC's investigations have not yet
been published and are awaiting National Assembly
confirmation. End Note.) Commissioner Kim and Director You
said the TRC had advised the ROK Ministry of National Defense
(MND) to conduct joint surveys of each incident with the
United States; solicit a USG acknowledgement or expression of
regret for verified incidents; and, ask the USG to provide
appropriate reparations to surviving family members. Kim and

You said that the TRC had not received a response from the
MND.

A Potential Model for East Asia or a Dying Movement?


--------------------------



--------------------------





7. (U) Kim and You emphasized that the TRC is the first such
commission in East Asia and has been hailed by the
international human rights community as model for other
countries in the region. They noted the TRC has verified
more than 4,000 individual cases of human rights abuses,
3,609 cases of mass killings by government entities, 653
cases of abuses by leftist and Communist groups and located
168 mass graves. Based on TRC recommendations, the ROK
Supreme Court has also reversed verdicts in 15 criminal
cases. Commissioner Kim said, though, that the TRC had
plenty more work to do; he estimated that "tens of thousands"
of human rights abuse victims have remained silent due to a
lack of knowledge about the TRC and/or disillusionment with
the current process. According to You, major Korean-American
community organizations have been lobbying for a second TRC
petition application process; new petitions have not been
accepted due to the TRC's formidable case backlog and
expiring mandate.

The Future: TRC to Just Fade Away?


--------------------------





8. (SBU) Commissioner Kim asserted that the Blue House is
unlikely to extend the TRC,s term, hoping instead that
public interest in past human rights abuses will simply
"expire with the commission." If it is extended, Ahn
Byung-ook, the TRC's president, fears that current TRC
commissioners would most likely be replaced by commissioners
more amenable to the Blue House political perspective. Ahn
recently told reporters that the TRC had approached the Blue
House to propose that the LMB administration back passage of
a law to compensate the families of victims of Korean War-era
human rights abuses in lieu of extending the TRC's mandate.
ROKG officials, including Chung Peong-ho, have countered that
the fate of the TRC and the truth and reconciliation movement
"lies with the will of the Korean people." The Blue House
has not yet announced whether the TRC,s mandate will be
extended.
STEPHENS