SEOUL, South Korea – A South Korean commission on Thursday urged lawmakers to investigate the enslavement and mistreatment of thousands of people at a vagrants’ facility during the 1970s and ’80s.
The country’s dictators ordered roundups to “purify” the streets, sending the homeless, disabled and children to facilities where they were detained and forced to work.
No one has been held accountable for the hundreds of deaths, rapes and beatings The Associated Press documented at the now-closed Brothers Home, a huge mountainside compound in the port city of Busan that had the largest of dozens of those facilities. The AP report in 2016 was based on hundreds of exclusive documents and dozens of interviews with officials and former detainees.
The National Human Rights Commission on Thursday recommended lawmakers pass a special law to initiate an investigation and also called for the government to sign and ratify a United Nations convention against forced disappearance.
Many if not most of the Brothers inmates were brought to the facility by police and city officials amid aggressive drives by Seoul’s then-military leaders to beautify city streets by removing undesirables as they prepared to bid for and host the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Many former inmates say there were held at Brothers without the knowledge of their families, claims backed by government and police records that show authorities exercised little discretion in whom they chose to confine at Brothers.
At the time, officials justified the confinements by a 1975 government directive that instructed police and local officials to round up vagrants. However, the commission on Thursday said that even under the legal standards of those times, the government clearly failed to protect the fundamental rights of inmates because the directive was in violation of the constitution.
Brothers was shut down months after a prosecutor exposed the facility in early 1987.
The former prosecutor, Kim Yong Won, who now runs a Seoul law firm, told the AP that high-ranking officials blocked his investigation, in part out of fear over an embarrassing international incident on the eve of the Olympics. Kim wasn’t able to indict the owner of Brothers, Park In-keun, or anyone else for the widespread abuse at the Busan compound and was left to pursue much narrower charges linked to embezzlement and construction law violations.
Park served 2 1/2 years in prison and continued to earn money from welfare facilities and land sales before his death last year.