SEOUL, South Korea — The South Korean government wants prosecutors to look into the enslavement and mistreatment of thousands of people at a vagrants’ facility in the 1970s and 1980s.
The Justice Ministry said Tuesday it recommended that the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office conduct a preliminary investigation into abuses at the now-closed Brothers Home and 11 other cases of alleged wrongdoing dating back to the 1980s.
The National Human Rights Commission in December had recommended lawmakers pass a special law to initiate an investigation into Brothers Home and also called for the government to sign and ratify a United Nations convention against forced disappearance.
Other incidents the ministry recommended investigating included the 1985 torture of late liberal lawmaker Kim Geun-tae, which caused him to suffer from various health problems until his death in 2011, and the 1986 torture and death of university student Park Jong-chul, which helped trigger massive nationwide protests that eventually forced the then-military government to accept free presidential elections in the summer of 1987.The ministry also wants prosecutors to look more thoroughly into suspicions that the government unlawfully spied on civilians in 2010 during the conservative Lee Myung-bak administration.
The Justice Ministry in December launched a committee to investigate past cases handled by the prosecution that are linked to suspicions of human rights violations or abuse of investigative power. The prosecution has been facing greater pressure to reform under the government of President Moon Jae-in, a liberal whose presidential victory last May ended a decade of conservative rule.
The ministry said the Supreme Prosecutors’ Office on Tuesday launched an investigation team consisting of six prosecutors and 24 outside experts to look into the past incidents. After collecting basic information on the cases, the team will discuss with the ministry committee whether to pursue a full investigation.
Military dictators in the 1960s to 1980s ordered roundups to “purify” the streets, sending the homeless, disabled and children to facilities where they were detained and forced to work. The Brothers Home, a large mountainside compound in the southern city of Busan, was the biggest of the facilities.
No one has been held accountable for hundreds of deaths, rapes and beatings at the Brothers Home that were documented by an Associated Press report in 2016. The AP report was based on hundreds of exclusive documents and dozens of interviews with officials and former detainees.
Many if not most of the Brothers Home inmates were brought to the facility by police and city officials during aggressive drives by 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 the home 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.
Brothers Home 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 of an embarrassing international incident on the eve of the Olympics. Kim wasn’t able to indict the owner of the Brothers Home, Park In-keun, or anyone else for widespread abuses there and was left to pursue much narrower charges linked to embezzlement and construction law violations.
Park served 2 ½ years in prison and continued to earn money from welfare facilities and land sales before his death in 2016.