Home Law Transitional Justice in the Asia-Pacific
Addressing Abuses under Japanese Colonialism
A special commission was instituted in 1948 to investigate and punish collaborators during Japanese colonialism.37 The commission was composed of ten members headed by Kim Sang-deok, a respected figure in the national independence movement. The commission had ten regional offices and its own enforcement unit, special prosecutorial office, and special court.38 The special court was headed by Chief Justice Kim Byeong- ro and consisted of sixteen judges who had the authority to sentence
collaborators to death for crimes of treason. The collaborators were arrested and investigated by the commission, then handed over to the prosecutorial office and the court for a trial. Within four months, the commission had arrested 263 suspected collaborators and announced a list of 1,000 more persons for further investigation.
However, the commission was doomed to fail because of its most vocal opponent, President Rhee Syng-man. The Rhee administration was composed of colonial elites who survived under the protection of the U.S. occupation. Rhee and his supporters openly accused commissioners of being communists who threatened national security by instigating social dissension out of hatred and vengeance. The police, with the tacit consent of President Rhee, even raided the commission, injuring many and destroying documents. The commission investigated 688 cases, indicted 293, tried 78, and convicted 19 - all of whom were released shortly thereafter.
Pro-Japanese collaborator issues returned to the agenda with the inauguration of President Roh Moo-hyun in 2003. Tensions with Japan intensified over the issues of reparations for the victims of sex slavery and forced labor, a territorial dispute over Dokdo, the slanted content of Japanese history textbooks, and the Japanese prime minister’s visit to the Yasukuni Shrine. Another commission was set up in 2005 with eleven members headed by Seong Dae-gyeong, a history professor. The commission had exactly the same mandate as the 1948 commission, but with much less power - it did not have any authority to subpoena witnesses or arrest suspects, and had no adjudication power.47 The commission published a report in 2009 revealing the names of 1,006 collaborators.48
At the same time, two commissions were created in order to address the related issues of Japanese colonialism. In 2004, a commission was set up to investigate the victims of forced labor.49 The commission - with eleven members, headed by Jeon Gi-ho, a professor of labor economics specializing in the colonial era - has so far received 142,527 applications and is still working at the time of this writing.50 In 2006, another commission was set up to investigate the properties of collaborators.51 The commission - with nine members headed by Kim Chang-guk, a prominent lawyer - investigated 462 collaborators and confiscated the property of 168 of them.52
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