Shameful memoriesA Seoul court has ruled that the government must pay significant damages to the families of members of the People’s Revolutionary Party who were executed in 1975. The incident was ruled to be murder by the court. This ruling is a strong signal from the judiciary that is determined to correct and prevent human rights violations through the misuse of state power.
The court declared that it could not accept the claim made in the case that the damage was caused by a former despotic state. This makes it clear that the state cannot be excused by circumstances for the wrongful execution of its power.
The case of the People’s Revolutionary Party has been one of the most shameful incidents in Korea’s history. Under despotic rule, the judiciary was a pawn of the dictatorship and tortured defendants to extract false confessions. The courts accepted the confessions and sentenced the defendants to death. The executions were carried out just 18 hours after the Supreme Court rejected appeals, a cruel act which would shame any civilized country. The defendants were not given the opportunity to have a final religious gathering. An association of international law experts declared April 9, 1975, the date when the executions were carried out, as the darkest day in the history of the Korean judiciary.
The recent ruling is important because it also recognized that the Supreme Court acted illegally in 1975, the first time a verdict has been issued regarding shameful incidents in the court’s past. In January the court that handled the retrial of the defendants acquitted them. That court pointed out that the evidence the Supreme Court accepted in 1975 was not legitimate, but it did not acknowledge that the Supreme Court’s ruling was illegal. This time, the Seoul court faulted the misdeeds of the 1975 Supreme Court, saying it had ignored pleas made by the victims that their confessions were extracted by torture and the evidence against them was fabricated -- a tragic sin, given that the Supreme Court is the last resort for those seeking protection of their human rights.
No amount of compensation can bring back the victims or heal the wounds of their loved ones. The power of the state must not be misused. In particular, the separation of the executive, legislative and judicial branches of government must be recognized as the foundation of democracy.
The judiciary must remember these shameful incidents to ensure they are not repeated, and prevent political power from being misused by despots.