Top court upholds not-guilty verdict for abusive homeless facility
The Supreme Court on Thursday rejected an appeal filed against a not-guilty verdict for the late owner of a state-run homeless facility.
The top court ruled the acquittal of an illegal confinement charge handed down in 1989 to Park In-keun, the late owner of Brothers Home, was consistent with the criminal law, dismissing an extraordinary appeal lodged by former Prosecutor General Moon Moo-il.
The court also did not accept the prosecution's claims that the verdict from three decades ago should be overruled to show the government's will to "perform its moral duty" in the human rights violation case.
Moon filed the appeal in November 2018 with the Supreme Court, in a final legal procedure that seeks to obtain a conclusive criminal judgment, saying Park should be held accountable for incarcerating innocent people at the facility in the southern port city of Busan for years of forced labor.
In 1987, the prosecution indicted Park on charges including embezzlement and illegal confinement, but the top court eventually acquitted him of illegal confinement in 1989, citing Article 20 of the Criminal Act that forbids punishment of acts that are conducted in accordance with the law.
Park insisted that he followed a government directive to round up the homeless to beautify the country in the run-up to the 1988 Seoul Olympics.
Surviving victims have testified that there was persistent and widespread physical and sexual abuse and forced labor at the confinement facility.
According to the facility's own records, 513 died from 1975-87, and some of the bodies were secretly buried. But the real tally is thought to be much higher, as the whereabouts of many inmates remain unknown.
Civic activists call it the Korean version of the Auschwitz concentration camp.
In April 2018, the state Truth and Reconciliation Commission said the government's directive was unconstitutional and recommended the prosecution revisit the case to further investigate the allegations of severe violence and wrongful deaths there.
The ensuing probe by prosecutors found that there were pervasive human rights abuses, which led to Moon's order to reopen the case.
At that time, Moon apologized over the prosecution's failed investigation into the grave violations of human rights at the facility. It was the first official issuance of an apology for one of the most serious human rights violations in modern South Korean history.
Despite the dismissal of the appeal, the court acknowledged the severity of human rights violation at Brothers Home.
"The core issue of the case is about infringement of human dignity, the supreme value of the Constitution, not merely about infringement of physical freedom," the court said. "We hope the case helps enhance social integration, with continuing work to find the truth and heal the victims' wounds."