South Korea Begs Forgiveness for 1980 Rapes in Gwangju Protest Crackdown

By Faith Magbanua, November 09, 2018 17:11 PM

1980 Uprising in Gwangju(Google Screenshot)

At least 38 years ago, South Korean troops was sent to crush an anti-government protest. However, things didn't go as they should be because several women were raped by the hands of South Korean soldiers.

"unspeakable pain"

In a recent government investigation, the findings confirmed 17 cases of sexual assault that occurred in 1980, including against teenagers and a pregnant woman.

The south-western city of Gwangju was the center of an uprising against martial law in South Korea, imposed after a military coup in 1979 led by General Chun Doo-hwan.

The brutal military crackdown left more than 200 people dead or missing, according to official figures. Although widespread sexual assault has long been suspected, the issue has been kept out of the radar.

However, South Korea's liberal President Moon Jae-in, who came to power in 2017, pledged to re-open a probe into the massacre in Gwangju.

After Kim Sun-ok, one of the victims, came forward in earlier in May 2018 alleging rape, a specific investigation into sexual assaults was immediately ordered.

Meanwhile, Defence Minister Jeong Kyeong-doo stated on Wednesday that the investigation had confirmed troops committed rape, sexual assault and sexual torture.

"On behalf of the government and military, I bow deeply and offer my words of apology for the unspeakable, deep scars and pain inflicted on innocent victims," he said.

"Unjustly mobilized state power trampled on women's lives... I feel inexplicably terrible" he said.

However, some victims said that an apology was not enough.

Kim Sun-ok, who was raped, said "a million apologies" were worthless without the guilty troops being "duly punished" .

The tale of Gwanju uprising

Gwangju is a city in the southwest corner of South Korea. It's known for a pro-democracy uprising in 1980.

In May 1980, after South Korea's military leaders declared martial law, pro-democracy protests began to grow across the country.

On May 27, sanctioned by the United States, who jointly commanded the demilitarised zone between North and South Korea, about 20,000 troops were redeployed from the DMZ to take back Gwangju.

Officials statistics say about 200 people were killed but surviving eyewitness dispute the figures and say the true number is likely to be much higher.

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