The decision of the South Korean court to sentence the former President Chun Doo-hwan
to death and give a twenty-two year sentence to his successor Roh Tae-woo will cause
shock waves in several Asian capitals where the impunity against human rights violations
has been normally taken for granted.
It is quite significant that the death sentence on Chun Doo-hwan was passed for masterminding
a military mutiny and insurrection linked to the infamous Kwangju massacre. Such
and even worse massacres have been a common feature in the Asia-Pacific region during
the last two decades. However, it was the determined campaigns of the Korean people
in general and the Kwangju people in particular that made these prosecutions possible.
The right wing opinion makers have tried to water down the significance of these
trials and sentences as being political in nature on the part of the President Kim
Young Sam. Whatever the interest President Kim has in the matter, it was the continuous
popular pressure to redress the wrong committed against the Kwangju students that
brought about this historic outcome.
In many Asian countries bringing human rights violators to justice is almost impossible.
Inability to prosecute is the rule. The Korean judgment is an encouragement to everyone
in the region who pursues justice in a hostile environment.
That the decision was made in one of the Tiger economies is also very significant.
During the last two decades repression in these countries was portrayed as a necessary
condition for economic growth. Democracy and development were considered incompatible.
Perhaps, what is witnessed in Korea and Indonesia at the moment may be a trend towards
displacement of this political doctrine. Many people in the region would want the
Korean example to be followed in their countries.
- Basil Fernando, Asian Human Rights Commission.