Special Article

Correcting inaccurate family relations: A key to exonerating Jeju 4·3 victims and bereaved families

Heo Ho-joon

Senior correspondent with The Hankyoreh


Jeju 4·3 twisted the family relationships of many of the survivors and the deceased, dismantling the traditional family relations. If either of a couple had not registered their marriage and lost their lives during Jeju 4·3, their children were often adopted as sons or daughters into a family of the deceased husband’s brothers or more distant relatives. Therefore, there occurred some occasions where a child became a nephew, niece, brother, or sister of his or her father who fell victim to the turbulence of Jeju 4·3. Some were even sent as foster sons or daughters to families who were complete strangers and had nothing to do with their roots. There are also those who have forgotten their surnames and have lived their entire lives under others’ names because all their family members were killed during Jeju 4·3. The dismantled family relations in Jeju society are another result of Jeju 4·3.

Last year, the National Assembly passed the revised motion on the Special Act on Discovering the Truth of Jeju 4·3 and Restoring Honor to the Victims (hereinafter called “the Jeju 4·3 Special Act”). Under the revised law, the government is now accepting applications for the payment of compensation for Jeju 4·3 victims, starting from June of this year. The eligibility for compensation concerning exonerating the Jeju 4·3 victims is determined in accordance with the current Civil Act. For this reason, Jeju 4·3 victims’ children are bound to lose their eligibility to receive compensation if they are registered under the Civil Act as the children of the victims’ parents or cousins, and not as the victims’ own children. Concerns have been raised over the possible suffering or conflict that these “non-recognized” bereaved family members may experience due to frustration and a sense of loss. The discordant family relations issue is another shadow of Jeju 4·3 and still has a massive impact on the lives of victims’ family members.

[3,994 headstones are engraved with the names of the missing Jeju 4·3 victims within the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park]

Eligibility to claim compensation payment under the revised Jeju 4·3 Special Act

Article 16 of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act details the payment of compensation. Section (1) of the same article stipulates that “the State shall pay compensation for damage accrued to those who are determined as victims, comprehensively taking into account the victims’ lost daily gains calculated based on the statistical data from around the time of the incident, the long-term deferment in compensation payment, and the consolation for the victims’ mental suffering”. It is also stated in Article 16 (3) that “in the case where the victim subject to compensation payment is identified as dead or missing, the Civil Act effective at the time of the decision to pay compensation shall apply mutatis mutandis for eligibility to receive compensation”. Additionally, the article specifies the scope of the inheritors, stipulating that the term “spouse” of a victim shall include the victim’s de facto spouse who is “determined as a bereaved family member (excluding those who got remarried or are in a de facto marriage with others)”. If an unmarried and childless victim’s collateral blood relatives within the fourth degree who are determined as bereaved family members died, the collateral blood relatives within the fifth degree (i.e. the lineal descendants of the victims’ collateral blood relatives within the fourth degree) can inherit the compensation in place of their parents who are “determined as bereaved family members”, so long as they perform the ancestral rites and manage the graves of the victim or victims, such as cutting the grass.

As such, the revised Jeju 4·3 Special Act stipulates that those “determined as a victim’s bereaved family member” are subject to compensation payment. In other words, a victim’s child who is not recognized as the victim’s inheritor under the Civil Act is ineligible to receive compensation.

Bereaved family members wish to “be recognized as the children of their fathers”

The Association of the Bereaved Families of Jeju 4·3 Victims conducted a survey from August to November last year, in collaboration with the Jeju 4·3 Research Institute, on the Jeju 4·3 victims with incorrect family relations registers. The survey found 78 cases where a victim’s family relations register, or genealogy, is in discord with the actual family relations. Without correcting these family relations, even a victim’s biological child will be excluded from the claimants for compensation. I have met with 10 of the unregistered children of victims for in-depth coverage. These “non-recognized bereaved family members” wanted to be “recognized as the children” of their fathers, call the victims “father”, and be “identified as the rightful heir or heiress”. These bereaved family members testified that they have lived all their lives full of tears, missing their fathers and wishing to see even the souls of their loved ones in their dreams. During the period immediately after Korea’s liberation from Japan, it was not unusual for couples to fail to have their marriage or children be registered on time, while the administrative authorities also managed the registered records more loosely than today. A respondent to my interview named A (aged 96) survived a narrow escape with her two-year-old daughter B at the scene where her husband and his relatives were slaughtered for being “family members of runaways” during Jeju 4·3. A, whose marriage was unregistered at the time, was five months pregnant. A younger brother of her dead husband listed her daughter B and B’s baby sister, who was born five months after the massacre, on his family relations register on the same day for birth registration. This indicates that B and her sister are ineligible to claim compensation because they are not legally the Jeju 4·3 victim’s children. Another respondent C was three years old when her father was wrongfully convicted in a court-marshal and ordered to serve a jail term. Subsequently, she lived as a foster daughter of a family without having her birth registered until she needed a family relations register for marriage and was listed on the genealogy of her father’s elder brother at the age of 23. This means that C had lived an undocumented life. When a retrial was requested for victims of a wrongful verdict of conviction by courts-marshal, C was unable to join them because of her ineligibility for the lawsuit. Another victim’s daughter named D, who is registered in her uncle’s family relations register, provided her blood sample for the recognition of the father-daughter relationship when relocating her father’s grave, but eventually failed to extract DNA from the deceased victim. She is willing to get genetic testing again to be recognized as her father’s daughter. There are also cases where genetic testing itself was impossible, as an increasing number of bereaved families cremate their loved ones and enshrine their ashes in charnel houses during grave relocation. A victim’s family member named E was listed on the family relations register of her great grandfather after her father was killed during Jeju 4·3, and has since lived as her father’s cousin within the sixth degree. Another victim’s family member named F who is over 80 years of age this year has performed the ancestral rite for his father’s younger brother since he got married in his mid-20s. Although his uncle is recognized as a Jeju 4·3 victim, he is a legally-ineligible heir because he is registered as his uncle’s stepson only in his family’s genealogy book, not in the official family relations register.

[Notes written by victims’ family members who expect to correct their legal family relations that were incorrectly registered during the unstable period of Jeju 4·3.]

Provincial procedure to accept applications to correct incorrect family relations

Perceiving the existence of many Jeju 4·3 victims’ “incorrect family relations”, the Jeju provincial government began accepting applications to correct the discordance. The move is to prevent the cases where Jeju 4·3 victims’ children are unable or ineligible to apply for compensation payment due to incorrect family relations and wherein victims’ collateral relatives within the fourth degree make such applications and receive compensation. Earlier on April 29 of this year, the central Jeju 4·3 Committee decided that in the case of victims with de facto children, the relevant de facto children may apply for compensation payment upon correcting their discordant family relations or during the final term of the application period in 2025. To this end, the provincial government will accept claims to correct family relations until August of this year. The eligible claimants include those who are aware of the incorrect family relations of any Jeju 4·3 victims. The written claims along with any material proof will be accepted by the Jeju provincial government, Jeju City and Seogwipo City governments, and eup-, myeon-, and dong-level Community Service Centers.

Bereaved families demand “development and correction of family relations register in a broad sense”

Article 12 of the Jeju 4·3 (Development of the Family Relations Register) states, “If a victim’s Family Relations Register does not exist or is different from the facts due to damage accrued from Jeju 4·3, the victim’s Family Relations Register may be developed or corrected in accordance with the procedures set forth in the relevant Supreme Court Regulation.” Eligible claimants must be “those victims of Jeju 4·3 who are not listed or who are incorrectly listed on their Family Relations Registers due to damage from Jeju 4·3 (Article 2 of Supreme Court Regulations No. 3061, June 30, 2022, Partial Amendment)”. The Association of the Bereaved Families of Jeju 4·3 Victims emphasized that the eligible claimants specified in Article 13 of the Enforcement Decree of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act should be “those who are recognized as victims of Jeju 4·3 and their bereaved family members” instead of “those who are recognized as victims of Jeju 4·3”. The association also demands that Article 2 of Supreme Court Regulation No. 3061 be corrected from the Jeju 4·3 victims to the victims’ interested persons, such as their lineal ascendants, lineal descendants, and de facto children, so that the currently limited eligibility will more broadly include the victims’ substantive family members. The association points out that the subsequent improvement in the statutes should expand the related private guarantors to include relatives by the current Civil Act. “It is the sole responsibility of the state to seek and strive for every possible means to take necessary actions, be it the revision of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act or other laws and regulations or the enactment of an additional law,” the association added.

[Floral tributes from victims’ families are placed in front of the memorial tablets enshrined in the Jeju 4·3 Peace Park.]

Solutions advisable for Yoon administration

During the presidential election, then-candidate Yoon Suk-yeol’s camp pledged to “completely resolve Jeju 4·3”. The payment of compensation for Jeju 4·3 victims, which was launched by the Moon Jae-in administration, is one of the most critical tasks on the path toward exonerating the victims. Early in May, the Ministry of Public Administration and Security commissioned the Korea Institute of Criminology with a study of the status of family relations concerning Jeju 4·3 and measures for its improvement. Through the commissioned research service, the national government will identify the current state of incorrect family relations of Jeju 4·3 victims and examine the related laws and institutions to come up with substantive relief measures. After the case investigation and the statutory review, improvement measures based on the research findings will be developed to ease the burden of litigation for bereaved families and minimize the expected side effects. The researchers will hold an interim reporting session in July of 2022 to reveal the content and submit the final results to the Ministry of Public Administration and Security by November 2022.

The national government needs to fulfill the intention of the Jeju 4·3 Special Act. There should be no cases where victims’ children are classified as “non-recognized family members” and thus ineligible to receive compensation due to inaccurate family relations issues. The origin of the issues is connected to state violence during Jeju 4·3. Most of the “non-recognized family members” interviewed regarding the coverage paid little attention to the payment of compensation but wanted to be recognized as the daughters and sons of their fathers by correcting family relations. For those who bear the burden of incorrect and twisted family relations, Jeju 4·3 remains an ongoing event.

In this regard, the Association of the Bereaved Families of Jeju 4·3 Victims made the aforementioned claims after long consideration of different stories told by victims’ family members. This is why the commissioned researchers should actively review their claims. State authorities should take the responsibility for correcting the incorrect family relations of Jeju 4·3 victims. Correcting the discordance would help relieve the pent-up anger and sorrow the victims’ families have experienced. Therefore, resolving the issue of incorrect family relations leads to the exoneration of Jeju 4·3 victims and their family members. Restoring the normal family relationship between the victims of state violence and their children is also a task concerning the resolution of Jeju 4·3-related issues. Only when it is corrected can we move one step closer to the “complete resolution of Jeju 4·3” as was pledged by the Yoon Suk-yeol administration.